For many of the surfers invited to the Nazaré Challenge, the Big Wave Tour event (which can run anytime between now and February 28, 2018, swell permitting) presents a genuine, life-changing opportunity. The following six surfers have dedicated themselves to surfing one of the world's most dangerous waves and, over the years, have literally put their lives on the line to catch the biggest wave possible. Here's a look at their chances of converting that experience and commitment into a win at the wave they love.
It was Garrett McNamara who almost singlehandedly led Nazaré to its status as a premier big-wave destination. Now 50, McNamara still is on every swell when Nazaré breaks -- no one has ridden more waves there than he. He'll bring a different approach to the competition -- riding bigger, thicker boards than the other competitors -- but make no mistake, if the wave of the day comes his way, he will ride it. A shoulder injury has hampered his winter season so far, but with his knowledge, experience and commitment, he's a better bet than most to finish what he started.
João de Macedo
With an Economics Degree and a Masters in Sports Management, João de Macedo brings both intellect and competitive smarts to his stellar big-wave talents. De Macedo scored a third place in last year's Nazaré Challenge and has been a regular on the BWT since its inception, cracking the top 5 in 2012 -2013 season. After spending 10 years in California, where he became a Mavericks standout, De Macedo has returned to Portugal to mentor the next generation of local talent there. As it stands, he is probably the country's best chance of claiming a win. The pressure will be on. But none are more equipped to handle it.
Easily the best big-wave surfer from Canada, Botelho was born in Oshawa, Canada, in 1991 to a Dutch mother and a Portuguese father, but moved from the frigid northern shoreline of Lake Ontario to Portugal's Algarve at age six. Technically gifted and an incredible all-around surfer, it was his third place at the Puerto Escondido Challenge that alerted the wider world to the smooth naturalfooter's big-wave talent. He's been putting more and more time in at Nazaré in recent seasons and one more solid result could see him earn a permanent place on the BWT.
The tall, Cornish lifeguard has taken a different approach this winter, flying in to Nazaré for the big swells, rather than basing himself there full-time, as he has done in seasons past. He'll have more experience at the wave than most in the field, and backs up that lineup experience with a sound technical ability and plenty of competitive history. Last year he was guilty of wanting to surf it too badly, and ended up lucky not to lose his ear after a horrific wipeout. If he can dampen down his amp factor and surf to his strengths, he will be a contender.
The 42-year-old from Lisbon is a fisherman who arrived on the Nazaré big-wave scene just after Garrett McNamara. Vau surfs Nazaré for the pure, unadulterated adrenaline of it. His plan is simple: he sits on the first peak and tries to find the biggest lefts he can. That netted him a surprise Final placing last year and this winter he has again been a freesurf standout. With his boards dialed and McNamara as a mentor by his side, there's no reason he can't reproduce last year's heroics.
The underground local charger made the Final last year, which was just reward for years of commitment to the sand-bottomed behemoth. Over the years on the biggest of swells it was invariably the sponsor-less Silva who was towed into some of the biggest waves ever ridden at Nazaré. He made the transition to paddling easily enough, though, and with good local equipment, expert lineup positioning and straight-up bravery, he beat many of the world's best surfers here last year. There's every indication he is capable of doing it again. More than most of the competitors in the field, a win at the Nazaré Challenge would be truly life-changing for Silva. He's done the time, and now he's ready for the professional rewards.
The event window for the Nazaré Challenge is open until February 28, 2018. Stay tuned to worldsurfleague.com for more updates.