Bodysurfing Nazare sounds crazy, right? A toppling liquid mountain that's boiling over behind you is enough to keep most people's feet firmly planted on shore. But then most people aren't like Kalani Lattanzi – who, at any given moment, is happy to launch himself face first, arm outstretched, down the face of only the meanest looking 60ft grunt that Nazare spits his way.
And it certainly is a unique spin on Nazare. There are many surfers doing radical things at Portugal's premier behemoth, but nothing quite like Kalani. And all the drama and fervour that ensues with that pursuit has been captured in a new 25 or so minute film called Kalani: Gift From Heaven, (out now) dedicated to Nazare's 'crazy, humble', wave rider. The film's been in production for around five years – set in motion by Portuguese filmmaker Nuno Dias, after witnessing the then 22-year-old Kalani amongst a monstrous Nazare session with nothing to him but a pair of fins.
“Bodysurfing Nazare, it's not something I never said I would do, I just... did,” Kalani told MSW last week. “People say I am crazy, but I feel good out there [laughs]. I do it because it's fun – who knows, maybe I'll be in the Guinness World Records book one day.
“I always dreamed about making a film but I know it is so hard and so expensive, I'm grateful to have Nuno and Pedro in my life, and they can probably tell the story a bit more.”
Live Cam: Nazare
“He was another level,” Nuno tells MSW. “ I was definitely more captivated with Kalani, bodysurfing as if it was just another day at the beach.” After a year or so, Nuno bought on board Nazare mainstay Pedro Miranda to help realise his vision. Featured throughout the film are some of big wave surfing's most prominent hellmen, all showing their appreciation for Kalani's efforts. The likes of Tom Lowe, Nin Von Rupp, Ross Clarke-Jones, Hugo Vau, David Langer, Garrett McNamara and more all chip in here.
“He was paddling around on the inside, and I was like, holy shit this guy's gonna die,” Von Rupp says in the film. “But he was just schooling all the big wave surfers, the gnarliest guys in the world, just showing he was the best. That was probably the gnarliest thing I've ever seen in the water. He was swimming around like nothing was happening...like a fish.”
And if that doesn't pique your interest about Kalani, we decided to take his advice and tap up both Nuno and Pedro to talk about the namesake, the project and some of the more jaw dropping moments that comes with putting your body in the impact zone at colossal Nazare.
Hey gents, let's go from the beginning, Nuno, what drew you to this project?
Nuno Dias: In October 2015 I was filming one of the best sessions ever at Nazare. The waves were huge, some of the best big wave surfers were out there breaking the boundaries of paddle surfing.
And between all the chaos, there was a little dot swimming and catching bombs, but bodysurfing. It was Kalani Lattanzi. Just 22 at the time, with only a pair of fins facing those monster peaks. When the session was over, I was really impressed with the paddle surfing that went down, but I was definitely more captivated with Kalani bodysurfing as if it was just another day at the beach…. he was another level.
I mean, on paper, that sounds insane. How would you describe Kalani?
ND: Besides being one of the best watermen in the world, he’s a really friendly, easy going person. We became good friends while filming this project and I can say that he was also really professional during the production. Every crazy idea I had, he never said no.
ND: This film is the result of three winters shooting this phenomenon in big wave surfing with exclusive footage and innovative drone and water angles covering all the action. I wanted to show how talented Kalani is in the ocean, his ability to manage his feelings in such extreme and dangerous conditions.
It documents right from his roots in Rio de Janeiro where he grew up and shows the importance of Itacoatiara beach on his path. But the ultimate goal of the film was always clear from the beginning - to make the most extreme bodysurfing film ever made. In my eyes, Kalani is one of the most impressive athletes in the world and this film is proof of it.
And Pedro, you came on board with the project a year or so after Nuno, what was your reaction to Kalani?
Pedro Miranda: When Kalani first arrived in Nazaré in 2015, he stayed in Nazaré at the house of our good friend António “Tó" Cardoso [bodyboard legend]. This was just a few months after Kalani rode that gigantic wave in Puerto Escondido which went viral on Instagram, and at that time it was the biggest wave ever ridden by a bodyboarder, ever.
I hadn't heard about him before that, so Kalani to me was just that crazy boogie that dropped a mountain at Puerto. One of our first talks with him was all about how we thought he'd make history, bodyboarding here in Nazaré when it gets big. And hhe seemed excited and all, but he seemed much more keen to bodysurf Nazare… I didn’t even know at that time that he was a bodysurfer, and to be honest, until that time I hadn't thought about bodysurfing giant Naza, I thought it was impossible.
Nuno was absolutely hooked on the idea, right from the start, of someone bodysurfing a proper bomb during a giant day at Nazaré. And he kind of became obsessed with it. I remember him talking about it way back in 2015 as something that was worth being documented, and he always talked about it as something that would happen sooner or later.
To be honest, back in 2015 I was a bit sceptical. And even when he eventually did it during a big day, I thought it would be, like, just a one time thing, that had little space for evolution and probably something that would not end well.
So how did the film evolve from there? Did your mindset change after that?
PM: Over the rest of that winter and at the beginning of 2016 season, Kalani proved himself to be more than this crazy guy with a death wish, he was consistent and he was doing something no one had ever done before.
