Editor’s Note: Diary from Portugal is a series from our trip around Portugal with Ace Buchan, Mikey February, Pedro Boonman, Clay Marzo, and, on occasion, Nic von Rupp and Adriano de Souza. It was made possible by The Perfect Chapter and Visit Portugal. This is the third installment. See the first one from Cascais here and the second from Peniche here.
We awoke early again, because Supertubos was supposed to be working. Well before dawn, because Pedro Boonman swore up and down that it would benefit us to be there before the sun rose. As it turned out, he could not have been more right. It was one of the biggest days at Supertubos in recent memory, and we were the first ones there. Although I’ve been to Portugal in the past, I had yet to have the good fortune of seeing Supertubos in person, and it did not disappoint.
The WSL scaffolding was already in place, although the contest window was still a few days away. It loomed over the sandy road to the beach, casting a weak shadow in the dusky dawn. The workers were not there yet, but would be in a few hours, frantically laying down walkways, grandstands, and everything else that we take for granted when watching a contest, cigarettes hanging from their lips as they worked. As we stood there, the sky went from a dusky purple with a few stars still twinkling into a soft pink tinged with the coming day’s blue.
The wind was blowing hard offshore, carrying the scent of the dunes and the succulents that somehow draw enough nutrients from empty piles of sand to survive. It was very cold, much colder than normal, and Ace and Mikey were blowing on their fingers as they struggled to climb into their wetsuits, staring at the enormous waves breaking much farther out to sea than normal. No one was out yet. No one was on the beach. It was just us, and Ace and Mikey were amping to get in the water. A light fog sat heavily on the sea, waiting to be burned off by the coming sun.
“Wow,” Ace said. “It’s big if it’s doing that.” By that, Ace meant breaking much farther out than he’d seen before. It seemed impossibly big, and it was only going to get bigger. Nic von Rupp showed up, pushing his hair off his forehead, a handful of cameramen in tow as always. Jéjé Vidal, an extraordinarily talented surfer from Sao Tome and Principe, a tiny island off the coast of Gabon, sprinted up the beach, hooting.
His English is about as good as my Portuguese, which is to say almost non-existent, but Jéjé did not need words to explain how excited he was. Although we didn’t know each other aside from a few passing moments, he ran up to me and wrapped his arms around me in a bear-hug. I laughed and hugged him back. There’s something very endearing about a person who is so immediately familiar with strangers, and Jéjé is just that. I am now rooting for him in all of his endeavors for the rest of his life.
“Cold!” He said, rubbing the backs of his arms with his hands, a huge grin on his face. “Very cold!”
I often find that the way someone surfs is a good indicator of how they act outside of the water. Ace was bouncing up and down on the sand, partially from the cold and partially because the waves detonating on the sand were much better than anyone hoped and his excitement needed somewhere to go. The previous night at dinner, Pedro Boonman told everyone that it was going to be really good.
“Let’s wait and see,” Ace responded, his hopes tempered by years of high-expectations dashed by reality. “You never know until you get there.” Now he knew, and now he was excited.
An aside about Ace Buchan here that I noticed at dinner: He is nice because he makes a real effort to ask people questions about themselves. It’s a trait that I admire. A trait I will try and emulate in the future, instead of being a selfish asshole who talks about myself for the sake of filling a silence that only I deem to be awkward.
Ace was suited up before anyone else. He gave a quick “yeehee!” And sprinted past us before throwing himself into the Atlantic. He was immediately sucked down the beach by the ripping side-shore current. It was nice to see that he is human. Mikey, always calm and collected, stretched a bit. He spoke no words, but said it all with a quiet, eager smile that led into a restrained sort of jog to the water. He too was pulled north up the beach. Soon, though, they reached the lineup, stroking towards those giant Supertubos bombs as hard as they could.
It would be nice to have the talent to paddle out at maxing Supertubos. Nice to know that you can handle waves like that, even though only a handful of people truly can. Sure, some will paddle out and give it the old college try, but that college try, as it did for many people that day, often ends in a humbling wave count of zero and a broken surfboard.
It took no time at all for Ace and Mikey to catch their first waves, just getting their feet in the wax, as they say. And as they did, Nic, Jéjé, and a few others made their way out. The lineup would be relatively crowded in a few short hours, but at that moment, it was just four heads out in the chilly offshore wind and the pumping waves.
At 7:39 a.m., Leonardo Fioravanti showed up, a fresh surfboard under his arm. The tide began to fill in, and the surf went from big to bigger. At 7:44 a.m., Tyler Wright showed up. She looked incredibly at ease, making her way around the fences that were set up up for the contest, then sitting in the sand to get her head around what exactly was happening out there. She had a smile on her face that did not leave from the time she arrived to the time she got out of the water. It’s inspiring to see how much professional surfers still love surfing.
Italo Ferreira showed up later, but I only saw the back of him. His back, however, was getting insanely barreled. Italo is on a different level, and that fact was on display that morning.
The waves continued to grow in size as the sun warmed the air. The beach filled with photographers and the lineup with surfers. By 9:00 a.m., approximately one-million surfboards had been snapped, washing up on the sand like so many spent matchsticks, their glass hanging limply off the foam.
I walked south, hoping to find a corner that was a little more manageable, but it was fruitless. Instead, I walked east towards the rising sun, into the dunes, breathing in the morning air filled with the scent of the dune flora. It was a nice way to shake the remains of the jet lag that still clung to my brain. That air was filled with the thunderous sound of the breaking waves, and soon Ace would be on the beach, his knee in his hands, his trip ended by what he suspected to be a torn MCL.
“I just got pinched in a barrel,” he told me from the back of the van later on. “I’ve done this before, and I know what it feels like.”
He looked as though he was in a lot of pain, but Ace, as far as I’ve seen, isn’t one to be brought down by these things. “It could be worse,” he laughed, facing the prospect of an insanely long flight back to Australia to recover. And it could be worse, but it sure could be better.
It was a day to remember, that’s for certain — and I’m very glad that particular day was my first time seeing Supertubos with my own two eyes.