I had the call from Glyn Ovens, (a friend of mine who is part of a tow surf team in Nazare Portugal) telling me that surf was going to be big at 20 to 35 feet @15 seconds during the beginning of January. So, I took a quick Easy Jet flight to Lisbon and after a 1.5hr drive arrived in Nazare.
On arrival, you could see right from the top of the cliff that the size of the waves was already huge. The lighthouse really puts it into perspective! The forecast was predicting waves of 50 feet upwards for New Year’s Day. This forecast certainly put a stop to any party plans for NYE, and it was early to bed for everyone with the alarms were set for first light.
Glyn and his tow partner Toby Cunningham (XXL Big Wave winner 2003) left the harbour on their Ski at about 7.30 am, and there were already a few riders in the line-up. It was HUGE and I reckon we saw waves that were in excess of 70 /80 feet with the average being about 50 feet. A few monster waves rolled in that were un-surfable at around 95 to 100 feet. I watched Glyn ride a 75-footer and Toby a bigger set wave which looked to me about 85 to 90 feet.
Each tow team has wave spotters located on the Farol (lighthouse), who direct ski drivers via radio to the big sets, and also, they help locate the surfers when the drivers are blinded from spray and the back of the wave. The ski drivers play a critical part in the package of delivering the surfer to right part of the wave and the lifesaving part picking them up when they fall. They also follow the surfer like a faithful hound not leaving the sight line in case of a fall and are always ready for instant evacuation when required. The ski drivers are more than impressive the way they navigate around the gigantic surf and constantly shifting giant peaks.
You could feel the vibrations stood on the lighthouse when watching the tow surfers, from the breaking waves. It was such a brilliant experience that I have never experienced live before. I have huge respect for the big wave riders and ski drivers.
From the lighthouse spot it was slightly hard to distinguish the riders in all the action because of the huge amounts of spray and wetsuit hoods. I saw Ross Clark- Jones, Mick Corbett, Sebastian Steudtner, and Eric Ribere on ski, Luca Chumbo,Aussies Jarryd Foster and Ryan Hipwood,Axi Munian charging some big beasts – and also watched Justine Du Pont drop in to some big waves and take 3 sets on the head when she fell and her ski failed to collect her
Afterwards Glyn and Toby showed me their JP Custom tow boards – they weigh about 15 kg and are made with roofing lead top sheets – this helps plough through the heavy chop that is always on some of the wave faces at Nazare.
The whole experience was very impressive and definitely worth flying through all that heavy weather for. The landing back at Gatwick was extremely bump as it was bang on when Storm Eleanor was in full force. Check out the newsfeed over the next few days as I have some photos of the action at Wittering during and after the storm..