Article written for a Dutch Surf Magazine by one of our retreat attendees last April.
Massive thanks to Robert Verspui for writing this article about his experience of Surf Fit Life and how he came to be on the retreat in April 2018 with his fellow surfers Jorgen and Onno (collectively known as The Pancake Crew). And massive thanks again to Robert for translating the article into English from Ducth. The Pancake Crew has been charging Mullaghmore and thought it was time to acquaint themselves with Nazare. I've moved the paragraphs around a little so the rest of their story is further down. Inspirational crew from Holland!
Nazare, new goal!
Winter is Coming.
Now that we have experienced some serious winters in Ireland, the three of us more and more feel the urge to try out everything we have learned on another big wave spot. Nazare is a spot that we have been monitoring for years and is calling us more. A spot that can not be compared with Mullaghmore, except that it has a certain magic like Mullaghmore. A true natural wonder that evokes respect, admiration and healthy fear.
I saw via instagram a call from Andrew Cotton together with fitness guru Andrew Blake for a Surf Fit Retreat in Nazaré. Here I saw a nice opportunity to filter in the Nazare scene. Onno and Jurgen called whether they thought about it and contacted me immediately and I also came up with the proposal as a photographer and filmmaker to make a small promo video production of the week, which they found completely cool and that's how our Surf Fit Retreat captured.
Our first meeting was with Surf Fit's Andrew Blake after a session surfing Nazare. Andrew Blake, is really a funny and energetic guy with a lot of knowledge of the human body, he trained big names in the surf world like Medina, Alana blanchard, Garret McNamara, Hugo Vau and Cotty whom he has known for a long time are both from Devon UK. The goal of optimal performance and injury is always prevented. Together with his girlfriend Rebecca who is an osteopath and Andrew Cotten you have a very professional team who, besides being super nice, really knows how to get the most out of you.
We had a small group of 7, a New Yorker, a South African, someone from Portugal, Ireland and we from the Netherlands. So the week started with a prognosis of your body, here everything was well mapped and clear what your strengths are and where there are improvement points. Your program will be adjusted.
Then a fit-test, where we were all really broken and everyone in the group had suffered severe muscle pain. We were worried that this would be a problem with the rest of the week, but by starting yoga, meditation and being deep in your body every day, the muscle pain disappeared faster than expected and we felt fitter and more energetic by the day. .
Because we, as Dutch Crew, really did this course for a reason, the program was specially adapted for us. It was really great to train so intensively with Cotty and to be trained by Cotty. He is really a very relaxed guy who is beautiful in life as father of 2 next to his big wave career. Wonderful to see how he, with his last wipeout where he broke his back, works very positively and hard to get stronger. Blake has a huge role here as a friend and personal trainer of Cotty. He has taught us a lot in terms of technique, mind-set, what to do and what not to do, type boards for Nazare really everything he has gained in all those years as experience. In Nazaré, for example, he is really a hero that everyone has a chat with. He also found it very cool that we Dutch people are so serious about it because he himself does not come from a region known for the big waves but purely by believing in it and working hard now is one of the big names in the big wave world. For example, a part of the Surf Fit week went to the wear-house of Red Bull where the best athletes have their place for equipment. This was really a kind of candy shop 7 Red Bull Skis and too many guns and tow-boards.
Furthermore, the focus of the Surf Fit week was mainly to prepare for the moments when everything went wrong and you were assigned to yourself and your training. This was nicely packaged in mediation, yoga, breathing exercises and various swimming pool trainings. Blake is really of the body and Cotty is of personal big wave experience. Even if you have no ambition for surfing huge waves, I can recommend this week for everyone.
Really nice to see and experience how quickly your mind-set changes and self-confidence increase by doing step-by-step exercises. So we first swam a 25 Mar job under water, everyone succeeded while you do it accelerates your heartbeat and it is something that is not very relaxed, this because you think too much and do not want to hide, all energy wasteful emotions .
Then a little later by the proper guidance of Andrew Cotten you lower yourself with a weight to the bottom of the pool, here you wait until your body gets the first breaths reflexes, this is your diaphragm that gets kind of convulsions. As soon as this happens you will swim as calmly as possible to the other side on the 25th of march and then you will hang underwater for 15 seconds underwater. Also exercises where the stress and turbulence are mimicked by twisting around one another, pulling arms and legs here and there a stump and then swimming to the other side, here a bite of air and again the merry-go-round. These exercises where you progress so quickly give a good boost to self-confidence. And during these exercises you get beautiful examples of stuffy and scary moments of Cotty itself in massive Nazare.
