Grant Baker wasn't prepared to surf Nazaré again. The story was picked up off his Instagram account and shared on social media, and surf media ran with it. It was too wild out there, and he was done with it. Knowing Twiggy however, it was likely that there was more to this than meets the eye. After the offshore spray and the haze from massive waves at the Nazaré Challenge -- the WSL Big Wave Tour contest that ran earlier this month -- had finally softened, we managed to track the man down to see what was going on.
WSL: It must have been quite the terrifying experience at Nazaré. Do you reckon it was one of the most heavy big wave experiences ever?
Grant Baker: Nazaré as a wave is a beautiful and challenging experience and is equal in heaviness to the other big wave spots like Maverick's, Jaws and Puerto. I'm a beachbreak guy and love the demands of trying to catch a bomb amongst the chaos and Nazaré is the big daddy of all beach breaks and as gnarly as it gets. Saying that, it's doable and survivable if you only take the actual wave into consideration.
At what stage was it that you took a look around and decided, ‘This is getting pretty heavy?'
The heavy part of the day was the jet ski rides back out after being washed to the beach. I've taken some flack over the past week for saying this was too dangerous and can't be repeated, and been called all sorts of names questioning my manhood, but I dare anyone to jump on one of those mats with a 10-foot board and hold on for 20 minutes while you jump 10 feet white water and to come out saying it wasn't the heaviest thing you have ever done.
Apart from your own dramas and fears, what was the heaviest thing out there that you saw?
Garret and Damien's near-miss on the jet ski was by far the heaviest thing of the day and it was testament to the skill and bravery of the water patrol that there weren't a lot more of those situations through the day. The water patrol did an amazing job under some brutal conditions.
Overall there were a number of major injuries including a couple of concussions, a torn ear, water on the lungs, a broken hand and some minor injuries like my bruised ribs that will keep me out the water for a while. This is an acceptable part of what we do if most of them happen while surfing waves but not so much when done on the jet skis, just trying to get back out after a wave.
I was misquoted, and if you read my post again, I was talking about never riding on the mat of a ski with a 10-foot board through the lineup again.
You have mentioned that you might not surf there again.
I was misquoted here and if you read my post again, I was taking about never riding on the mat of a ski with a 10ft board through the lineup again. The way to surf an event at Nazaré is to go out in the morning with four boards on a boat and if you get washed in, to leave that board on the beach, get a lift back out sitting behind the driver on the ski and to use a new board from the boat. After the heat you get driven back to the harbor with the boards you used and back to the lineup on the boat to start again. We have discussed this in detail with the WSL and it should be implemented for next year's event, so I'll be good to go.
Good to hear. We have spoken much about camaraderie in the past, at these events. What was the vibe like at backline?
This event was different because the lineup is pretty spread out and you didn't spend much time with another surfer or have time to talk things through. It was full on for the entire hour of the heats and once someone went on a wave you couldn't tell what happened to him or see them again for the rest of the heat.
The way to surf an event at Nazaré is to go out in the morning with four boards on a boat and if you get washed in, to leave that board on the beach, get a lift back out sitting behind the driver on the ski and to use a new board from the boat. We have discussed this in detail with the WSL and it should be implemented for next years' event, so I'll be good to go.
What was the vibe like between heats on land?
The vibe was one of relief that we had made it back to the beach and a lot of guys who were knocked out were happy to not be surfing again (laughs). Also we started the discussion on how to make things safer almost immediately. Much like when you arrive at your local beach on the biggest day of the year and sit and watch and look for your entry and exit points and figure out the safest way to approach the day, we started doing that at Nazaré and working out how to make things safer for the future.
You've said this before, having a little family with people who are dependent on you changes things drastically.
Yes for sure this affects your mindset and what has changed for me is to not chase down every major swell and to not go as hard in the free surf sessions these days but to rather save it for the events and put it on the line when I have a vest on.
Who was the craziest surfer out there?
There were a few of them but Nic (Lamb), Joao (De Macedo), Carlos (Burlé) and of course "Maddog Mitchell" stood out on the day. Boys were sending it!
Who was the craziest new face out there?
There are a couple of crazy young Brazilians like Pedro (Calado) and Lucas (Chianca) who are making people stand up and take notice. Carlos is training them and they have the drive and determination to go all the way and not quite enough experience to realize the full extent of the risks involved and this is an exciting combination to watch.
Big Wave Champion, 2017? How would that change your life again?
I can't even think about that yet, the results worked out for me at Nazaré, but I've got some serious rehab to go through with my ribs in the next few weeks just to try and be ready to surf Todos, never mind being in shape to compete at the highest level, so it's just one day at a time right now.