The spray has finally settled on the inaugural Nazaré Tow Challenge presented by Jogos Santa Casa, and after a few days to digest here are the key takeaways from the event:
Tow Surfing Is Back
After a few years where tow surfing took a backseat and big wave paddle surfing reasserted itself as the primary form of the sport, tow surfing is definitely having a renaissance.
"I've fallen back in love with tow," said the three-time Big Wave World Champion, Grant "Twiggy" Baker. "The speed and the adrenalin from banking around one of the Nazaré monsters is indescribable. I'm hooked again."
"I think we are seeing a merging of the two disciplines," said Portuguese legend João De Macedo. "All big wave paddle surfers need jet skis for safety and the more everyone is capable of surfing and driving in huge waves, the better the progression will be."
Kai Lenny, whose tow surfing at Jaws and here in Nazaré, has fueled the tow comeback more than anyone, had a more simple take.
"If you want to surf giant Nazaré then you need to tow," he told the WSL. "And with tiny boards and massive waves, there's so much we haven't done. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible. Events like this will only help in that regard."
Justine Dupont And Maya Gabeira
Justine Dupont described the ride that won her the Women's Wave of the Day Award as the best of her life. However, in her speech at the Awards Ceremony, the French surfer was quick to point out the inspirational role Maya Gabeira has played in her career and surfing at Nazaré. On comp day, they were lightheartedly billed as rivals, but the truth is they're united in their efforts to push the boundaries of the sport.
"I had the feeling in the water that there was no question of male or female," Dupont told the WSL. "Just a group of people that love surfing big waves and who all wanted to push the limits together."
Kai Keeps Pushing
Of course, when it came to pushing the limits, no one did more than Kai Lenny. That doesn't come without risk. The day before the event, Lenny was hit in the chest by a jet ski in an incident that led to two of the Red Bull skis being buckled.
On the day of competition, one of his trademark 360 spins led to a massive airdrop that quickly spiraled into him cartwheeling down the face of a 50-foot wave. Yet, no individual surfer caught more waves at Nazaré this week.
Immediately after the competition finished he returned for another session with Ian Walsh and was first out the following day. He was also the athlete that created the most electricity for spectators whenever he took off.
He rightly won the Men's Wave of the Day Award for one of the biggest peaks ridden, but his overall performance was at a totally different level to the rest of the field.
Unsung Heroes Recognized
In a day where the quick reactions of the Water Safety Team helped save lives, it was fitting that surfers voted to honor them with the Jogos Santa Casa Commitment Award. It's a rare public acknowledgement for the work led by Edílson Assunção, otherwise known as "Alemao de Maresias."
"If I could choose I wouldn't want this trophy as it means someone was in danger," Assunção said. "However I'm so proud of the team and the surfers. At Nazaré we are a family and we all work together. We love big waves and we just want all our brothers and sisters to stay safe and keep charging."
Do We Need Judges?
The Nazaré Tow Challenge was innovative in many ways, not least in the dispensing of judges for the event. With the surfers already deciding to split the $100K prize money, they then were asked for a single vote on each of the four categories.
Their judging was based on their own personal experiences of the day, aided by a viewing of the highlights package that captured all of the outstanding rides of the event. And the awards were spot on.