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The tide was pushing high at 1:45pm, optimum conditions for this beach and that would signal game on. Sancho was on the point with his filmers and word on the cliff was that the Billabong team were bringing the big guns to Nazare. We dug out of the cliff chatter and drove home to focus for an hour. And what do you know? Driving up the hill we passed new daddy of two Mr Eric Rebiere rocking red some brave red jeans. Sat next to him was the big gun himself, Shane Dorian, here to sample some Portuguese punch. They had four massive boards on the roof, plus Portu-gezzer Hugo Vao in the back (He has covered water safety here for past events). After eating a little more, stretching and filming bits at the house we headed for the harbour. Cotty and Big Red were already there suited up plus the Billabong crew: Shane, Eric and Sancho, plus Adventure Division boss Francois Liets heading out to spot and cover Sancho. Eric had Hugo covering him on the ski and Shane had two more guys helping him with a lift out and through the disgustingly heavy sandy shorebreak.© 2014 Vitor Estrelinha - Nazaré Qualifica
About 20 minutes behind the crowd clutching their tow boards and massive 11ft + paddle guns we arrived at the bouy where we tie up the spare boards. My first sight was Shane Dorian's orange board gliding into a massive right. He'd rocked up, looked at it for one hour and stroked straight into a peaky number. Looking over from the buoy I was watching the level I aspire to right there with one to his name already.© 2014 Nazaré Qualifica / Vitor Estrelinha / Jorge Leal
We watched Eric get a chunky right straight afterwards, they were getting into them alright by the looks of it... But what happened next shows the power and danger of Praia Do Norte, and why it's preferable to perfect and train for the difficulties you face driving here before the big days - when it really counts. The guy who had Shane's back lost the ski up the beach on the first 'pick-up and collect' he went for. Leaving Shane with only one wave (maybe two), stuck on the beach helplessly itching for a lift through the lineup and out the back.© 2014 Nazaré Qualifica / Vitor Estrelinha / Jorge Leal
I hung on the back of the ski like a meaty lure and Sebastian tried to drive me to the most doable looking peak. It's a big playing field out here, generally about 3 peaks lump-up, stretching across 2kms of sand with the cliffs in the south corner. I had my 9'2 underneath me but it wasn't cutting it and I was getting frustrated, mixed with scared hyped-up adrenaline. I could not blank this session. I was reminded of my first impression of Praia do Norte. The wave scared the hell out of me. I didn't even stand-up. I was driving the ski which is equally as scary as surfing and getting poundings. Here your first glance into shore comes once you have raced around the cliffs and it is carnage, huge side-wedges colliding with 20 ft waves. I didn't know how the hell to approach it. My board felt extremely small amongst the shifting peaks.© 2014 Vitor Estrelinha - Nazaré Qualifica
The Billabong boys got going and plugged off two to three waves each within the first hour. Cotty had jumped off Al's ski and joined in, his board looked pretty small also. At this point Sebastian offered to leave me floating out back and go tackle the shorebreak to bring Shane back into the line up, the other safety drivers out there weren't so keen on the inside. Seb had been really sick since the day he arrived, luckily yesterday he wanted to make my day run smoothly and put in a 3-4 hour shift watching my back. This partnership is critical at Praia Do Norte if you want to fully commit, there are no channels here to paddle back out after your waves.© 2014 Nazaré Qualifica / Vitor Estrelinha / Jorge Leal
Still feeling exposed I paddled over to Eric and asked him if he had anything bigger on the beach? He said I could get a ride in and pick up his 10'4. What an absolute legend without him being so kind and loaning me a board I probably wouldn't have picked one off. "Well yeah, Tom needed it and I lent to him." Eric told us later "But now he needs to buy it after snapping it. ha ha." "It was a good day and I think from now on we will have a different approach to paddling here. This is definitely the new big wave spot for sure. Nowhere is this big with such a small swell. I will stay around here and keep trying! "I got a of couple waves, but didn't get a big barreling one. To tell the truth I think I will progress a lot with some new boards I am on making. We will see."© 2014 Vitor Estrelinha - Nazaré Qualifica
