The energy in Europe's big wave mecca is electric. One of the best paddle swells forecasted in years for Nazaré is arriving just in time to greet the top big wave elite with light offshore winds and powerful size. As the competitors gathered for a sunset surf check and athlete meeting at the Nazaré lighthouse this evening, each was buzzing with anticipation.
Big Wave Tour founder Gary Linden welcomed the surfers and announced a 7:30am potential start for Friday's Nazaré Challenge, which will consist of 45 minute heats and a one-hour final. Defending champion Lucas "Chumbo" Chianca arrived a week ago when he first saw the swell on the charts so that he could test out his boards and train in hopes of becoming a repeat victor.
Lucas Chianca (BRA) "To be the defending champion here is tough, I have pressure on me. But at the same time surfing is what I love to do the most. It is amazing to see the green light get called. I knew I was prepared, so during the first yellow call I said to my coach Carlos Burle that we were in the right spot now. We trained on all the guns and got ready for Friday. I came prepared. When I saw this swell, I knew it would be the conditions that I love to surf. It looks like it will be a perfect contest."
Rodrigo Koxa (BRA) "I'm super excited! This place is amazing. It always has huge waves good for paddling, good for towing ... I'm going to do my best. Everyone is happy and excited."
Will Skudin (USA) "My initial reaction when I saw that we had a green light was totally psyched! I got amped. When I looked at the wave models it doesn't seem too huge, so I am just trying to dial in my equipment. This contest will display more critical surfing and performance surfing in big waves. It is going to be a fun day!"
Natxo Gonzalez (BSQ) "It's a pleasure to come here to Nazaré. It's really special for me because I came by car with my friends. I feel at home here. The call is great; the waves are going to be pumping, offshore and perfect winds. Even today was amazing, so hopefully tomorrow we get some great waves for the event. I have been training hard the last six months, in the pool and with my diet. I am really focused on the Big Wave Tour this year, and confident to go hard."
Grant Baker (ZAF) "My initial thoughts when the light went green was that it was a good call. The swell looks solid and exactly what we look for. I have been here for six weeks surfing every day so I couldn't be more ready and I am stoked the contest is going."
Francisco Porcella (ITA) "I came to Nazaré early for that last swell and got some good waves paddling and towing. I was really stoked to hear the contest was getting the call in these conditions. It is going to be clean and it should be amazing tomorrow. I was pumped to get the wildcard into the event and get a shot. I am really happy to be here and it's a special place for me. And then there are huge waves on Sunday, so I am going to stick around and surf some bombs for a couple days ... My mental preparation for contest mode is picking the right waves and taking my time to get the right ones and not get too antsy. I'm ready to play with the beast."
Andrew Cotton (UK) "I was an alternate, so when the green light was called I wasn't sure yet if I'd be in or go freesurfing somewhere. So all I am thinking about now is this opportunity. A paddle comp is hard to call, but it's looking like the best possibility in a long time. I am visualizing what I want, where I am going to sit and my game plan playing out already. You're with the best in the world and there are so many people wanting to get in. There are so many talented big wave surfers so getting the spot is amazing. I want to do well ... it's been a long year of injury and recovery. Six weeks ago I didn't think I'd ever be in this shape physically. I have been working really hard here with the physical therapy at Nazaré and I am feeling good."
The WSL Nazaré Challenge will be broadcast LIVE on WorldSurfLeague.com and the WSL's Facebook page. Starts at 7:30am local time (WET). Also, check local listings for coverage from the WSL's broadcast partners.