“People were out there getting some of the biggest waves of their lives,” reflects Rafael Tapia about this XXXL Nazare session on Saturday that'll go down as one of the biggest and gnarliest sessions of all time. And oh we know that's quite the claim but come see for yourself.
What happened on Saturday Jan 8 will be remembered as one of those historic Nazare sessions, alongside the World Record Day (November 8 2017), Sebastian Steudtner's insane-o ride in January 2018 and October of 2020, to name a few.
And look, we've stared down a lot of 60ft Nazare days over the years. Saturday was something else. Saturday warrants the XXXL moniker.
Your usual cast of chargers were out there, Andrew Cotton, Justine Dupont, Rodrigo Koxa, Chumbo, Marcelo Luna, Scooby, Maya, Nic Von Rupp, Rafael Tapia, Michelle des Bouillons, Eric Ribiere, Joao de Macedo and some newer faces in Gabriel Sampaio, Tony Laureano (who has been a standout at multiple sessions in recent times) – and a whole load of other hellmen and women, some as part of the annual Gigantes de Nazare contest, others just free-surfing around it. You see, when that comp is called on, Nazare isn't locked down, it's just mixed in with all the other carnage that's going on out there.
The morning started out glassy, sun drenching those 60ft peaks firing through. Just after sunrise though, we saw the first 70ft+ bomb – and it was on.
“It was incredible, gosh, it was absolutely incredible,” said Joao de Macedo. But with all that carnage, comes consequence. Justine Dupont and current world record holder for biggest wave ever surfed Rodrigo Koxa both caught 60ft+ mountains before horror wipeouts. Justine's spill took her scarily close to the Nazare 'Death Zone', a crop of rocks under the cliff that's near impossile to get rescued from.
But one of the most heavy situations of the day was CJ Macias, who was on a tear before having to deal with one of the tallest waves of the day.
“CJ...that whole thing was traumatic,” said Andrew Cotton, who helped rescue the downed legend. “He went down, no one could see him, he just disappeared. I, Alamao and Garret were on the safety ski and couldn’t see him. He first got sighted near the third peak. We went to him and he couldn’t swim, he’d snapped his arm above the elbow, it was just hanging there.
“We got him in, he was in shock, a lot of pain. He wasn’t drowning, just the fact he’d snapped his arm and we could see it was snapped. It was heavy. He was good though, gone to hospital and we are waiting to hear back.”
Yesterday, Gmac confirmed CJ had dislocated his elbow and had some damage to his eardrum. We wish CJ a speedy recovery.
Rafael Tapia has seen every big session at Nazare for almost a decade. “Most people who didn't complete waves had some horror wipeouts and situations. I've had a few over the years so I made sure I completed my waves. It's so dangerous at that size.
“There's some stories about drivers waiting 30 mins on the shore, fighting the white water. A lot of incredible rides, a lot of people got the biggest waves of their lives. Personally, was very happy doing the Gigantes de Nazare event. I got lucky at the end, got a wave on Big Moma! I went home to Chile for Christmas – pulled the travel pin to be here. Saw Nic and Scooby get a few... Lucas was putting on a show, he's a freak out here. Justine got a bomb. There's always that little bit of carnage out here but it was incredible.”
“It was crazy out there,” Justine tells MSW. “But really good at the same time. I got a load of bombs and then took a good five waves on the head at the end. Fred [David, Justine’s partner] and Lucas [Chianca] picked me up right before hitting the Ross Clarke-Jones rocks. But all in all, today was in the top-three experiences I’ve ever had at Nazare in my six years of coming here.”
Big wave hellwoman Michelle des Bouillons added: “Gnarly day out there. It was 70ft plus, I think. We scored some really big waves and we're all safe. It was looking beautiful, no wind but wild at the same time.”
Cotty told us on Friday he was seeking redemption after his WSL tow event performance. 1) this legend doesn't need to ever redeem himself, he once held the record for biggest wave every surfed and 2) he crushed it on Saturday.
