For most of his career, Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa has been something of an underground athlete. As some of his peers surfed their way to global stardom on the WSL Championship Tour, Koxa played the patience game, waiting -- along with his fellow big-wave chargers -- for the world's biggest swells.
But Saturday in Santa Monica Koxa stepped firmly into the spotlight, winning the Quiksilver XXL Biggest Wave award. The honor goes to the surfer who, by any means possible, catches the biggest wave of the year. But along with his wave-shaped trophy, which he clutched amid tears backstage, Koxa also learned that he achieved something else: a new Guinness world record for the biggest wave ever surfed. The WSL Big Wave Awards judging panel concluded that Koxa's winning wave at Nazaré, Portugal, on November 8, 2017 was 80 feet (24.38 meters), which topped Garrett McNamara's record, whose wave was marked at 78 feet (23.77 meters) in 2011.
Even more incredible, however, is that Koxa's career-making achievement almost didn't happen.
"I had a bad situation in 2014, I almost died over there [at Nazaré]," he said. "I had bad dreams and I stopped having the courage. For more than one year after that, I was afraid. I stopped going in the big swells."
And yet, he returned to the lineup. After his year away, Koxa began to work his way up again. He and his friends would surf together, starting with medium waves, then a little bigger, as he rebuilt his confidence.
"My crew helped me a lot," said Koxa. "I told them that I was nervous when I saw big waves. I lost my sponsors, I lost everything. I had two years trying to get my confidence back. My wife is my psychologist, I got a coach.
"And then, after two years, I got this present from God."
Religious affiliations aside, the experience that Koxa had the night before he caught the wave of his life was profoundly spiritual. "I had a dream," he said, his eyes still filled with tears at the Big Wave Awards. "My dream said, 'go straight down, go straight down, go straight down.' It was something talking to me. I didn't know what it meant. I heard the words -- I was in my bed, one day before the swell, and my head didn't stop.
"[The next day] when I got my wave, I let go of the rope, and my wave was a big triangle. If I had kept using my rail [to ride down the face at an angle], I would have lost the energy of the wave, so I should be straight down. When I thought of that, I remembered my words. I turned, my board started going so fast I almost fell! That wave was glassy and beautiful and amazing. And then I understood what that meant -- so I think that was my angel talking to me, 'You're going to be a champ, Go get ‘em.'"
"I got this wave, and it was the best moment of my life."
See more videos and photos of the biggest waves of the year right here.