Big Wave Surfers: How We’re Getting Ready for the World’s Biggest Wave

Tom Vaughan

by on

Updated 112d ago

How does a big wave charger prepare to take on the biggest wave in the world? After all, there aren’t many situations that can train you to be comfortable during a life or death situation out at Praia do Norte.

Well, as we venture ever closer to the opening Nazare swell of this season, MSW spoke to a few of the athletes that put it all on the line in the name of the ultimate wave, to explore what they’ve been up to and how exactly they ready their bodies for both the ride of their life, or the beating of the Century.

LIVE CAM: Nazare

Nic Von Rupp

Yeah, Nic had a decent summer.

“I’ve had a great summer, went to Tahiti which was epic and got some really good waves and really big wipeouts but that’s good, it makes you feel like you’re pushing the limits.

"Then I went to Indonesia which is a good place to get some barrels but also good content. I was in Indo for a month and a half and I’ve just got back to work on prep for this season.

“Last year worked out really well for me, I think it was definitely my best season so far. I had a lot of great sessions and a lot of great waves so I just want to keep doing that.

“In terms of training I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the gym with endurance training and body strengthening. Just really working on my physical side and then take to the water with the jet skis.

“The goals are always the same for me. I want to ride the biggest waves of the season and be as consistent as last year.

“A few things people don’t see going on out there is all the stress and the anxiety, you know? And the tension. There’s a lot of build up for the swells. You think you’ve seen the biggest waves ever then all of a sudden there’s a bigger swell. The media hype it up, it gets into your head.

“Also the costs associated as well to all the training and maintaining of the jet skis. It’s not just show up and blow up out there. It requires quite a bit of dedication.

“You just have to go out there and deal with it, all that hype. Most people only see the positive aspects but not so much the negative side and all the hard work that goes into it.”

Michelle Des Bouillons

Michelle letting off some steam at Desert Point, vid from @naomiadbib.

“I’ve been training and having fun on the perfect waves in Indo, but also going to the gym a minimum of three times a week to keep my muscles strong. Now I’m just going back to Brazil and soon to Portugal to be back on my specific training for Nazare and the big wave season.

"I focus on training strength and endurance a lot but I also love training cardio in the pool. Mental preparation is also fundamental but I don't do anything in particular on that. The fact that I'm physically well prepared and have a team I can trust makes me very confident.

“I don’t want to spend the whole season in Nazare this year as I’d like to surf other spots as well.

“Another season of work is coming and I want everything to go well. I want to have fun and catch good but also big waves!

“I hope to do a good job with my team, in free surf sessions as well as in the competitions that we have ahead.

"A few things people don’t see happening out there is the amount of gears, safety processes and operational costs."

Rafael Tapia

Rafael went on a bit of a wild hunt during the XXL Chile swell this summer. The Nazare veteran chased this storm up and down a 300-mile stretch in search of new waves.

Rafael went on a bit of a wild hunt during the XXL Chile swell this summer. The Nazare veteran chased this storm up and down a 300-mile stretch in search of new waves.

© 2023 - María Francisca Del Castillo

“I’ve been doing a lot of training at home in Chile, mixing a lot of different water sports and a little snow.

“It’s been a relatively slow winter in Chile, we had an unusual lack of consistency and only one very big swell, was a nice chase all over Chile for that one. It was also was very rainy with lots of onshore periods but great snow. I didn’t travel overseas as now I’m ready to move back to my second home in Nazare.

“Usually my training is mixing a lot of sports every day, this season I did do a little more strength and specific physio training to be stronger for Nazare though.

“I might change my approach a little but still the focus will be to base myself in Nazare and maybe travel to a couple swell events outside of Nazare if they are completely worth it.

“With eight seasons at Nazare I feel very much at peace and at home there. Many years have been very tough with logistics, I feel that this year I’m more relaxed, my head is clear, long gone are the days where I felt like I needed to prove myself there.

Rafa's wipeout in Chile, tweaked his back on this one.

“Nazare always has the last word, but my mind is clear, I want to enjoy the beautiful days and the giant gnarly days with respect and commitment. I hope every Nazare committed surfer gets a chance and they don’t miss those special days.

“My aims this year are to be happy, help some friends get the waves of their lives, and get my fair share of incredible waves and be home safe every day.

“I’m sure people don’t see it, but maybe sense it; there is so much more involved in surfing Nazare than just performing, its a very delicate line of surf etiquette, politics, friendships, investments, etc. This can be very hard to digest if you don’t have a strong stomach! Deep inside I’m sure everyone that is consistently there has fallen in love with Nazare, it’s a very, very special place.”

Vini Dos Santos

Vini's insane paddle wave from last year...

Vini's insane paddle wave from last year...

