Lucas "Chumbinho" Chianca, a Brazilian big-wave surfer from Saquarema (just north of Rio de Janeiro), is quickly making a name for himself with his distinct style: He's one of the first to carve up massive wave faces, instead of riding and surviving.
"When I drop into the big waves, I don't want to think about size," said Lucas. "I want to surf that wave. Maverick's for me is like the J-Bay of big-wave surfing. You can find the barrel and ride the sections. When I talk about surfing, I'm talking about turning on the wave, riding the whole wave."
Maverick's for me is like the J-Bay of big-wave surfing. You can find the barrel and ride the sections. When I talk about surfing, I'm talking about... riding the whole wave. - Chumbinho
Chumbinho was practically born to surf big waves. His dad started towing him into solid ones with a PWC when he was 12, and is the source of both his son's earliest training and his nickname. His father is known as Chumbo, which means "lead" in Portuguese. (Lucas' moniker is the diminutive, which translates to "little lead.") In honor of the close relationship he has with his father and his younger brother (who also surfs professionally), Lucas has a tattoo of three lead bars on his back.
Lucas' uncle, big-wave surfer Marco Monteiro, was his next big influence. After towing into local waves for a few years, he started traveling with Monteiro to some of the world's best big-wave breaks, from Maverick's in Northern California to Mexico's Puerto Escondido. That's when Big Wave Tour (BWT) Commissioner, Peter Mel, started to see Chumbinho as -- to borrow liberally from Marlon Brando -- a potential contender.
"I've known Lucas' name," said Mel, "but the first time I noticed he was a little different was when I saw an edit of his surfing in Puerto Escondido. It came right after our event [last June]. I'd heard he was ripping down there, but then I saw an edit and he was charging the barrel. He surfs really well already in small waves and transitions that into the big stuff.
"Then he reached out to me and said, 'I'm raising my hand, I want to be a Big Wave Tour competitor. Please know my name,'" recalled Mel. "Where we really saw him transition into something special, though, was when he first surfed Maverick's. That's where I saw and heard that he had a knack for this thing."
But it wasn't until last fall -- when Chumbinho partnered with Brazilian big-wave pioneer Carlos Burlé -- that his star began to rise in earnest. Burlé, 49, is a master of creating a career path where one didn't exist. From competing on the Big Wave Tour to having a cable TV show in the works (not to mention a Red Bull contract and legend-status in the sport), Burlé is not only an athlete, but a mentor, too. His other protégé is fellow Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira, whose prominence as a big-wave surfer increased significantly after the duo teamed up.
Lucas' path to partnership was far from a straight line, however. Burlé first saw his future charge years ago at an amateur surf contest in Brazil. He thought then that Lucas clearly had talent, but wasn't ready for prime time.
"The director of the event came to me and was like, ‘Lucas is a nice guy, but he hit on [a girl] in the locker room and a guy almost stabbed him with a knife,'" Burlé recalled. "He was 16. It's because he likes the girls, you know. I'm being honest. So, I thought it would be hard to hold this guy. Where's the focus?"
He was 16. It's because he likes the girls, you know. I'm being honest. So, I thought it would be hard to hold this guy. Where's the focus? - Burlé, on his first impression of Chumbinho
But five years of maturity, a burning passion, and an open door can make all the difference. By the fall of 2016, Chumbinho -- now 21 -- had been grinding out mediocre results on the Qualifying Series, dreaming of the Championship Tour (CT) and using any contest earnings to chase big waves. In short, he was all over the place.
"When it's 2-feet and 4-feet, I don't feel comfortable," said Lucas. "When I surf 18-footers, 20-footers, 30-foot waves, I feel so much more comfortable in the water. I feel so much of -- How do you say? Conectado A connection with the ocean. I don't feel the pressure. I feel like I'm surfing what I want and doing what I love now. That's a point that I changed my whole life for."
The turning point came in October 2016 when Burlé invited a few surfers -- including Chumbinho -- to surf with him at Nazaré, Portugal. Burlé (and Gabeira, among a handful of other chargers) has a home base there in the winter when the waves are the biggest. Of the invited surfers, only Lucas accepted, flying from Saquarema to Lisbon for the promise of life-or-death conditions. What he got, though, was far more than an average surf trip: There was meditation and a yoga retreat. There were exercise routines and more meditation. And after this customized, Karate Kid-style induction into Burlé's world -- the swell finally arrived.
