The very first WSL tow surfing event at Nazaré is officially greenlit for Tuesday, February 11. It’s going to be big — really big. Forecasters have been eyeing a swell that is expected to bring waves in the 50-60-foot range.
“We have an amazing run of swell coming,” Garrett McNamara said. “On the 11th, 60-plus. East southeast winds starting it out, but super light. And then it goes dead. The challenge we have is that the day we’re looking at, the 11th, is that when there’s no wind, there’s fog. In Nazaré, you really want to have no expectations. Everything can change all the way to the night before. The only thing we can count on is showing up in the morning and seeing what’s there.”
A tow surfing event at Nazaré is a final nail in the coffin of all the tow surfing/Nazaré hate that filled the internet for a few short years.
For years, surf media, and many surfers in general, wrote Nazaré off. Greg Long once called it a “novelty wave.” Surfing Magazine spent pages telling readers that Portugal’s canyon-driven powerhouse didn’t really count. “It’s back, like a cold sore. Nazaré Canyon,” Taylor Paul wrote in 2013. “The wave that sometimes isn’t a wave because a wave has a crest and a trough, and Nazaré often lacks the latter. The hype that comes with it is back too. ‘Biggest wave ever ridden?’ ‘The 100-foot wave?’ ‘I’m Ron Burgandy [sic]?’ Those question marks express doubt, and rightfully so. It’s like a surfer’s version of a cheap philosophical question: If a wave breaks without a bottom, does it break a world record?”
But those who surfed it knew just how special it was and they continued to do so. They realized that it was, indeed a real wave, but on those biggest days, it was simply too big to be paddled into. So they towed, a form of surfing that, after a brief foray in the limelight of the early 2000s, soon fell by the wayside in favor of paddling. But the fact remained that some waves are just too big to paddle, so towing remained on the outskirts. Now, all these years later, tow surfing and paddle-in surfing seem to have reconciled their differences and learned to live and let live, as it were.
Since tow surfing is a team sport (read about the intensely personal relationship Carlos Burle and Maya Gabiera formed here) that requires both a talented surfer and a talented ski pilot, the Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge is a team sport.
“Nineteen big wave surfers from around the globe – 17 men and two women – will be paired up in tow teams,” the WSL explained. “They will compete in a four-hour expression session with no elimination, and an option to run longer if conditions are right. The session will feature a rotating heat format and a priority system that keeps five teams in the water at all times. Each tow team will get two one-hour heats to whip each other into waves of mind-boggling heights.”
Not only is the event format different, the judging is, too. Four awards will be handed out: Men’s Wave of the Day, Women’s Wave of the Day, Team Champions, and The Jogos Santa Casa Commitment Award. The best waves of the day will be shown on a big screen after the contest is done, and each competitor will vote for their favorites. The tally at the end determines who won.
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Here are the teams:
Team World: Sebastian Steudtner (DEU) & Maya Gabeira (BRA)
Team Brazil: Rodrigo Koxa (BRA) & Pedro Scooby (BRA)
Team Great Britain: Andrew Cotton (GBR) & Tom Butler (GBR)
Team Australia: Ross Clarke-Jones (AUS) & Mick Corbett (AUS)
Team Portugal: Alex Botelho (PRT) & Hugo Vau (PRT)
Team Young Bulls: Lucas Chianca (BRA) & Kai Lenny (HAW)
Team Europe: Nic von Rupp (PRT) & Francisco Porcella (ITA)
Team France: Benjamin Sanchis (FRA) & Eric Rebiere (FRA)
Team Atlantic: Grant Baker (ZAF) & Antonio Silva (PRT)
Team Justine: Justine Dupont (FRA) surfer only/Fred David driver only