“I stuck to my plan, got like, two, three, four waves, made all of them. Just super safe lines and the last one was probably my biggest one. It's always a tough one, I can always do better but happy I made my waves and was safe. There's always more swells and it's still only January. Stoked but then, a little gutted about CJ really. He was getting some bombs.”
“There was a lot of carnage,” added Joao de Macedeo. “Really powerful swell it was intense to see everyone pushing it. My partner Antonio Silva and I, we pushed it really hard, I wasn't able to put him on some waves but yeah, this was one for the memory lane, for sure. Gosh, just so gorgeous how big and powerful it was. Special, special day.”
And right as the morning properly got going, Lucas Chumbo whipped into a monster. The kind of wave you see at Nazare that makes your jaw cha-ching to the desk. In classic Chumbo style, the Brazilian was one of the first surfers out and the last to leave.
“Today was epic day, really big bombs, huge storm, really perfect,” he told MSW. “I just love being in the water. A full day of big waves.”
Eric Ribiere spent most of the day on safety but managed to snag a few bombs in the midst of it all” “That was big, solid. That wind when the wave sucks up was crazy. Your legs are kind of burning already on the rope and makes the take off tougher. I made all my waves though, I'm ok. I had a tough time looking for Koxa by the rocks – almost threw up on adrenaline when I saw he was ok. But that's part of this thing. Makes it all hit harder, when you have someone's life to rescue.”
Talking of people battling for their lives, Marcelo Luna found himself in a heavy situation. “I don't know where to start... my jacket exploded. Stayed out there trying to survive. You can imagine how I am now, two days.... I still don't believe it. I rode the wave, tried to set my line and make the bottom and the base of the wave. I couldn't the wave exploded with me. After that I pulled the vest and came to the top of the wave. The second wave, when the wave broke on my head, it exploded the vest. Tore it to shreds.
“It's funny because this year in Brazil, I trained all year without vests. I never imagined this happening at Nazare without a vest – it's impossible to survive. I don't know what happened. The jet ski got me, I said, I'm ok, got to the beach. I was good, I prepared for it. This is why I live, why I was born.”
Our lensperson on the ground Helio Antonio was run off his feet trying to capture all the action. “Not a day for the records,” he said after shooting from sun up to sun down. “It was consistent, really big though. There was a lot of power and you fear it's one of those days someone is going to get seriously hurt. Biggest of the season for sure, some really good rides. Nic Von Rupp got a bomb. Really big one.
“Justine did three really big waves, Michelle des Bouillons did a great job, she was towed by Chumbo. The most impressive moment from the day for me was CJ's wave – it was crazy, this huge vertical drop on a big peak, big A-frame, all the way down then he couldn't escape and tumbled and got caught. Some minor accidents today – it's difficult for anyone to come out without being in a tough situation.
“Fortunately everyone is ok. To shoot though – it was not an easy day, a lot of mist in the air. These big waves bring a lot of wind and if there's no wind, the mist stays around – like today. But it was pumping all day – even in the afternoon when people were leaving, it was still pumping. An epic day, for sure.”
Our other shooter, Romuald Pliquet, flew in to from northern France to cover the swell. “It's so hard to put size on this monster day. Sometimes you think, 'ah it's 55ft Nazare' and then the next, this gigantic bomb set comes through and just bursts.
“I have never seen the drop section in the canyon like today. Totally insane. The swell was in good order and it moved to the right of the lighthouse – but it was hard for the crews to read the line up, I think. There is no place like Nazare. Gnarly, scary, you can use all the superlatives you like – and they'd all be right.”
But it's probably new blood Gabriel Sampaio who summed it up with a neat little bow: “That was a special day. Epic conditions out there. We went early morning to enjoy the best wind conditions and all the things out there just happened. Big and perfect waves. The best part is, we all got home safely.”