Saturday at the Nazaré Challenge was more a brutal game of survival than an elegant match of skill. By the time two heats had run, the wind was whipping and the waves were too choppy to surf. Commissioner Mike Parsons called the event off for the day -- but not before 12 of the 24-man field got a taste of the big-wave break at its wildest.
Even locals had their work cut out for them. João De Macedo, who lives in Portugal and surfs the wave often, suffered a wound to his eye socket in Heat 1 when his board flipped. "It tumbled under water and just kind of kicked me," he said, after receiving medical treatment on shore. "I probably risked a little bit too much for my first wave. But I'm just so stoked that the event is here." De Macedo was so stoked, in fact, that he had his face stapled, then headed out to finish the heat.
In the next heat, Peter Me led the pack, but it wasn't all smooth sailing, so to speak. The seasoned competitor -- who's also the former WSL Big Wave Tour Commissioner -- looked like the picture of comfort, opening with a big score that ultimately won him the round. But it turns out that he, too, had a few hurdles to clear before things even got started.
"Funny story," he said afterward. "I arrived late last night [Friday] missing my bag with all my clothes, jacket, wetsuits, fins and leashes. All I had was a board bag with two boards and no fins. So I had to scramble and make calls. I'm fortunate I have good friends around the world. I called Jose Gregorio from Quiksilver Portugal. He arranged a wetsuit, booties and a jacket. Quik team manager Mathieu Darrigrand dropped the gear off at my hotel. Jamie Mitchell provided fins and leashes. So overall, the prep work was out the window."
And once Mel was out in the water, the Atlantic curveballs didn't stop coming. "Conditions changed in the beginning of our heat," he said. "It got really windy and the tide was dropping. The ski rides out are brutal. The poundings are some of the most challenging in the world. The whole experience is taxing. Mentally, physically and psychologically! I'm glad I had my super coach and caddy, my wife Tara."
Mitchell, meanwhile, who is the defending event champ, put it this way on his Instagram: "What a crazy morning. Only two heats run...as the wind was crazy strong and some of the most challenging conditions I've ever surfed in. I only got one wave but was enough to squeak into the Semifinals tomorrow."
Along with keeping the surfers safe, there was another key bonus from the pause on competition: time to recuperate. "Today, I did a round trip to Lisbon," said Mel. "I found my bag. Now it's nap time."
Watch the rest of the Nazaré Challenge Sunday when action continues. The next call is at 7:30 am WET.