These preparations as a team are really great and ensure that you feel comfortable and full of confidence and that you are looking forward to the winter. The surfing of big waves with consequences is really for me personally that you know that your surf buddies are also fit and well trained so that you are well attuned and know that you can be saved in the worst case scenarios. This gives you an unbelievable feeling that you are investing so much time and energy with each other that eventually you will be rewarded with the sessions of your life. It gives a real sense of a kind of brotherhood. Yet you know that you are totally dependent on yourself as soon as it goes wrong. Here it comes down to everything you have learned, no matter how deep and dark yo
Just before we left for Portugal, Onno, who lives in Ireland for most of the year, sent me a message that the BWRAG (Big Wave Risk Asesment Group) under the direction of Danilo Coute a respected name in the big wave scene, originally from Brazil but has lived in Hawaii for years, Ireland came for a weekend training program together with the ITSRC (Irisch Tow Surf Rescue Club) led by Peter Conroy. This was too interesting not to be around so before we knew Jorgen and I were on the plane.
This was a wonderfully instructive weekend with a nice group of like-minded guests together. An especially big wave scene has arisen in Ireland, and this is mainly due to Peter Conroy, who also founded the ITSRC. We as Dutch Crew have a lot to thank Peter, he has trained us and with him as safety you know that you are in good hands and can give that little bit extra.
Peter is a real Mad Men but in the good sense of the word, 110% Respect for this man who has become a good friend over the years. In addition, he works as a firefighter in Dublin and by him there is a nice cooperation between the big wave scene and the coastguard who have already picked up several seriously injured surfers at spots such as Aileens and Railies.
This was about a broken back, above leg and pelvis, each and every one of life-threatening injuries. The coastguard knows the hard core personally and there is a nice mutual respect and they also know exactly what to do when someone gets into trouble in hard-to-reach places. During this weekend the coastguard came along with their biggest helicopter, a kind of flying hospital.
In addition, Danilo had a nice presentation about Waimea, Jaws and Mavericks where there is a totally different mentality. Very cool to be able to speak to this guest with his years of experience and practice exercises.
Nazare is truly a unique place, besides being a true wonder of nature, the town also has a unique character full of tradition and culture that you will not find anywhere else. The locals, young and old, are very hospitable, you notice that they are happy that Nazare is really put on the map by big wave surfing. If you ever get there, go to play at Norte in the Horse Bar, a kind of equestrian center / kennel / loft where you will be welcomed by 2 dogs and a goat who are always together, in the bar hangs the whole history of the place on the wall and throughout the day, hashish joints are smoked and you can get your own beer for a euro.
On the beach you have a beautiful view of the Canyon or the spot Nazare, furthermore you will find pieces of gun from last winter, here more boards are broken than anywhere in Europe.
The reason that waves can get so high is due to an underwater ravine, (The Canyon) a ravine that narrows towards the coast and the swell is gradually pushed up and as soon as it reaches the shoal of Nazare the wave breaks bigger than where also on the European coast. You also see that there is sometimes a pattern of intertwined waves, so that at the last moment, two waves merge their energy and create peaks that are incredibly large and bizarre.
Compared to Mullaghmore it is a different world, Mully is and remains one of the most beautiful waves in the world, such a long, fast and massive barrel can not be compared with anything else. What you have at Mully is that you have a clear peak and channel so that no matter how big the waves are if you know the spot well, you are pretty safe as a ski driver but also as a surfer. It is a huge violence where many a surfer has been injured but you still quickly move away from the impact zone because of the enormous displacement of water there is a kind of permanent river that brings you to safety very quickly. This is the opposite at Nazare, Nazare is a real beach break where your skidrive skills are very important and still have the best drivers as skis waste, each and every one of them was their turn. This says enough about Nazare and the healthy tension that this entails.
This trip was booked months in advance and we knew that the chance of big waves was small and the closer we approached, it looked like we were going to be treated to the last serious swell of the season. Onno and Jur left Ireland with the car and ski I flew to Porto and picked up a rental car there. Onno and Jur were there a day earlier or actually at night they arrived and drove to the lighthouse, impressive to hear the sound of great Nazaré break so at night. Something that gives you goose bumps and an increased heartbeat. The next day they sailed outside, talking about mountains of water, something they had never seen before and only another tow team was busy. As soon as they were outside and the mockery let in, a breeze was set up, so the session was quickly canceled by the other tow team, Jur and Onno went after it because it was a day when a mistake would have major consequences. It was really big that day, an extreme Nazare day.