From the beach I saw Cotty (pictured) drop into his first wave and pull a really nice line of the bottom... "It was another great day at Nazare, we've spent a lot of time here this year and have been very lucky to have the support from Nazaré Qualifica.' Said Cotty. "Other days we've paddled it, but not as big, and then seeing Garrett paddle out here in November was epic and an insight into what's possible. So seeing Shane, another of the world's best pushing the limits in Europe was inspiring." "A lot of the local guys have paddled out here in addition to Garrett." Added Al Mennie "It's not like other big wave spots we surf in lots of ways, but when you look at it from the perspective of paddling in particular, its unpredictability is the most dangerous factor in my opinion. "If you can imagine what you are seeing and feeling sitting at your local beach break when its double overhead and not knowing where the next wave is going to break then multiply that by say three or maybe four times then that might give you some sort of idea what it's like at Nazare on most days." "This was from a swell of about 3.5m in height. Its an unusual place. Here in Northern Ireland most beaches that get a 3.5m swell will give us head high waves, Nazare 3.5m of swell means something very different! Huge volumes of water approaching the beach at different angles at speed means never really knowing where the best spot to be is - not to mention knowing if you will have the balls to commit to going on one when you find yourself bang in the right spot."© 2014 Vitor Estrelinha - Nazaré Qualifica
The English reps were off to a start and as I held Eric's board under my arm, flicking the snails off it on the run down the beach the weight felt more like it belonged. About 20 mins later I eventually caught a left and got going straight after this I had the biggest right drop of my life. Thanks Eric.© 2014 Vitor Estrelinha - Nazaré Qualifica
This far into the session Shane had scored the bomb of the day so far - a bending giant vertical 2nd peak right, and he'd pulled his magic vest once. Sancho had a few bombs, especially the wave he split with Shane, he went on his backhand really late but stuck it.© 2014 Vitor Estrelinha - Nazaré Qualifica
Eric had some big nice rights and lefts too. He committed to a really, really late one 100% and did a perfect head first dive out the lip. He wanted that one badly. These boys had to get to work, Bong had hired a helicopter for the day to get some extra special angles.© 2014 Nazaré Qualifica / Vitor Estrelinha / Jorge Leal
Shane Dorian labelled it, "20-25 feet on the Hawaiian scale in size and as far as itensity, power and size goes, comparable to any wave anywhere, whether it's Cortez Bank or Jaws or Mavericks. "The waves I saw today were absolutely enormous and if you had paddled into the biggest waves today, you would have paddled inro the biggest wave ever paddled, I have no doubt about that."© 2014 Nazaré Qualifica / Vitor Estrelinha / Jorge Leal
Over the next 20 mins Praia Do Norte claimed another ski up the beach making it two skis for the tractor to collect later. The skis literally get tossed up the beach as the drivers got knocked clean off by the inside shorebreak wedges. This is where the time practising out there on smaller days pays off. Dorian was left stranded on the beach, again no ride back out, Eric and Sancho were left without boards and a ski for safety, so they headed back to the harbour. On the one ski they had left in the water.© 2014 Nazaré Qualifica / Vitor Estrelinha / Jorge Leal
I stayed out to try get some more practise time in. I had a really nice left and had to straighten out at the end I didn't wear a leash so the board got washed up and onto the beach. I ran onto the beach to get it, looked out to sea and said to myself that's quite enough I've had my fill, I'm gonna hit the harbour happy.© 2014 Vitor Estrelinha - Nazaré Qualifica
Sebastian picked me up from the inside shorebreak and negotiated his way through the madness parking up out the back, I said I felt like I'd had my fill and was up for driving back to the harbour. He had other ideas for me, questioning "what the hell are you thinking if you really want to be a big wave surfer you should stay out and practise, this is the cleanest it's been all day." He was right the wind had dropped with the rain, the weather throughout the session had been a mixed bag : sun, fog, rain, strong cross offshore, light wind, no wind. Everything but snow and hail. Gotta get back to Ireland for that. So I tried getting some more big bombs, but no. Throughout the session I was trying to edge my way more under the ledge. It's taken a while to feel confident doing this and then... .© 2014 Nazaré Qualifica / Vitor Estrelinha / Jorge Leal
I stayed inside and paddled for the1st wave of the set, missed it, and couldn't get over the 2nd wave so I started swimming under it. Obviously with two life jackets on you struggle to swim deep. I kind of got through it and just as I was coming up it grabbed me like a beach ball and pulled me back over. When I popped up Eric's board was next to me in half, sorry Eric. I learned more about my buoyancy setup there and then. Hopefully within the next few weeks I can design a nice setup for flotation with Gul, get that right, a few 10ft plus guns and I'm ready to stay in Praia do Norte the winter... If it'll have me.© 2014 Vitor Estrelinha - Nazaré Qualifica
Kepa finds himself in a land of perpetual dancing and broad smiles.
Pick a solid swell, make the treacherous paddle, avoid the fang-like rocks on the inside, and you could score some of the longest rights of your life.
If Jack Kerouac surfed he would have chewed his beatnik leg off to get on this trip. Desert Point to Shipstern and everything in between.
Not all winter is cold, even if the country is in danger of washing away there will be surfers lapping up the storms
Those two imposters, triumph and disaster, go hand in hand in the sport of bodyboarding, especially for those hellmen who push the boundaries of what is surfable.