"We're talking about 60-foot waves," Lucas said, with a nervous laugh. "That day I saw Jamie Mitchell in the water and I said, 'Yeah. I want to paddle.' I'm really scared, but I want to do this. I want to sit under the peak, under Jamie, and I got some nice waves.
"After I got my first big wave there I was feeling like, 'Look at how big this wave is!' I made the wave and got out and was looking back and a huge wave coming for me. I saw Carlos come to get me, but I said, 'You don't have time to come and pick me up.' So he goes back to try to get me before the second one, but I got a huge whitewater on my head. And I'm feeling like, 'I'm putting all my training to real life. I can do that. I just want my mom.'"
I got huge whitewater on my head. And I'm feeling like, I'm putting all my training to real life. I can do that. I just want my mom. -- Chumbinho
A few more hold-downs later, Lucas and Carlos finally made it out of the impact zone. But the ordeal wasn't over yet. "We spent 30 minutes in the shorebreak trying to come in with the ski," said Lucas. "I've never seen a shorebreak that size, 15-foot whitewater like that. It was so horrible. But that's our job right now."
Still, whatever angst Lucas suffered that day, he made a big impression. Mel watched it all, riveted.
"The first time I saw him surfing live was the day that we ran the Finals for the Rip Curl Pro Portugal," said Mel. "I went up early that morning to surf Nazaré. I get up there on the ski prepared to catch a few waves. A couple of guys were paddling and Lucas is sitting 150 yards inside of everyone else -- he was risking life and limb to get this wave.
"There's a shot of him where he's jumping off in front of what looks like 100 feet of white-wash. So I saw him take the wave and then he didn't show back up in the lineup for 45 minutes. He got pounded, stuck inside, and then came back out and was back in the pit again. That shows just how much he wants it."
That first, massive session not only impressed Mel, but gave Lucas more confidence to continue. He kept working with Burlé and -- since that day in Portugal -- has been fully immersed in his mentor's Zen program.
He didn't show back up in the lineup for 45 minutes. He had gotten pounded, stuck inside, and then came back out and was back in the pit again. That shows just how much he wants it. - Peter Mel, on Chumbinho at Nazaré
Of their partnership, Burlé explained: "It's not a normal sport/coach relationship. It's a life coach. I'm giving everything that I have learned in my life. I'm not trying to control him, it's all about his life. He's the one that makes the call. I tell him, ‘It's your life. If you want to listen to me, you listen to me. If you don't want to listen to me, that's okay.'"
But there was one day, toward the end of the year, that sealed the deal. What unfolded set both men on a definitive course together.
"We went out in front of our house in Hawaii," Burlé said. "We woke up really early, before we had breakfast, and we took some stand-up paddle boards out. It was a beautiful morning. All glass. I asked him to come close to me and I said, ‘Lucas, let me tell you something. Every time you pick up the phone, you have an idea of who that person is. You have a memory of them. What type of memory do you want to leave? How do you want people to understand you? What kind of history do you want for yourself?'
"That day, something clicked. At that time people were thinking that he had a lot of talent but that's it. I'm emotional because I'm positive that day made a difference. That day he understood that he's the only one that can do that, not me or anyone else. It has to come from his heart. You have to be there every single day of your life and you are your own master. That all happened this past November. Happiness can't be achieved by buying cars or winning Titles. Happiness is peace."
Of course, no one said being Zen is easy. After all, Lucas is a guy who met a woman on a flight and had a new girlfriend before they landed (Sorry, ladies: they're still together). All the organic vegetables and yoga poses in the world can't change what goes along with being a gregarious 21-year-old.
I'm not going to be a normal kid, going to the party and everywhere, drinking beer. I don't want to be that now. I want to keep serious and focus on my way, and my career. -- Chumbinho
Or can they? "It's a sacrifice," said Lucas, "but a nice sacrifice. I'm not going to be a normal kid, going to the party and everywhere, drinking beer. I don't want to be that now. I want to keep serious and focus on my way and my career.
"I've learned so much with Carlos. But the important point I learned is, if you want to be the best big-wave surfer in the world, you have to train for that, because everyone is training for that. That's one point that I think of so much. Now, I have to work so much."