Story by Gustavo Lermen Silva
I was completely absorbed by Nazaré after surfing it for the first time just a few weeks ago. I had already witnessed giant waves here, like the 2014 Hercules swell. I’d even had my own scare on that same day, as I descended the lighthouse stairs to the mirador and got washed up by a giant wave. But I’d never surfed it before.
The locals I talked to said we were safe there, but they are wrong. Nazaré always surprises people and shows its power to all who approach. A wave formed and exploded on the stones in front of the lighthouse, leaving everyone there completely vulnerable, at the mercy of that white curtain. Luckily the water came from top to bottom, hit the hill and fell like a soft waterfall, otherwise, this could have been a tragic event.
Now, you should know everything they say about North Beach is true. It is powerful, mystical, mysterious, aggressive, perfect, dangerous and unique in this world.
When I came in to try to surf the intermediate waves in December, it was around 10 feet. I quickly learned how useless small boards with next to no volume are here. I was close to dropping into a good one, but my less than inadequate equipment did not inspire confidence, making it even more difficult with that little bit of doubt in my mind.
I left that day determined to return with better equipment, more prepared both physically and psychologically. What I did not expect is that my second chance would come so soon, without actually being as prepared as I’d hoped. Even with a larger board and leash, there were still many things I needed to work on.
The forecast was for small waves and offshore winds for a couple of days, so I thought it was a good opportunity to test a 7’0 I hadn’t used for a while. The night before my surf, the forecast bumped up the swell size and period; the butterflies started flying around in my stomach.
After a bad night’s sleep, listening to the breaking canyon waves, the day finally arrived. Beautiful, cold and weak wind. We went to the lighthouse at the end of the promontory to watch the waves more closely. The tide was full, the sets were coming in slow and there was no one in the water. It seemed much calmer than it actually was.
As the tide dropped, everything changed. Only a few local guys were in the parking lot, with no intention of entering at the sea and admiring the great left that broke perfectly near the lighthouse. My good friend Tiago asked, “You will not go?” I almost said I wouldn’t, but the long intervals between sets made me believe it was all possible.
The only other guy who was going to paddle was Sebastian Steudtner, who promptly came to give some tips on where and how to enter the water. My adrenaline was running high.
Once I’d arrived in the lineup, everything was a bit surreal, as if I had landed on the moon. I noticed I was further away from the beach than I imagined. The people on land had shrunk they were so far away.
And now I was playing at my own risk, paddling alone in a place where I’d never been before. It didn’t take long for the first set to roll through. After catching my first wave I tried to get back out to the lineup as fast as possible, taking three more waves on the head. The waves were picking up with the tide still dropping. Nevertheless, this place was still perfect.
It wasn’t long before the session was cut short, including a dangerous attempt at simply getting out of the water. A fishing net near the lighthouse and 15-foot shorebreak made the escape complicated. Taking waves on the head just trying to get back to land, Sebastian Steudner broke a board while I was hit in the face with my own surfboard before finally making it out alive with some cooperation and the rescue efforts of others nearby. Luckily everyone was ok, as it could have been much worse.
It’s these situations where I’m reminded of the great companionship amongst us in the big wave community, even if we have no other relation to each other beyond riding waves. It’s in heavy waves like these that everyone looks out for each other, and I’m very thankful we have that camaraderie.
I felt lucky to have that experience and this feeling, especially in times of aggressive localism and hostilities around the globe. The big wave community has so much to teach for conventional surfers who defend their beach like savages, attacking anyone that approaches as enemies. As Portugal’s surfing pioneer Pedro Lima says, “By your side, there may be a potentially great friend.”
The biggest lesson I took from it all was a reminder of how small we are. Life is too short to waste time and energy on the small things.
Much peace, love, and hugs to everyone!