The Atlantic basin shows what perfection really looks like.
The juxtaposition couldn’t have been more stark. The day after the Surf Ranch finished the last 16 surfers in the Azores Airlines Pro awoke to the best day of QS competition this year, heck, maybe ever. While the Freshwater Pro offered repetitive perfection in the fetid fertilised air of Central California, the Azores provided six-to-eight foot random wedges blasting onto hardpacked black volcanic sand under azure skies.
Of course the first, and obvious, question remains; where the fuck is the Azores? The group of nine island lie about 1000 clicks directly to west of Lisbon, or a 1000 miles east of Newfoundland, on the Canadian coast. So they are about as middle in the Atlantic Ocean as you can get. In the heart of the biggest island Sao Miguel, volcanic lakes the colour of Scarlett Johansson’s eyes pool up out of rainforests fed by cascading waterfalls. On the coast geothermal springs boil underground heating natural ocean rock pools to the temperature of a hot bath. On one night by those pools I drank local wine and fire-cooked chorizo and then bathed in the salty heated water under a massive full moon while sperm whales breached 100 metres out to sea. Yep, Lemoore this ain’t.
The Saturday of the event had seen 10-foot waves crunching left and rights on the same banks, all be it ravaged by a strong onshores. On the Finals day when the wind clocked round to be whistling through the rainforested valleys and straight into the still macking swell, the waves went next level.
When I saw Josh Moniz airdrop into an eight foot teepee, drive through a massive backdoor section and eventually be spat out in a soul arch I had to rub my eyes and check this wasn’t Backdoor Pipeline, that had been crossbred with Hossegor. It scored a 10. I gave it a 15. Fred Morais, the eventual winner, found a series of throaty forehand tubes that he backed up with massive backside hacks on clean, chunky, nuggets of Atlantic wedge. He didn’t post a two-wave total under 17 points on the Final Day.
On either side of the comp area the QS frothers were like pigs in shit. Wiggolly and Wesley Dantas both surfed for seven hours, broke three boards each and calculated their tube count at around 50, per brother. With the local Azorian surfing population estimated at 20, across all the nine islands, they basically had it all to themselves.
“I’ve never seen so many tubes ridden and completed in a single day of competition,” Finalist Mitch Crews told Tracks. “This is easily the best waves for a QS outside of Hawaii I’ve ever surfed. The number of caves has blown my mind.”
Now sure, the event got lucky. This may have even the best conditions at the beach for a few years. To have it coincide with the Finals Day of the QS is bordering on miracle territory. Yet it showed that when waves get truly perfect and heavy, professional surfing really becomes a great spectacle.
That it came the day after the Freshwater Pro only added to the appeal. That they can co-exist might just be the point. Or maybe, that they can’t, could be more valid. All I know I was damn lucky, and deliriously happy, to be in the Azores. This was surfing at its best. And nothing is better than that.