The inaugural Nazaré Tow Challenge was less than 10 minutes from completion, towards the end of the last bonus heat when near tragedy struck and reduced the broadcast, beach crowd and athletes to stunned silence as 50ft waves unloaded at Praia da Norte.
With Hugo Vau driving and Team Portugal partner Alex Botelho on the back, a backwash hitting a closeout section Vau was trying to punch over sent the ski flying into the air.
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In the ensuing minutes, drone footage showed something floating in the whitewater.
“It’s a body!” said Peter Mel on the broadcast.
Get the full story from the incident with event commentators and It’s Not The Length podcast hosts Paul Evans & Ben Mondy, including a conversation with Nic Von Rupp, here:
The following few minutes were spent trying to get a limp Alex to the beach, which felt like an eternity. Lifeguards couldn’t get out to him off the beach, and no further ski came in to pick him up.
By the time they got him on the beach, it was clear the situation was very serious. The live footage showed CPR being started immediately and at the edge of the melee, Hugo Vau was collapsed in tears, prompting viewers to fear the worst.
The broadcast kept rolling and no information was forthcoming, but by the look of the live stream, it looked very much like tragedy was unfolding.
Nic von Rupp was in a car on his way from the harbour to the beach with someone on the emergency comms listening to the whole rescue.
“He was gone for a full minute,” said Nic. “We were crying in the car, I was praying, and I don’t believe in God.”
Thankfully, a pulse was recovered and the news quickly spread that Botelho was conscious. Suddenly, the mood went from tears to tears and more tears.
At the awards ceremony in the lighthouse a few hours later, Sebastian Steutdner conveyed a message having spoken to Alex.
“He’s fine, he’s has some water in the lungs but he should be ok.” reported Seb. “Hugo is being treated for shock and a back injury but they’re both ok.”
Kai Lenny won Best Men’s Wave Award, Justine Dupont Best Women’s, Best Team went to Young Bulls (Lenny & Chumbo) while the Jogos Santa Casa Commitment Award went to the Water Safety Team.