The waiting period for the Nazaré Tow Challenge opened at the start of November, the brand new WSL big wave event previewed in the latest episode of It’s Not The Length Podcast.
After a couple of small – mid size swells early in the month, the Atlantic came to life last week sending a huge NNW pulse to Nazaré and sending event organisers into a frenzy of nearly calls.
Yellow Light status, the first stage of calling on for a Big Wave Tour event when travel notice is given to athletes and staff, was discussed on a nightly basis for nearly a week, the decision ultimately resting with WSL Big Wave’s Bill Sharp.
Meanwhile, Nazaré OG G-Mac, who is also involved in the call, was reportedly very keen to run.
In the end, while the swell looked big enough, reservations over the wind and consistency meant the decision was taken not to go, which probably turned out to be a decent one.
What happened at Nazaré this week?
While things stayed cleaner than anticipated, inconsistency on the infamous first peak, the iconic cartoon-esque A-frame that looms off the lighthouse, meant it was more of a warm up sesh than a day to send ten teams out to dispute the WSL’s inaugural Tow Challenge.
We called Nic von Rupp, who was licking his wounds at his Lisbon home an hour or so down the road from Naz, to get the inside skinny on a headline week of swell and antics.
“Seeing my jetski drowning in 30ft waves, that just kinda ruined my day”
The Portuguese German charger was in a jovial mood, given the heaviness – and expense – of the swell’s carry on.
“Nazaré was pretty mental bruddah, but it was also carnage,” reckoned Nic, one half of Team Europe for the event alongside Francisco Porcella. “I didn’t get loads of good ones, I was a little put off, from seeing my jetski drowning in 30ft waves, that just kinda ruined my day.”
Von Rupp reckons the lost ski incident would cost him in the region of €25k, an expensive mistake made by a less experienced driver who was operating it at the time.
“Yesterday (Thursday) was really fun too,” adds Nic. “Wednesday was big enough (to run the event) but a bit too north so it was running down the beach a bit. Then it turned more west yesterday, so more hitting on first peak, but it was a bit small for a tow event.”
“A good call not to run, bigger days are coming brah,” adds our man.
So who were the standouts? “Chumbo, the usual suspects, Rafael Tapia, Burle, Scooby, there’s a whole Brazzo clan there these days.” chuckles von Rupp. “Kai Lenny was ripping, even though he wasn’t there.”
“Kai Lenny was ripping, even though he wasn’t there”
Has having the tow event period open changed anything this season? Performances or crews?
“It’s the usual mad shit, there’re more teams in the water. There’s less paddling going on which is a bummer, because it’s a lot more challenging. But tow is pretty sick, it’s awesome to get a million waves. I’m just stoked to be at home, not having to go to Hawaii, just putting in time at Nazaré, figuring out towing, becoming a better driver. I’m chasing every single swell, staying at home training, and out there every swell.”
When and if the event does go, who is Von Rupp backing for the win? “Me myself and I,” he chuckles. “Nah man Francisco, he’s on another level, he goes deep, he’s fearless, the lines he picks. Then Chumbo, the control he has is mental.”
The Brazilian, former paddle champ at the Nazaré Challenge and one half of what’s on paper, the strongest tow team ever (along with Kai Lenny), had a pretty hairy incident of his own, with one of the most dramatic late rescues you’ll ever see.
Apparently, Chumbo was convinced the ski had wiped out, and was as surprised as anyone when it pinged precariously from the maw, still upright.
How Will the Nazaré Tow Challenge work?
This week’s swell also gave the WSL production crew a chance to test out some new tech, namely a telemetry device that will stream the rider’s speed, distance travelled and G-forces to a live graphic on broadcast.
Ten teams will compete for four main awards; Best Men’s Wave, Best Women’s Wave, Best Team and Most Committed.
The ten teams consist of Team GB: Cotton & Butler, Team Europe: von Rupp & Porcella, Team World: Gabeira & Steudtner, Team France: Sanchis & Rebiere, Team Australia: Clarke-Jones & Corbett, Team Atlantic: Baker & Silva, Team Portugal: Vau & Botelho, Team Brazil: Koxa & Scooby, Team Young Bulls: Lenny & Chianca, Team Justine: Dupont & David (driver only).
There were will be four heats, with each team active twice. With no judges, filmers will capture all the rides and the riders themselves will vote for the various awards.
Listen to the Nazaré Tow Challenge preview on the latest episode of Wavelength’s podcast It’s Not The Length…
Cover image: Nazaré Tow Sessions by Masurel/WSL