Ice cold, high-altitude lakes and training camps feature as the veteran prepares for another swing at the world’s biggest waves.
“It was all unwinding after a full season of high intensity and high consequence at Nazaré,” Andrew ‘Cotty’ Cotton told Wavelength. “I wanted something completely different. A winter in Nazaré is all about the next swell and so it’s a full immersion in big wave surfing. To set new challenges was important.”
Now, unwinding after winter in Nazaré is a perfectly sensible idea. After all, Cotty has spent the better part of a decade in Portugal, chasing the world’s biggest waves at the world’s most dangerous surf spot. The feat and effects of this endurance, and longevity, can’t be underestimated.
“As a surfer, Nazaré is unique, as a lot of your time is not spent surfing,” said Cotty. “All the preparation, all the jetski driving, and safety, that side of it is intense, both physically and mentally. It takes a lot out of the body; especially an old battered one like mine.”
So the off-season should be a time to recharge the batteries. A trip to Indo for some fun waves in board shorts perhaps? Or maybe just a month at home, foiling Saunton, or taking the twinny for summer spins at Croyde would work?
Nope, not for Cotty. Too easy. Too warm. Too… normal. He instead decided to set himself the challenge to hike and swim (without a wetsuit) in the three highest lakes in the UK. He traveled from North Devon to the Lake District to swim in the 80ft deep lake, ‘Red Tarn’. Followed by Loch Etchachan in the Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands – renowned for holding ice for seven months of the year. Three countries, three days, and a total of 1256 miles on the road finishing up at Llyn Llyffant in Snowdonia National Park in Wales. New partner, XTRATUF, provided the waterproof, flexible, and durable footwear for the mission and documented the highs and lows of Cotty’s adventures.
“I was shocked how hard it was,” says Cotty. “It was gnarly how cold and the way the weather changed so violently. Water temps in the lakes went down to five degrees. But it was a really nice reset, a swim in a freezing lake can rapidly adjust your mental state. The first few seconds are brutal, but you get through that and it becomes bearable. Then when you get out, your body is tingling and you feel amazing.”
The new challenges and time off during summer were crucial, as Cotty is yet again about to set off for his annual winter migration back to Nazaré. Once down there, his full immersion in big-wave surfing begins all over again.
“No matter what your view on the wave, Nazaré is a big part of the global big wave surf scene and so if you are in that zone, you have to play ball,” Cotty said. “There are only two WSL big wave global events and one is at Nazaré, and so as a professional surfer, you’d be mad not to give it 100 percent.”
After a week-long training and evaluation camp at Red Bull HQ in Austria, Cotty will hook up with Garret McNamara in October for the start of the season’s training. Like last year his surf partner for the season, and the Nazaré Tow Challenge, is experienced New York transplant, Will Skudin. Skudin has done his time at all the big-wave spots including Mullaghmore, Nazare, Jaws, and Mavericks, and the pair have formed a solid bond, both in and out of the water.
Cotty will also train with Alemao de Maresias, who heads the Nazare Water Safety patrol at the events and also works with fellow Brazilian Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca. “He’s passionate and knowledgeable on the training aspects,” said Cotty, “but also a really skilled surfer and driver, and so he can give great feedback, both in and out of the water.”
It’s all a part of the incredible amount of physical and mental preparation and training that goes into surfing a winter at Nazaré. Cotty has also incorporated ice baths and saunas as part of an extended recovery program that he admits he didn’t use when he was younger. After so many seasons, he’s seen the toll it takes on all the surfers that commit to the wave.
“By the end of the season, no matter how fit or focused you are, most people are drained,” he says. “It often gets very quiet towards the end of the season, when back-to-back 20 or 30-foot swells can be left alone. For me, the key is treating it like a marathon, and not a sprint. Oh, and not taking it too seriously. Surfing is supposed to be fun. And it sure beats walking miles through driving rain to swim in an ice cold lake…”