© 2023 - Hannah Durr

“After staying for seven months in Nazare, I came back home to Brazil. I stayed a good period in my home town healing after a long season and getting stronger to be ready for more.

“I had the chance to do a trip to Punta de Lobos and Arica for two contests. It was good to be able to get used to the freezing conditions again. It’s winter season here actually, so I’ve been also busy surfing beach breaks in Santa Catarina, the state where I live in south of Brazil.

“I’ve never been a gym guy but I changed that this year due to a couple injuries. I had to focus on my health to become more strong.

“I gained 11 pounds and the combination of CBD, surfing, pilates and weight training is working really well with my body. Here, I am assisted by a doctor and I work out in a nice training centre where Yago Dora, Pedro Barros and Adriano de Souza go. I’ve been surrounded by the best friends and athletes in the island where I was born which gives me a lot of confidence and fills me with good energy.

Nazare works for me like Everest does for the mountaineer, it takes a lot of dedication to reach the summit.

“The last three years I stayed the whole winter in Nazare, and I won’t change that, but now I have more experience, and this will effect the decisions I will take day by day.

“It’s hard to explain much, but in the first three years I was only paddling, and this year I started to tow more often after breaking my best paddle boards. Now that I have a new quiver, I want to do both and drive the jet skis.

“It really took me a lot of dedication to find myself air dropping that beautiful right in 2021, riding an 11’3 from Lyle Carson. I want to be trained and connected like that day but Nazare works for me like Everest does for the mountaineer, it takes a lot of dedication to reach the summit.

“I accomplished a lot of achievements last year going to Nazare, now my mind is more relaxed about it and am more focused about living in the moment.

It wasn't exactly a quiet season for Vini, especially as it was winter in his part of the world.

“For sure I want to surf better every day and I am constantly going for the best version of myself but sometimes the anxiety is an enemy to finding myself in the right moment and the right place, which is very important for big wave surfing.

“One thing I know is, I have the skills to paddle and tow, but I want to be a better driver for having my team rely on me when it is needed, since Lucas Chumbo and Alemao de Maresias did so much for me last season.

“When I paddle out it’s only for the satisfaction of trying to connect with the ocean. When I get a nice wave, I taste the feeling of being alive, this is the fuel that is keeping me going.

“I have the freedom to be what I wanted to be since I was a very young boy. I came to Portugal in the right time and just being out there is a personal aim for me, the ocean is so big and every big wave rider who puts time into that wave with faith will have a chance to receive a Nazare blessing one day.”

Andrew Cotton

Here's how Cotty spends his downtime.

“It’s been a nice summer, I was supposed to go away but ended up staying at home in North Devon and working a lot to be honest.

“I got back from Nazare in April and have been working on a few different projects with different brands and then the plan was to go surfing in Costa Rica a few weeks before the season kicks off again but unfortunately we had to cancel. I’ve barely surfed this summer actually, apart from a few wave pools!

“I’ve just been trying to work on a few imbalances, getting more flexible and improving general strength. I just want to reduce the risk of injury as I go into the season and to just be able to surf longer is the key. I’ve had a few issues with my back the last few seasons so it’s all about trying to iron out those little niggles.

Jet ski prepping.

Jet ski prepping.

© 2023 - Saltrock

“I’d rather surf quieter and uncrowded waves most of the time so it’s about picking my moments now and spots I want to surf.

“I feel really good going into this year, I’m very fortunate with some great sponsors and really fun projects so it’s just about enjoying it.

“The goals are firmly in place and it’s just about enjoying the process. I feel really lucky to be where I’m at at the minute.

“I just want to be at every major swell and what will happen will happen. I think sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the hype so you just need to take it for what it is.”

Maya Gabeira

Maya on THAT wave from HTs this summer.

Maya on THAT wave from HTs this summer.

© 2023 - Ana Catarina

“Summer was super busy for me. I published Maya and the Beast, my first picture book!

“I had a great month of surfing in the Mentawai’s and I recently had the world premiere of Maya and the Wave at Toronto international film festival, a project independently made by director Stephanie Jones over the past ten years!

“I am trying my best to balance all my projects and this movie release with training for the season. It’s been difficult but I am confident I will get there but maybe a little later than usual.

There's worse places to spend a month surfing.

There's worse places to spend a month surfing.

© 2023 - Ana Catarina

“I don’t want to have much pressure this season as I am doing multi-tasking to the max! But I love surfing and I love Nazare so I will do my best to be prepared and surf the best I can on the big days.

“I just want to enjoy waves and the season. Surf as much as I can and feel challenged which is very easy when you surf Nazare all winter long!

“There’s always certain things that get overlooked by people watching Nazare. The tremendous amount of work we put into logistics, equipment, team and safety is always huge.”

Cover image by Margarita Salyak.