This time last year, Lucas "Chumbo" Chianca was a talented surfer with a taste for big waves, who wasn't well-known beyond the inner circles of those who ride giants.
But that was then. During the past 12 months, he immersed himself in a holistic, Karate Kid-style program with fellow Brazilian surfer Carlos Burle, a pioneer of the sport who retired last year. And since the start of this winter season, the pair has been unfurling the results of their partnership, refining and training along the way. Chianca, who had previously tried his hand at Qualifying Series (QS) contests in mortal-sized waves, focused instead on chasing heavy-water swells. Over a span of five months, the emerging star dropped one video clip after another of his exploits surfing liquid mountains, from Mavericks to Maui.
Pretty soon, with a growing portfolio of submissions to the WSL Big Wave Awards -- of both massive drops and cringe-worthy wipeouts -- it was impossible to miss his increasing presence in the big-wave arena. It wasn't until this past weekend, however, that Chianca truly arrived. Facing unruly conditions at one of the scariest breaks in the world, he won the Big Wave Tour's Nazaré Challenge. It was only his second-ever big-wave contest, and he topped a 24-man field that was packed with more experienced surfers. Here are some of the secrets to his success -- both in the lineup, and out.
World Surf League: This time last year, you were just starting a program with Carlos Burle to focus on competition. How did that help with your success today?
Lucas Chianca: Since the beginning, we focused on the Big Wave Tour. His experience and knowledge in big-wave surfing and competition have added so much to my performance. Also, we have been able to share loads of information that has been very important in my personal life, too -- for example, having to access my mind and body, using techniques such as yoga.
You have quickly become known for taking innovative lines down big waves, surfing them more like small ones than the mountains they are. How would you describe your approach -- especially at Nazaré -- compared to other surfers?
Since the beginning, I've really like these waves. Especially because of the huge lefts that I can get here [at Nazaré]. Nazaré is a good wave but it's also very challenging. There is no channel and you have to work hard to be able to catch waves here. The weather is very cold and because of that we are always using wetsuits. Not everybody likes to practice in these conditions. But because I love this place so much and I have been coming here very often, I believe that I am improving my performance a lot. I'm starting to see that I can do something else than just drop into a big wave [and ride out]. I can look for other things, like big tubes and turns. The more you train on hard conditions, the better you will get on your performance.
What were your goals heading into the Nazaré Challenge?
First of all, we knew that I had little experience competing on the Big Wave Tour. So we decided to focus on the heats. We know that's very important for a professional athlete to win and build confidence. Our main goal was to win, but there are a lot of things that come before that. I learned how to use the rules in my favor. And then, I worked on my mind to not get too nervous in my heat. I had a little pressure on me because I knew that I could do well but competition is very different than freesurfing. So yes, I was nervous, and Carlos has been helping me on that too.
You come from a close-knit, surfing family. How did they react to your win?
They are super stoked. My family can't believe I won this event, and now they just want to be with me and celebrate this event, and stay with me a little bit, because I've been on the road for four months, just surfing and searching for the biggest swells everywhere. Now they want to spend time and enjoy the win with me.
Lastly, outside of your surfing, you recently started dating someone new. How did you meet -- and what is it like trying to have a relationship when you travel so much for your job?
Her name is Manuela Maya. She's an awesome girl. I met her two days before I broke my foot [last summer]. I admire her so much, because she's such a cool girl, and such a good person. She has a big heart, and that's why I want to stay with her. She helps me so much, with so many things. When I travel, she tries to find me where I'm at -- she came to Nazaré with me, and she came to Hawaii with me two times. That's why our relationship is going well.
So after such an incredible winter season for you, and your competitive coup, what's next?
Now it's time to just relax after all this pressure, and all the swells this winter. After this comp, I think we are super stoked with our season. We have some [more] swell for Nazaré, and will spend some time here, for training on towing and paddling for a couple days. And then I'm going to go back to Brazil to spend some time with my family and get some energy from them. And go back to work: Carlos is going to work a bit in Hawaii and Australia and spend time with his family. And that's it!
The Big Wave Tour Northern Hemisphere season closes February 28. The Mavericks Challenge is the final event that could still run, if conditions allow.