Jamie Mitchell just won the Nazare Challenge—which is to say that he not only won the first big wave event at Portugal’s biggest beach break, but also arguably the heaviest contest ever run.
But don’t take our word for it. Half a dozen guys got injured, a number of competitors spoke up after the event and said how crazy the conditions were, and even Garrett, the godfather of surfing at Praia do Norte, got caught out by a freak side wedge and crashed a ski. And if that’s not enough to convince you, here’s Jamie’s take on the whole week.
You’ve had a pretty good week, Jamie. Why don’t you tell us about it?
I actually left Hawaii for Spain initially, for the swell. I knew the forecast for Nazare looked good, but didn’t know the contest would run. But I got to be here early, and feel I got a bit lucky in that way.
I got to Spain Thursday night and we surfed really good waves at a point break in Spain on Friday. Then Twiggy and I got up early the next morning and drove here to Nazare. So we got here early and got to relax, which I think helps, instead of flying in last minute and having massive jet lag.
And we had that good surf in Spain, and then an 8-to-10-foot session here in Nazare to warm up before the contest. So that was a nice way to go into the event.
Your win here at the Nazare Challenge has moved you up into fifth on the big wave tour ratings, and with only one potential event left this season, you are looking pretty good to requalify. Was that a major goal this year?
Yeah, well I was sitting in 13th on the ratings, and you never know how many more events are going to run, so…you know, obviously I wanted to requalfiy, but for me it was more about putting together an event.
And I knew if I did that, the results would follow, and the rankings would follow after that. So I was just focused on getting past the semi-finals. You know, I’ve done well at the Eddie and made the Mavericks finals, but on tour, I’ve made the semis a number of times, at Todos and Puerto, but I’ve never put a whole contest together, so that was my major goal, to surf well all the way through. So once I made the final I was pretty stoked. But obviously I wanted to go out and do the best I could.
I felt good the whole contest. I felt confident and was getting good waves. I was positioning myself where I wanted to be, and by the time I got to the final I was pretty confident I could get the job done. So it ended up being a great event.
People are calling this an historical event, both because it was the inaugural Nazare contest, but also because of the conditions. How do you rate this venue compared to the others on tour?
It’s definitely a different wave. You know, obviously Jaws is a beautiful, perfect wave. It looks really pretty and nice. And all these other places you have channels. Puerto is probably the closest thing to Nazare, in that it’s a beach break.
But I think Nazare, as everyone saw on the webcast, is just a whole other animal. You know, I remember back when Garrett started surfing there, and a lot of people had voices and opinions about what the wave was like, and that it was a soft wave.
But it’s anything but that. Anyone who has surfed it knows that it’s one of the heaviest if not the heaviest big wave in the world. The thing with most big waves is that you wipeout, and everything gets easier and easier from there.
I’d say it was one of the toughest venues ever You get washed into the channel, or inside away from the zone. But Nazare is so powerful. You get pounded as bad as anywhere, but then the poundings actually get worse and it doesn’t stop till you get to the shore.
So it’s a crazy wave. You can get the wave of your life, and you can get the pounding of your life. It’s the Nazare Challenge, and that’s exactly what it was—it was a big challenge. And then you had to get back out on the jet ski, which was taxing on the body.
So as an overall thing, I’d say it was one of the toughest venues ever. Whether it was the biggest or gnarliest—well everyone has their opinions. But I’m sure if you ask, the guys who had to do three heats of surfing out there—it was hard.
On Thursday, we had another big session, maybe bigger than the contest, and you decided to drive safety ski rather than surf. And a number of other world tour guys also opted out. Do you want to talk about that decision?
Well I’m pretty beat up and sore from the contest. And I turned up to the cliff and it looked fun—which is to say that it was big and clean.
But I feel like Tuesday was a better day. I had my board ready to go, but I figured I’d just go out and run safety and watch, and learn more from watching the other guys. And I just didn’t get excited to paddle again today.
A few years ago I probably would have rushed back out there, but I’ve had a great week of surfing here in Europe, and I was happy just to be on the sidelines and then jump on a plane and go home to see my family and be in one piece. Because at Nazare, injuries are very possible, as we saw. You know, a ski went down, Toby Cunningham had a bad head cut, Axi took gas on the ski.
I’ve never seen so many injuries from one spot. So I think that just goes to show how dangerous it is.
There has been some talk from a few people that the wave might be too dangerous for the tour, and wondering if it’s really worth it. What do you think about that?
I think it definitely should be on tour. You can’t just have all these perfect waves. You know, different people at different points in their careers and different times in their lives…people are having babies, and in their 30s and fazing out.
And then you have these young kids who are rushing it. I think Nazare is an amazing challenge for big wave surfers. It’s being a waterman—going out, looking at the conditions, and at the currents. Figuring out how to be in the spot, and how you are going to get back out. I think it’s a great stop on tour.
If you don’t want to surf it or think it’s too dangerous, then don’t surf it. No one is forcing anyone to surf it And yeah, people are going to get hurt and things are going to happen, but that’s true in every extreme sport. Look at snowboarding, skiing, or motocross. People get way more hurt doing that than surfers do. So I think it deserves to be on tour and hope it stays on tour, and I’ll be stoked to see what’s happening here in 10 years.
That’s the progression of things. And if you don’t want to surf it or think it’s too dangerous, then don’t surf it. No one is forcing anyone to surf it.
And what do you have planned for the rest of the northern hemisphere winter?
Obviously I am on standby for the Eddie, Mavericks, and Todos Santos if it runs. I’ll probably also be chasing swells, but I might try to limit myself a bit. Last year I went really hard, and chased everything.
Now this year, in the position I’m in, I can probably just sit back and cherry pick my swells and not be so crazy. But obviously Mavericks and Jaws are easy for me, being in Hawaii. I think I’ll probably pack Nazare away in the back pocket until maybe next year.
So I’ll just be basing in Hawaii and surfing as much as I can. Trying to improve, working on boards and fins. I rode a thruster this event for the first time in a long time, and that felt really good. So I’m excited to start testing fin setups. There’s always so much to do. And I’m just excited to go home and then be ready for some North Pacific action.
Right on, Jamie, thanks. Travel safe, and good luck with the rest of the season.