"You have no idea of the size, but what you do register is the speed," French big-wave surfer Benjamin Sanchis told the WSL. "That is the scariest thing, because on those bigger waves you go so fast you freak out. All you are concentrating on is not falling off."
Sanchis was talking about a towering left he caught on January 18 at Nazaré, which is a 2018 Ride of the Year Entry. This was the first time Sanchis had towed there since 2014, when he famously did fall off. That fall netted him the Wipeout Of the Year Award and it's perhaps unsurprising that he hadn't been back since.
For his return, Sanchis also didn't make it any easier for himself. Just five days before, he had made the trip to surf the Pe'ahi (also known as Jaws) swell -- all the way across the world, on Maui -- a mission that took its considerable toll.
"I saw the Jaws swell and decided to go. I live in the Canary Islands in winter, so you probably couldn't get further away from Hawaii," he says. "It was a six-hour flight to Amsterdam, an overnight stay then 24 hours travel at least to get to Maui."
Sanchis arrived the night before, slept on a friend's couch, then managed to damage his shoulder on the first, smaller day of the swell. After another sleepless night, he motivated himself for the next big day and had a good session, catching five or six waves; a solid return given the conditions and the crowd.
As with most big-wave surfers, though, with one session completed he was soon scanning the charts for the next. "The swell and winds were getting better and better for Nazaré and I knew I had to make it happen," he says. "I texted Ross Clarke-Jones, who'd also just arrived in Hawaii. I only surf with Nazaré with Ross and Eric Rebiere. They are the guys I really trust. Ross got back and said, ‘Lets do it'. Then I knew it was game on."
Sancho reversed his world commute, traveling for 48 hours to arrive back at Nazaré the night before the big day. "I swear I hadn't slept in a week between the jet lag, the shitty sofa, the travel and all the adrenaline of the big swells, but I was like 'fuck it,' this is what it's all about," he says. "And I was with Ross, so I had no choice. I was soaking up his energy and his drive. I know he only puts you on the biggest sets."
Both surfers ending up riding a couple of the bigger waves on what is considered to be one of the biggest days Nazaré has been ridden. Sanchis just surfed the one session, but content with his fill, returned home to the Canaries to lick his wounds.
"I am still so tired. I'm kinda destroyed and lethargic," he said. "On the flip side, you know you are living your life to the maximum. You've been to so many places, surfed incredible waves and you feel so alive. That's why we do it."