An epic, but not historic, tow surfing session was held today at Nazaré as the waves failed to live up to the forecast. While the swell arrived as big as predicted, the direction meant that the refraction that helps amplify the wave heights failed to come into play.
"There was always a chance that the westerly nature of the swell could throw a spanner in the works," said Garrett McNamara. "The Azores Islands can shadow west swells and during last night it changed even more than predicted. We didn't get the waves we thought, but we had fun day of big waves that we broadcast to the world. Most importantly everyone came in safe."
The day ended up more as a celebration of big wave surfing with many of the competitors from the Nazaré Challenge hanging around to either surf or simply soak up the experience. Yet the biggest waves were predictably ridden by a surfer who has dedicated her life to the location.
Justine Dupont easily took out the "heat" in the morning, when she caught two of the biggest waves of the day in a hour-long blitz. One enormous left featured multiple bumps as the wave determinedly did its best to buck its rider. Dupont showed her strength and timing to make the wave exiting to the cheers of a vast crowd who lined the cliffs and fort to watch.
"I had a good surf," said Dupont afterwards. "It wasn't as big as we expected, but every surf at Nazaré is exciting and rewarding. As I said yesterday we enter the ocean each day here no matter what and today was just another day. Mother nature decided what happened and everyone was safe, so I'm happy."
The person who probably was the least safe today was Dylan Longbottom. The Australian surfer and shaper is a veteran of big wave slabs like Teahupoo, Shipsterns and The Right, but only surfed Nazaré for the first time last week. After falling on a righthander next to the fort this morning he took three giant waves on the head and narrowly missed being washed on to the rocks.
"It was the worst possible scenario and the worst place to be," he recounted afterwards. "The spot is where the thickness and power of the wave seems to be compressed the most. I was right in front of the A-Frame and the wave went top-to-bottom and the lip landed on my head. It felt like I was hit by a train underwater. However I stayed relaxed, and knew my partner Antonio Silva would come and get me. It was heavier than any other wipeout I've experienced anywhere in the world."
Longbottom's board however didn't fare so well. Having made it himself specifically for Nazaré, the 50lb board was crushed on the rocks and will now spend the rest of its days on display in the big wave surfing museum located within the fort.
A few hours later Sebastian Steudtner also came unstuck and felt the full force of these super heavy boards used for tow surfing. The German is one of the most experienced and well prepared tow surfers at Nazaré, but found himself in trouble not long after the webcast finished.
"My board hit me in the face. I was lucky that Tom Butler pulled me out and saved me," Steudtner said before being taken to hospital by ambulance to have stitches. There was more drama too later when João De Macedo, the local who came fourth in the Nazaré Challenge, and Danilo Couto had their jet ski almost destroyed when they wore forced to the beach the craft later in the afternoon.
However amongst the carnage there was still some beautiful waves ridden. Andrew Cotton scored a big barrel on a right down the beach and Lucas Chianca carried on his from Friday with a series of his signature lefts near the fort. No records were broken and while the waves didn't match the hype, it was another day of high quality, high performance big wave surfing. Over the last three days Nazaré has shown why it now holds such an iconic place in the sport.