It’s the fact that they have flotation vests that enables big wave surfers to actually attempt waves like Nazaré. Flotation devices, as well as huge, hairy, blue-veined and indignant testes. Good old big balls wouldn't cut it out here. This was the real deal. This was not an event for shoulder-hoppers.  

In the final, a big left-hand wedge behemoth caught Joao De Macedo, exploding on his head, and he disappeared. He was gone. The webcast cams were panning and they were covering the whole arena, but he could not be seen. Eventually he was found – fine and breathless – a few meters short of the sand, after being dragged ‘about three hundred meters,’ according to big wave commissioner Peter Mel. He emerged relatively unscathed, as did Nic Lamb who suffered two horrendous wipeouts in the final and also spend much of his time relying on his flotation device. Nic was looking like the hungriest surfer in the event, but those two set-wave wipeouts and underwater travels sapped his energy and he failed to find a good second wind in the final. 

Photo: WSL

Jamie Mitchell did it differently, and failed to get a good score on the board for the first vital part of the final. That was until he found the left of the heat and possibly of the event. He showed no fear and total commitment to taking the drop and cranking into a bottom turn. He nearly made it to the corner, and if he did he would possibly have scored a perfect ten, but as it is he was awarded 8.67 that was doubled to get him the winning points, along with a 6.6 backup. 

Carlos Burle, the veteran, was also looking rock-solid out there and caught a huge left wall in the beginning of the final and streaked across it to get a score of 6.5 but as it was the only wave he caught, he wasn't able to beat Mitchell. 

It was great to see the absolute determination and hunger of the new boys in the hood in Antonio Silva from Portugal and Pedro Calado from Brazil. The Nazaré Challenge vindicated herself on the inaugural event, and it was described throughout as ‘life-threatening conditions.’ 

There were many people – including WSL commentator Gig Cilliers and myself - who thought that a big wave paddle-in event at Nazaré was a bridge too far. It just didn't seem like there would be enough opportunity for paddle surfers to get enough waves in a heat to make it exciting. The massive take off zone, the shifting peaks, horrendous currents and general safety aspects of the place made it seem just a bit too hard to figure out. 

Hoo boy were we wrong. The inaugural Nazaré Challenge, third event on the World Surf League Big Wave Tour happened. There was a lot going on out there. 

Jamie Mitchell and the type of charging that earned him the win. Phot: WSL

The Nazaré set-up has been well explored, but mainly by tow-surfers, and this paddle event left very little place for error amongst the safety crew. Extremely long hold-downs made things difficult, but the WSL safety team had this one covered.  

Earlier standouts in the event include Portuguese surfer Joao De Marcedo, Nic Lamb from USA, Jamie Mitchell from Australia and Cristian Merello from Chile. All were charging in the first round, giving it stick in the shifting conditions, and advancing through to the semi-finals. 

In the first semi final Nic lamb out on a stellar performance, with poor bugger Twiggy Baker taking one huge wipe out that must have knocked the wind out of him. It was very much a process of wave selection, as well as the fact that the best waves were to be found slightly further inside giving the best surfers the choice of paddling further in, possibly scoring the wave of the heat, or possibly suffering the big sets on the head. Nic Lamb turned around on one particular solid wave in his semi, pulling into one massive right-hand barrel to get obliterated and take about ten Nazaré monster walls of whitewater on the head, but his effort was good enough to win the heat.  It was heroic Pedro Calado from Brazil who joined Nic Lamb and Joao De Macedo from Portugal advancing through to the final. 

Winner Winner chicken dinner! Photo: WSL

The second semi was another manic affair in which both Mitchell and Burle showed that they were hungry, they both had things to prove, and they were probably two of the fittest surfers in the event. 

The contest had a ‘Silver’ rating, which means that there were thirty to forty-foot faces out there, and the men needed all the strength they could muster. In fact, to surf three heats out there on a day like this is going to ensure that the competitors are going to sleep well last night. Jamie Mitchell will probably sleep the best, helped along the way with a few thirsty pulls of Corona and champagne. 

“Today was next level,” said Jamie. “It was survival. It was just heavy. I’ve seen Nic lamb and all these guys take horrendous wipeouts around the world, and today I saw Nic Lamb messed up out at the back. It was an incredible day.”    

Incredible day indeed.