Maui big-wave surfer Ian Walsh arrived in Nazare in January 2020 for the same swell that would see the Nazare Tow Challenge receive the green light. The 36-year-old had competed here in the 2017 BWT paddle competition, but had never towed the wave at real size.
Teaming up with Kai Lenny and Lucas Chianca, the trio surfed for nine days straight and for Walsh it was a game changer. Those sessions helped Walsh earn a Red Bull Big Wave Award Men's Best Overall Performance nomination. It was also a crucial time in his own big wave education. He talked through some of the key learnings.
"The first thing that you notice is the sheer velocity you attain on the wave. I've never been gone faster on a surfboard and that's a such a thrill. The snowboard analogy is used a lot, but it really holds fast here. That was one of my biggest takeaways."
Equipment R And D
"The speed you reach has massive implications for the equipment we ride. In those days we constantly changed and tested all aspects of our boards. From the fins, to the weights, to the foot straps, everything really. I left with so many ideas that I need to work on with my shaper which should help down the track."
The Driver Is Key
"My eyes have also been opened to safety and especially how important the role of driving is. The driver is so key to not only getting you the best waves, but ensuring you stay alive. We all need to get better at that aspect. Do more training, more drills. The crews at Nazare are leading that aspect of big wave surfing."
It's a Big Wave Test Track
"The consistency of the wave is incredible. I mean didn't get under 50-foot for the nine days. Add the geography, where there is flat water and a safe harbour minutes from these giant waves so you can easily burn back to change boards, repair the skis or recharge. Plus the town supports the athletes in every aspect. I can now see why this is the place where major advancements in tow surfing are happing so rapidly."
"Surfing this place required a lots of bruises, bumps, and serious time underwater. The beachbreak nature and the bumps on the face means it's inevitable that you will wear a wave, either wiping out or even if you have ridden a wave successfully. And when I got back and surfed Jaws I had a new found love for that sweet channel."
Tow Surfing Is Back
"Nazare is a place where tow surfing really comes into its own. Obviously at a certain size those waves become impossible to paddle. However it's not just that, but having watched Lucas and Kai at close quarters you can see where tow can take the sport in terms of performance surfing. In those nine days it changed my perspective on what is possible on those giant waves."