I arrived in the evening and shrugged like a plug that I missed this day but fortunately it would be good the next day, April 19, which also was my birthday. Really cool to leave the ski in the water and sail out of the harbor. A spot where you've fantasized about so much, studied every movie and now you're out there in the sun and there are still huge rolls rolling in. After studying the spot for half an hour, Jur went first, he was perfectly positioned in different fat boxes by Onno, he surfaced one after the other and was quickly picked up by Onno, this is really time, quick pick-ups between the sets. Everything went well and everyone had a big smile on his face. I was on a 8'6 gun from Jur and I tried to paddle a few more times but was under-gunned, a meter was too short. Because Jur and Onno are right in front and the footbands of the towboard are adjusted to this, I asked Onno if he could not tow me in a big wave with my gun. He looked at me of what!? .. Ok let's try and before I knew it I was on a wonderful dike of water, a lot of speed towards the cliffs which caused a huge stoke. The wave after that I found a nice pocket and folded a blue vertical light over me, while I see the lighthouse in front of me, what a fantastic feeling, one of the most beautiful birthday gifts ever!
Then it was Onno's turn and another breeze came up, so everything changed from one moment to the next and the session was finished. Onno said, you know what, it's ok .. but does not matter, you can see you surfing like this and the pickups makes it such a great day!
The question was whether the next day would work, but given the period and the height it would be okay to work out and yes the swell was a bit smaller but still impressive and it was Onno's turn. I was a driver and it was fantastic to position Onno in one serious nautical wave after another. A few more critical pickups made it such a top session right away. Nazare is a wave that you have to surf as much as Mullaghmore, Mully is a sucking barrel where you have to put the right line. Nazare is a huge mass of water, a wave where you really have to position yourself to find the one section that can barrel.
Onno surfed 5 waves and had a smile from ear to ear when it was Jur's turn and soon he had the biggest of the day. Because our tow-board was mainly shaped for Mully, it was sometimes quite difficult to find enough speed here. Jur is slightly smaller so it worked best for him. He had one thick box after another and the ski driven was really cool, super for the scills and a huge kick and boost for your self-confidence, when you get out of the impact zone while you get the air pressure of the next snapping wave in your neck, cries of joy and relief sounded above the sound of the ski .. This went well for too long so then it came, Jur had 3 big beautiful waves and then came a huge set, I cried hurriedly come on grab the rope while he was still recovering from his last wave. I tipped him in a beautiful thick wave but this was the first of a set of 5 that you should not do on Nazare. Jur surfed and left the wave early and the first thing he sees is a horizon of water that is going to break on top of him. I had to put myself in safety and could do nothing else when I saw it from a distance, after having rinsed 3 waves over him I saw a chance to pick him up. His eyes were wide open, safety vest was pulled, I was glad I got him out of there. When Jur was safely on the sled we were close to the side and started the hardest to come out again, there was a wall of white water that we had to penetrate, here it often goes wrong and I knew this was going to be difficult . Luckily we got through well and Jur stayed on the sled and we could sail out. This was just as quickly evaluated and a plan of action for the searched board was made. I would drop Jur as close as possible to the beach and he would swim in to get the board and he would swim out again and I pick him up again. This was thought too easily.
As soon as he was ashore, he did not go away and waved away but at a speed that I saw that he had had a very hard time, and I knew he would not come back. Fortunately, we had tied a tow-board for me to a buoy and Onno hopped into one after the other beautiful wave. This playground was that day of us, there was nobody to confess and the conditions were super. Because Onno could not surf on this board, he kept on dropping one after the other until my arms and legs soured, really such a beautiful new chapter in our big waves story.
Eventually we met Jur in the harbor again and we heard his story in the infamous beachbreak of Nazare. Here he had to pull his vest for the 2nd time. Here waves of 4 Mar break on dry sand, often you are sucked back again and again and is really dying. When he finally came out of the water, Andrew Blake of Surf Fit Life was the first to meet with one of the Dutch crew.
Here you can see the video I made of the Surf Fit Retreat