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João De Macedo: "None of Us Have a Death Wish"

By all accounts, including his own, Portuguese surfer João De Macedo's run earlier this month at the WSL Big Wave Tour's (BWT) Nazaré Challenge didn't quite go as planned.

In his Round One heat, De Macedo wiped out on a behemoth wave and his board hit him in the face; he rushed from the lineup to the medical tent, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Luckily, his board missed his eye by mere centimeters. The doctors on site stapled his face (picture a medical-grade stapler -- not unlike the one on your desk), cleared him to surf, and he headed back out to finish his heat. In the end, De Macedo didn't make it further, but his grit was impressive nonetheless. He arrived at the event ranked No. 9 on the BWT rankings, thanks largely to a third-place finish at the inaugural Nazaré contest, but left in an unfortunate No. 22. As he recovered from his injury he was upbeat and willing to talk shop. Here's more on De Macedo, his approach to splitting time between San Francisco, Calif., and Sintra, Portugal, and how he trains for such brutal conditions.

Joao De Macedo Finds Early Rhythm at Nazaré
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Before the wave that sent his board into his face, De Macedo showed his deep experience at Nazaré.

On His Wipeout

I feel good with myself, that I tried my hardest, that I felt really well physically. That's why it felt so natural to go back out there, even after the stitches, because I put so much into it. None of us [on the BWT] have a death wish -- I have a young son -- we're not kamikazes here. But you want risk, you want to push the limits, and that comes with feeling those edges. Falls come with the territory. It's a scary part of Nazaré, you're going to fall on a drop, especially if you're pushing things. It's like surfing barrels, and on big waves it's such a dramatic scale, you have to train to deal with it. The fear of falling can become so big that you don't catch waves.

Joao De Macedo get stitched after his wipe-out during Round One Heat 1 of the Nazare Challenge in Nazare, Portugal. Getting stitched up, mid-heat at Nazaré. WSL / Antoine JUSTES, Antoine Justes

[The hit] was above my eyebrow, the doctors, Nuno and Terry, they told me that [my board] basically hit that bone and skin just above my eyebrow -- all things considered, it's actually a hard part of the skull. I was pretty deep [under water], and trying to relax so I could breathe, and that's when it hit me. I felt like it hit me super hard, but I didn't feel close to blacking out, I didn't get anxious. I was able to stay with it, I'm not sure if I had inflated my vest beforehand, but I was able to inflate [and rise to the surface].

2018 Wipeout of the Year Entry: Joao De Macedo at Jaws
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None of us have death wishes, De Macedo said of the ethos of big-wave surfers. But risk, he acknowledged, is part of the job. Above: Going for it in Maui.

It missed my eye by three centimeters so I couldn't see very well, because a bit of my skin fell down and it was bleeding a lot. I was very fortunate that I wasn't knocked out. But it was under water [when the board snapped back], and that's something that's been discussed, about using leashes or not using leashes. Even with a really long leash, the boards are so big, that it feels like the boards are closer to you than you want.

On How He Trains for Big Waves (and Big Wipeouts)

I have an amazing underwater and apnea [breath-holds] coach, from my home beach. His name is Jojo, the Wave Crushers Training System is his program. He creates some amazing exercises, and simulates a lot, not just static [breath holds]. For example, imagine you're underwater and you're breathing out, so you're losing oxygen, and then you swim, pick up a kettlebell, do 10 lifts, and do 10 more.

2018 Wipeout of the Year Entry: Joao De Macedo at Jaws
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When training counts.

In another exercise he first makes you dizzy, going around and around, and puts a swimming cap over your eyes, and tosses you into the water. Then you have to do a certain task -- like find a kettlebell underwater, and put it through a hoop, so you have to look up and find where the hoop is, and come out of the water through the hoop. It's about creating a little bit of physical strain, then jumping into the water.

The mental part is almost 60 or 70 percent of [big-wave performance]. So I've been more stoked about recalibrating my mental part, that deep Zen mode under water -- you're wanting to trigger that and be comfortable triggering it -- that's a lot of the training. But then you get physically stronger, too. A lot of it is improving your paddling. We paddle an old surfboard with bags, you string something to the tail, and basically the bag has some holes, so you're dragging it, so you get that feeling of hard strokes to catch a wave.

2018 Biggest Paddle Entry: Joao De Macedo in the Pe'ahi Challenge at Jaws, Maui, Hawaii on October 27, 2017. Photo by Richard Hallman. De Macedo's Big Wave Awards 2018 Biggest Paddle Entry, from the Pe'ahi Challenge. WSL / Richard Hallman

Another really huge part of what I was doing was training Muay Thai, with [professional] Nuno Neves. We were trying to simulate reactions, and we were looking a little bit at late drops, so a lot of this stuff is stability work, but with reflexes -- it helps little areas in your hips and little muscles that you're not used to using, but when you lose balance and create balance. He'd be trying to create force and do a hit on a Bosu ball. For example, there was a fair bit of sparring, and the warm-ups would be standing on a Bosu, get a bit of tension in your legs, in a high anaerobic state, and hitting the punching bag,

For the balance stuff, I'd be in a surfing stance, and he'd try to get me down, or hit me. I tried to stay in a fixed stance, lose balance and recover by lowering my center of gravity, and get more instinctive about that.

On Family and What's Next

I have a slightly dysfunctional family life, in that my son is in San Francisco, his mom is based there. Almost four years ago we separated, and we tried to patch it up, but I wasn't able to do that. I wanted to share Portugal with him, so I moved back. So every three months at the most, I'm back in California. So my year is between Portugal and California, normally I can stay 10, 15 days [in the U.S.]. I run a surf school, and luckily I have a really great team. Since I qualified last year to be back on the Big Wave Tour, I got more time to train and practice and intensify things, but I don't have a main sponsor -- I ran a crowdfunding campaign to buy a jet ski.

I haven't really been traveling the past few years because of my son, so all my travel money is for that. He just turned turned five on Sunday [February 11]. He's a good little dude.

In terms of goals, I wanted to do well at Nazaré, it felt like such a blessing to requalify, I wasn't really expecting that. And exploring new waves and being in really good physical condition for them, is something that excites me. I wanted to have a really great result at the Nazaré Challenge. So if not me, then another Portuguese guy should bring a title home, if not me, then Frederico [Morais].

So, I'm licking my wounds but ready to be there next year. It's good to know that a contest will go down, and I'm happy to be a part of that. And if Maverick's [the final potential event for the 2017/2018 BWT season] doesn't come along, and I'm not able to defend my spot, then so be it. I don't have a budget to chase swells. So next I'll be hunkering down, staying well physically, and probably chasing South Hemisphere swells, like Punta de Lobos, Chile. It's going to depend on what kind of support I can get. But I'll be focusing on the waves in the Northern Hemisphere, and the Azores [islands off the coast of Portugal] are amazing. I'm comfortable focusing on my surf school, and still training a lot, it's not something I can turn off. You have to stay alert.

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