To put it mildly, the days and hours leading up to a Big Wave Tour event are hectic. Athletes have 72 hours to book flights, make last-minute equipment preparations and say good-bye to their families. Each competitor has their own approach -- and even their own ritual -- before making the trek to each big-wave spot. Ahead of the Nazaré Challenge, which is set to kick off at 8 a.m. Saturday in Portugal, four surfers familiar with the wave -- Peter Mel, Alex Botelho, Joao De Macedo and Tom Lowe -- broke down their whirlwind schedules and emotions in the days leading up to the event.
All four are seasoned big-wave surfers, both in and out of competitions. For his part, Mel was a pioneer of the Big Wave Tour before serving as the WSL's Big Wave Tour Commissioner until March, 2017. At Nazaré, the Santa Cruz native will be back in the lineup as a competitor, and is making his way from California to Portugal with an athlete's eye for detail. Botelho and De Macedo are also competing; both live in Portugal and are just a drive away from the big-wave spot. Lowe, meanwhile, lives in Cornwall, U.K. -- also just a hop, skip and a jump away from Nazaré. Here's what their past 48 hours have been like:
WSL: What did you do when Nazaré first got the green light?
Peter Mel: It was late at night when it went green, so I had to try and fall back asleep. It was too late to do anything about equipment preparation. That's usually the first thing on my check list. Next was getting my travel-agent hat on. I do most of my travel bookings on my own. The tickets last minute can be expensive, so you have to be creative. I spent a good amount of time taking care of that. Next is make sure you get everything together that you'll need. Surfboards, wetsuits, safety vests, leashes, Futures fins.
Alex Botelho: Gathered my things together and drove straight up to Nazaré.
João De Macedo: I came straight to Nazaré too -- I live just an hour and half south in Sintra and it's a ritual already to come North!
Tom Lowe: I was stoked. It's looking real big in the afternoon...but I'd rather it like that than perfect and medium-sized, feel I have a better chance in wild conditions.
How were you feeling on the flight (or drive) over?
Mel: Mostly trying to stay healthy. With all the last-minute travel it can be draining on the body. Stay hydrated, clean hands and try to rest. The last thing you need is to get sick right before the contest. The nerves are there, but it's an excited energy. It feels good.
Botelh: As I drove up, there's always a scary respectful feeling towards it, even knowing the many faces of Nazaré it always has surprises for you, no matter the forecast or the familiarity. I had a lot of excitement and anticipation for what is to come.
De Macedo: When you get the call you immediately have a waterfall of emotions -- such excitement with fear and all-around flashbacks of previous huge swells.
Lowe: No flight for me, I'm here chilling at home in Ericeira. For once I don't have to travel, but of course I'm scared. Personally Nazaré when it's massive, is the heaviest most dangerous place to paddle out of. But I've put my time in I've been through some gnarly situations out there, which gives me confidence. The fear and adrenaline are always present out there, and you channel that into your sessions.
What does your preparation look like, leading up to a big-wave event?
Mel: I'm all about knowing my equipment. I spend hours preparing everything. From leashes and wax to my Airlift vest. Everything must be in working order. I don't like relying on anyone else for stuff, I try to bring everything I need. Being totally prepared also helps alleviate any nervousness.
Botelho: Surfing with good friends around is my favorite environment.
De Macedo: I try to just stay relaxed and sharp -- not training too hard because all the work has already been done. It's really just trying to rest and be sharp until showtime.
Lowe: Plenty of breathing, like breath holds on the bike, surfing on my gun, listening to music. I make a conscious effort to be present, and just tune into nature.
Are there any rituals you do?
Mel: I don't have any true rituals, but once I feel like I've completed the preparation process, I like to meditate and feel how my mind, body and soul feel. Really look into it. Then make any adjustments that pop up. Just like every swell is different, my body is too. So knowing that can help in a big way.
Botelho: I probably spend a good few hours just looking at my boards...
De Macedo: Wake up early, meditate, stretch and just be stoked to be alive!
Lowe: Before I paddle out I do some yoga, breath holds to get my lungs nice and open. I always have my trinkets with me traveling, like lucky charms I collected in my life. I collected crystals since I was a kid, and always choose a few to take on a swell with me, putting them with my trinkets for good energy. I've always done it.
How does your family feel when you take off for a big-wave event?
Mel: At this point in my life, they're used to it. This trip will be a little different. I'm bringing my wife, Tara. It's her first time to a Big Wave Event outside of the US. She's watched me compete at Mavs and the Eddie at Waimea. Or she stays in Santa Cruz and works at our Surf Shop and watches on WSL. But this time we're going together. I'm excited about it and so is she.
Botelho: They tell me to not go surf those "big" waves, and I denying-ly say "I won't" and then we are all happy.
Lowe: If you want to catch waves you will get cleaned up, and every session there's a very high chance of a two-wave hold down. That's a scary thing to get your head around. The pay-off is flying down the biggest lump of water you've ever caught, feels like you're hovering.
The Nazaré Challenge is on for Saturday, February 10, 2018 starting at 8 am WET (12 am PST, 6 am BRST, 8 am GMT, 7 pm AEDT). Watch live on Facebook and at worldsurfleague.com.