When we first saw the images of this paddle wave, our initial thoughts were – 'that's the biggest paddle wave at Nazare in the past few years.' Jury's still out on that by the way but what really surprised was the name credited to it. Vini dos Santos, a 31-year-old charger born in Florianópolis, Brazil.
And it didn't just catch our eye too. Nic Von Rupp with his company The Brusco has been celebrating surfers who push their limits. And each month, awards a standout with the #chargerofthemonth award. See Afonso Bandhold's effort and reward from last month here. This month, it's gone to Vini, for that mega wave of his back in February. To note the occasion, we caught up with the Brazilian to talk through the wave and find out a bit more about what makes him tick.
Hey Vini, great to touch base, let's run through your early life, where did all get started?
I learned to surf in Imbituba, around 55 miles away from home, where my parents came from. I entered university to study Aquaculture Engineering but I quit the course when I became a big wave competitor due to my good results. I felt like that was the right thing to do.
Also during the time as a student I part time worked as a lifeguard for years getting more experience as a waterman, and I invested the money I earned into going to Hawaii, where I developed my big wave surfing skills along the North Shore ground.
What did being in Hawaii teach you?
Being in Oahu, I was closer to surf the waves that I always dreamed. Not just talking about Sunset, Pipeline and Waimea, but living the Hawaiian dream – it gave me confidence and a better headspace to charge Pe’ahi, chase Maverick's and explore Nelscott Reef.
What happened from there? When did the competitive flare really take off?
In 2018 there was a big wave contest at home, so I had the chance to compete for the first time. I made it through the finals in the contest that Chumbo won. Months after, I had a chance to compete at the Ceremonial Punta del Lobos in Chile, where I fortunately got in to the finals again. So after all that, I took the prize money and I travelled to Nazare, inspired by Antonio Silva and Garret McNamara.
Had you surfed Nazare before this season?
I’ve been going to Nazare the last three winters. The first season I had a chance to surf some good waves and I spent my time bodysurfing and getting to understand the shorebreak and the water dynamics. I like to paddle from the shore of the North Beach, using the rip currents, facing the waves to get into the peak I choose.
Sounds mad, but going from the hardest way, I can feel the ocean power and this makes me humble, make me stronger and helps me to connect, be the best I can be.
And you decided to paddle that Nazare wave – why paddle over tow?
I've always been a paddler. Where I learned to surf at Imbituba, it’s a very traditional surfing place. As grommet I stepped up in the large waves riding my father’s big guns there, always in company of my father and uncles.
I also didn’t have many opportunities to use a jetski in my life. After some years riding bigger boards at Sunset Beach it was natural to move onto paddling Nazare, it’s been about following my intuition.
Talk us through that wave, what was the feeling like dropping into it?
The day that I got that wave I used a different strategy. I knew it would be the best direction, perfect North West and offshore wind. So I told my friend, Ollie Dousset, the night before that I would paddle early morning and not even check the waves.
So next morning I took my Lylecarlson surfboard 11’6” and by 8:30am we were paddling from the Vila. And as he stayed watching the waves in front of the canyon, that separates the Vila from the North Beach (Praia do Norte), I had pretty much my mind made up about what I intended to do.
Due to the time I spent here, studying this place, I knew the swell direction was perfect just like the wind. So for days I was already planning to be in this exact spot at the right moment. So I crossed straight up from the canyon to the second peak. I saw Maya and Sebastian’s team, who got there just before me.
I stayed there trying to find a comfortable position, to not get caught by a set and not be too far out from the surfing spot, when my friends Ollie, Tito and Tony came to join me. Also a big crowd of tow surfers arrived, they were surfing around and very close to us, and very often in between us. I just remember yelling at them, due to the wake they were making. I finally got that wave right after it.
I still have it so fresh in my mind, looking down the mountain, opening my arms as if they were wings, feeling like a bird flying
I still have it so fresh in my mind, looking down the mountain, opening my arms as if they were wings, feeling like a bird flying. When I finally landed my feet on my board, the board landed in the wave... I felt like I was losing it, so I instinctively made the necessary adjustments in my stance and arms, to get back to the main goal; make the “bottom turn” around the corner, to avoid the avalanche coming towards me.
I was so happy and felt so alive finishing my ride in the little channel between peak one and two. But it wasn’t time to celebrate yet, I had to work myself back to the line up. I was feeling on fire, and I could get two more waves after this one.
Did you realise the wave was that big?
When I got that wave I didn’t realise it was that big [laughs]. But the way I think, it was not just a big wave, but one of the best rides I ever had in my life.
It was a very technical airdrop in the peak and a tough long bottom turn. To make this line and have a successful ride I wiped out so many times last winter charging with a injured knee, got 100 waves pounding in my head, that’s why it was so glorious.
I feel super strong now, and I am ready to go bigger next winter.