Heavy Water: Portugal

I’ve always been a believer in stepping out of your comfort zone in order to grow as an individual. As a surfer my life has been dedicated to the moments that make me feel most alive, and that usually means tracking down a perfect wave somewhere across the world. With restrictions on travel finally opening up I began to plot my end of 2021 travel schedule. My stepping off point would be the Neon Wave Fall Bash in Rochester, New York. I arrived in early November to a chilly, sunny upstate New York. It was long overdue connecting with Fred, Dennis, Justin, Holland and the rest of the Neon Wave crew for the weekend. The store and community Neon has created in Rochester is awesome, I was blown away.

Before I arrived in New York I reached out to my Portuguese friend Nic Von Rupp to see if he would be around for November. I figured I was already halfway to Europe from California so I might as well take another flight across the Atlantic to see Europe for the first time. Nic gave me the green light to come stay with him so I boarded a flight at the end of the weekend from Rochester to Lisbon.

I landed in Lisbon but soon would find out that my boards would not. After filing a claim with the baggage department at the airport I exited to the airport walls to see Nic waiting for me at the curb with a smile. Something about getting picked up in a foreign country by a friend that makes everything feel alright. On the way back to Nic’s house we would stop at Pyzel Portugal to pick up his new Nazare guns, all in the 10 foot plus range. Not even an hour into the country and I was reminded that the waves get terrifyingly big in this part of the world. The swell was small that first day and the forecast didn’t look too great right away. But as I settled in the first few days so too did the upcoming swell track. Reading the forecast in the Atlantic is a lot more challenging than the Pacific, it seems as though everyday it changes drastically. I eventually stopped trying to read into it and let Nic tell me his thoughts.

“Woah, dude. I think this next week is going to be incredible.”

Nic shouted from his dining room table as he stared down his computer screen. I ran over to check it out and from what Nic explained two big swells were on the way with really clean conditions. Reality hit me at that moment. Nic’s focus is on the big wave spot Nazare, as he has proven himself in the last few seasons as one of the best big wave surfers in the world. “I’m going to Nazare Monday morning, you can come or you can stay here, it’s up to you,” Nic told me. I thought about it for a second before saying ‘I’m in,’ thinking at the very least I can go watch and take some photos.

Monday morning we woke up at dark and packed Nic’s car full of new big wave guns and heavily weighted tow boards. It’s an hour and a half drive to Nazare from Nic’s house in Sintra, giving us a lot of time to think about what the next few hours would present us.

"There’s something that happens to waves when they get to a certain size, they start resembling mountains. Mountains that move. Avalanches of water. "

We arrived at the Nazare harbor around 8:30am to some of the best big wave surfers in the world outside Nic’s jetski/board warehouse on the harbor. Grant “Twiggy” Baker was already in his wetsuit getting interviewed by the “100-foot wave” HBO crew. Nic was scrambling to get his gear together and looks at me and goes, “Are you coming?” I didn’t realize that was an option and Nic throws me a CO2 inflation vest and an old wetsuit to borrow since my boardbag still hadn’t arrived. Turns out I would get on another ski with 16-year-old Scottish charger Ben Larg, both of us having never been to Nazare before. It was beautiful and sunny as we followed Nic out of the harbor towards the headland at Nazare, where the famous 3-mile-deep canyon creates this natural wonder of the world. The waves were huge on arrival to the lineup, with tow in teams jockeying for the big sets as brave souls attempted to paddle into these waves with their bare hands. There’s something that happens to waves when they get to a certain size, they start resembling mountains. Mountains that move. Avalanches of water.

"It felt like I was dropping into it forever."