Big-wave surfing can appear a bombastic vocation – egos, monster waves, peril. A small group of men and women fly across the world with no notice in pursuit of the heaviest swell that the Pacific or Atlantic can spit out. This weekend they travelled to the Portuguese fishing village Nazare, north of Lisbon, and one of the most westerly points in Europe, where the St Jude’s Day storm threw up something extraordinary.
Waves towering 100ft roared in from the ocean – and one of them was surfed by a Brazilian man, Carlos Burle. See the picture for yourself on pages 8 and 9 of today’s i. Mr Burle awaits confirmation that he has beaten the existing world record of surfing a 78ft wave. (As does the Devon surfer Andrew Cotton, who also rode a giant.) The video from Portugal is terrifying: you see surfer after surfer chased and then swallowed by a white avalanche.
Non-surfing readers who are interested in the psyche of these people might enjoy Andy Martin’s page-turner Stealing the Wave, which charts the doomed rivalry between grizzled, old-school Texan Ken Bradshaw and the stylish, vainglorious upstart Mark Foo.
Why do it? You feel alive. The biggest waves I’ve ever tried to surf were probably only about 7ft, but even those tiddlers are enough to throw desk monkeys like me through the spin cycle – wiped out, sucked down and dragged gasping for oxygen across the sea-bed. My shins carry the holes from bouncing off reefs. But the thrill, when you get it right, of slipping down the glassy green face of the ocean is like no other. So while the riding of an Atlantic brute is, on the face of it, an inconsequential story, it represents a human desire to submit oneself to nature and survive.