Big wave contest gets green light, but is it going to shine?
The initial debate about the legitimacy of Nazaré was actually justified; it was just irritating to hear it from Laird Hamilton, the man who finds fault with anything that isn’t focused around him and his exploits. His argument was that the initial behemoths ridden at Nazaré shouldn't really count towards any big wave awards or global big wave records, because the waves weren’t actually breaking.
A little feathering lip on a 60-foot wave that only breaks over the top two-foot of the wave doesn't really mean the wave is breaking, and those early days and the footage that emerged from the first sessions featured surfers riding waves – massive right-hand waves – that never seemed to actually break, and when they did eventually crumble a little it was a massive anticlimax of softly rolling whitewater.
Since then things have changed at Nazaré for all to see and for the best big wave riders to surf. It all changed when they started going left off the wedges, into the biggest shore-pound on the planet, albeit mainly by holding onto ropes and getting dragged in.
As a paddle-only surf spot on a big day, she is a difficult beast, with a massive take-off zone and loads of room to move, as well as too much take-off area to make things that safe. A playing field that is so wide is prone to surfers getting caught inside, and getting mowed down.
Nazaré is also as far from a performance wave as big waves get. Mavericks is a scary, ledgey dark monster of a wave, but it breaks in the same place, and it barrels, allowing surfers to push things a bit further with regards to tube rides, and sometimes even turns off the face. Jaws/Pea’hi has been compared to a giant HT’s, with different lines being drawn, and while good barrels are not common, they do happen and the surfers get rewarded justly for them. Nazaré on the other hand is more about surfers taking huge drops with their guns slightly angled for the shoulder, intent on little else but getting to the bottom.
Nazaré has had her moments however. Let’s not discount that. Jamie Mitchell’s drop in the 2016 event, along with his subsequent event victory being one of them, with Andrew Cotton’s horrendous wipeout and broken back being another. Let’s not forget Maya Gabeira and Carlos Burle’s fiasco in 2013 when Carlos lost Maya in the pounding surf and she nearly drowned. More recently Ross Clarke-Jones made landfall on the rocks during a huge day, and the clip of him getting hammered into the menacing rock pile went viral.
The point is, compared to other big wave venues, there is not that much in the way of radical surfing that is making the wave famous, with the most radical thing to be seen out there is probably Lucas Chianca’s floater on a 10’0 board during last year’s underwhelming finale. Jaws has waves like Ian Walsh’s 10 – point ride in her history book for a perfect, massive barrel, while there are a number of 10-point rides in Maverick’s history for various barrels and high risk moves.
Nazaré is not a wave for performance, and while it definitely ticks the criteria for big wave height, it can be a little bit dreary for the spectator at times.
As a fan of pro surfing and of the Big Wave Tour, this discourse is probably a little hypercritical of the venue, and of the people laying their lives on the line in a bid to win an event and impress judges, but Nazaré is probably the hardest wave to relate to. Jaws and Mavs are easy enough, due to the machine-like repetition of the sets and the take-off zones, and places like Waimea and Puerto Escondido are also relatable and enjoyable to watch, exciting even, each for their own unique reasons. Nazaré not so much…
Hopefully this year will change all that, and a new level of high-performance, big-wave surfing will dominate at the chunkiest of big wave venues. Let’s hope so. With stalwarts like Greg Long, Twiggy Baker and Makuakai Rothman being joined by upstarts like ‘Chumbo’, Russel Bierke and Natxo Gonzalez, anything could happen.
Event site and first round heats can be found here - http://www.worldsurfleague.com/events/2018/mbwt/2886/nazare-challenge