Nuno was kind of a visionary by taking him serious since day one. After that, I became organically more and more involved in Nuno’s project as an adviser and assistant director, we were all shooting Kalani’s action from drone and land, we discussed a lot of crazy ideas, directions for the project, interviews, we even travelled with Kalani for a secret slab mission in the Atlantic that didn’t made the cut - but that will for sure be used for something... like Kalani II - The Return [laughs]
Overall Kalani - Gift from Heaven was a project that evolved organically into something much bigger than itself, it united a lot of talent and friendships and ended up documenting one of the most enigmatic phenomenons in the sport.
Nuno, there are lots of people doing insane things at Nazare – how out there is it that Kalani chooses to bodysurf?
ND: That’s true. Every season there’s always something new and crazy happening. But to me, what Kalani does and how he does it is unique, extreme and really impressive.
But above all, I think nobody in the world has that kind of comfort and knowledge of the sea, swimming and catching 30-40 feet bombs for three straight hours.
There must have been some insane situations, Nazare is no joke. What’s the most you’ve been worried while watching Kalani?
ND: During the Nazaré Challenge 2018 Kalani was hired by WSL to be a lifeguard on the inside, in case something bad happened at the contest, of course, you know something's bound to happen there.
The waves were really good that day, really clean, big and perfect. Kalani spent the entire day working, taking guys out of the water, pulling jetskis… The contest was over around 2pm but the waves continued to pump.
I met him at the beach and I begged him to go out bodysurfing because we needed to film some heavy stuff for the film, and that was a golden opportunity to do it.
First he said that there's no way he could go out again, that he was really tired… I kept insisting for him to go in, gave him a cereal bar and some water - and then he started, pulling a wetsuit on to go bodysurf 30 foot waves.
But moments after the wave, we couldn’t find Kalani anywhere in the lineup. Suddenly all the excitement became a huge worry and we were trying to spot him
His first ride was epic, one of the best shots of the film, a huge right hander with an airdrop into the flats. I was freaking out and excited after that ride, I couldn’t believe what I had just filmed.
But moments after the wave, we couldn’t find Kalani anywhere in the lineup. Suddenly all the excitement became a huge worry and we were trying to spot him. Me and Pedro Miranda had radios but neither of us could see him. Other drone guys were there looking for him, but without success.
It took us about 20 minutes to spot him way down the beach swimming in a huge rip current. And after reaching the outside again, he kept bodysurfing for another hour making that session one of the best we got and a highlight of the film. This was in the last winter of production, I had had many moments like this before with him, but this one was really special and scary, he literally spent the whole day in the water.
Bodysurfing brings you so close to the wave, how hard do you think is it to pick off waves amidst a field of the best big wave surfers on the planet?
ND: One of the biggest challenges of the project was definitely not to miss Kalani’s waves. If people think shooting surfing is sometimes difficult, shooting bodysurf is 10 times harder.
He’s just a little dot swimming hundreds of metres away, it’s really easy to lose him in the lineup and of course he rides much fewer waves than the tow or the paddle guys. The level of concentration has to be on point all the time.
Is there anyone else bodysurfing at Nazare?
Yes… I mean there's bodysurfers when it’s small to mid size conditions… but not when it’s big. When it’s really really big the only guy that's ever bodysurfed it, is Kalani.
Besides Kalani, only Fred David [partner of big wave legend Justine Dupont] that I can recall to ever attempt and maybe Henrique Pistilli, but not like you'll see in this movie… you know, there are many levels of big Nazaré.
What makes Kalani stand out?
ND: The way he reads the ocean. Actually, I don’t know what’s more impressive - his mental strength to see those situations with such calm, never panicking, or his physical preparation to swim in those conditions for hours and ride those waves with just a pair of fins. And sometimes he loses the fins too.
In the film, there's a lot of respect from the big wave riding community. How do other hellmen react to Kalani?
ND: They love him. Every big wave surfer at Nazaré has a huge respect for Kalani. He also has a really good energy and people like to be around him.
Pedro, as assistant director, what advice did you give Nuno?
PM: There’s a special dynamic between Kalani and Nuno, where each one of them is crazier than the other, and that’s an explosive mix for pushing the limits... Kalani will always push it further than what we think, and Nuno can always push Kalani even further than what Kalani thinks.
I remember one really big day where Kalani had already been charging, but after that morning there was no one out, and Nuno’s plan was for Kalani to charge some inside bowls - you know, that place we call the death zone… I think I talked him out of that idea, that was a bit of good advice, I think [laughs].
What, in your opinion, is Kalani’s aim?
ND: I think he's just having fun doing all this crazy stuff. I know it sounds a bit weird saying this, but somehow he always comes out of the water with a big smile on his face, enjoying life… Of course he wants to catch the next big wave, a deeper barrel, but what I feel after these years working with him, is that he just really loves the Ocean and has a deep and special connection with it.
Where can surfing go in Nazare? How will it look in 5-10 years time?
PM: I think although there is still a race for a new big wave record, in terms of surfing, there's clearly been a shift, now it’s more about how they ride it. Kai Lenny has been an example with his 360s and airs, Lucas Chumbo charging behind the peak, the boys are charging way more aggressively and, at the same time, way smarter. I think we are going to have a new record soon and probably several new records in the next 5-10 years, but it would be much more interesting to see what goes on during the process, than actually seeing 100 footer.
Bodysurf wise, I have no idea, I imagine Kalani wants to break his own limits if he feels like it, or if he’s not busy charging stand up, but I don’t see it as a broad sport anyway, there's only Kalani at that level.