How was this trip decided?
As part of his invitation to participate in Red Chargers, Garrett McNamara had made me aware that a swell was coming and could be interesting. So on the Wednesday night I decided to take the road to the Portugal, for a session on Friday, November 13th. I embarked with me Pierre Rollet, a young gun from Anglet of 21 years old, who for me has a great future in big waves both in Surf and SUP, with a similar profile as Jamie Mitchell. The idea was to let him gain some experience, create a network and ensure my safety with the Jet Ski if it’s a rowing session rather than in tow in. And finally, he even decided after a while to take a chance on the train with my gun ending with a nice wipeout so it was perfect!
What was your state of mind before going in the water?
Of course, this is a mix of excitement and apprehension. The days before a very big session, there is always this waiting time that appears so long, which makes you think hard about it. Will the conditions be right? Is all the gear well tuned? You look 300 times the weather forecast etc. But at the same time, you're excited like a child before Christmas, because it is for these sessions that I live and train hard all year long. It is a very addictive passion, quite complicated to describe. Just a few years ago I had heard Laird Hamilton explain that during periods without heavy swell, he felt like a dragon hunter without dragons. It's an image, of course, but I quite like the comparison.
This time, the mix was even more complicated, because I was about to discover a new spot: I had never surfed Nazaré... So many things have been said and written about this place... Those I know who have surfed there had describe to me the place as so dangerous that I was feeling much confident once on the cliff ah ah!
How do you prepare?
Fortunately, I had a contact on site in the person of Andrew Cotton, an English surfer, used to the spot and close to Garrett, who had become a friend over the years. My welcome has been perfect, Cotty, Hugo Vau (local Portuguese) and Garrett gave us tons of tips and we were lead in ideal conditions all the way to harbour. Even then, the Red Chargers setup was incredible; their crew gets you to the water with a Jet Ski and briefs you on all the safety measures... everything is made so you can truly focus about one thing: surfing. And that’s very nice.
I was positively surprised by the setup the guys have put together over there. You have people on the shore ready to help you find your board when you lose it, because you surf with no leash to keep the Jet Ski rescue fast and efficient. When you end up a little tired on the sand, it's great. They have a radio system to which everyone is connected so that everyone can look after one another. A tractor is even available on the beach to help you get your jet ski back to the harbor if you lose it so that you can keep on riding. In short, great logistics that continues even in the media coverage of the session, Garrett remains quite formidable on that last point ah ah!
What do you feel before the session? During and after?
In the riders meeting before the session, when we decided this will be a rowing session the pressure went up a notch. Because seen from above, the waves are always a looking flatter, it is difficult to gauge the size of a spot that you do not know. For me, there were between 6 to 8m but the locals were talking about 30 to 50 feet with sets up to 60, which was really not the same thing. Suddenly, the prospect of discovering Nazaré no more in tow-in, with the comfort of the driver who gets you on the good waves, but by paddling where you find yourself alone at the lineup, added a little spice to the preparation. Of course, and not displease to all the dreamers who seek to oppose paddling and tow-in surfing, in very big waves you always have a teammate on a Jet Ski ready to come up in case of problems. But hey, it's still not the same! Facing the unknown, to reassure myself I chose to take a SUP gun, Keali Mamala being quite keen to paddle with me. This is an F-ONE 11’ made for Belharra, which weighs 22 kilos so it holds its line pretty well once it is launched.
Once in the water, I decided to go easy for the start, observe what the others were doing before jumping in. It's pretty amazing to see waves so that are so big break so close to the shore! It’s reassuring no one side because if you fall you’ll quickly be on the beach, except that the current carries you towards the rocks along the cliff... But then again, you wonder how you’re going to get through the bar with the Jet Ski, a rider lying on the sled and an 11’ gun of twenty kilos... Because close to the shore it’ a war field...
And then comes a moment when you can’t help but jump in; which usually comes very quickly because it is so attractive. In the end, I really enjoyed myself, the atmosphere was incredible and so friendly. The 6/7 surfers in the water were encouraging each others to push their own limits a little further. Of course paddling for takeoff on such big waves is always more difficult and uncertain but in a session of 6 hour, I was able to put 3 in my pocket. That was enough to make me happy, especially as I was lucky not to crash excessively!