I first met Adrian Fernandez De Valderrama in Puerto Escondido. He was posted up for a month, running on his own program, paddling out solo at the crack of dawn on the biggest day, and surfing til the water patrol kicked him out so they could run the Big Wave Tour event.
Since then, I keep bumping into Adrian wherever I go—as long as I go places with heavy waves and XXl swell forecasts. The young Spaniard is about as self-motivated a surfer as you are likely to meet, and enjoys nothing more than sending bombs and packing slabs.
But Adrian is more than a freesurfing hellman. His small wave game is sharp as well, and last month he took second place at the big wave invitational event at Punta Galea, only losing out to back-to-back event winner and world tour surfer Nic Lamb.
A week after his win and a couple of low-key paddle sessions at Nazare, I bumped into Adrian in Hawaii, where the biggest swell of the season was hammering the islands. Once the swell had passed, we sat down to talk about big waves, big beatings, and the recent tear he has been on.
You've been on a good run lately. Tell us about your past month.
This winter had a slow beginning, but on Christmas everything came together, and it started pumping at home. The bank at Mundaka was so fun, and we finally had the right swell to make it work as good as it gets. We scored four or five days of crazy waves, and in between the swells for Mundaka we had a good swell for the Punta Galea Challenge. It wasn’t huge, but it looked good, so we decided to run the contest.
It was my first big wave contest, and finishing in second place after an incredible day was unreal. Even just making the quarters and the semis, and competing against Nic Lamb in the final—that was a dream come true.
We had two days of waves at Peahi, very scary, heavy, and crowded, and I managed to get one big left the first day
After all this, we saw that Europe had onshore winds and bad swells on the forecast, so we decided to fly over to Maui for the biggest swell of the winter. I went with Natxo Gonzalez (my big wave partner) and Jon Aspuru, who was filming the adventure. We had two days of waves at Peahi, very scary, heavy, and crowded, and I managed to get one big left the first day. On the second day the waves were huge, and I didn't feel really confident. With all the people in the lineup you can't sit where you feel good, and sometimes you put yourself into bad situations. So I just ended up watching.
Your result at Punta Galea must have been pretty satisfying, and given you a lot of confidence. Is big wave competition something you'd like to pursue more, or just something you do when the opportunity arises?
That second in the Punta Galea Challenge was probably the best result of my surfing career, so I was over the moon. I used to compete on the WQS when I was younger, but right now all my efforts and goals are focused on big waves, and of course big waves competitions when I have the opportunity. As I gain more experience, it would be amazing to get onto the big wave tor.
But for now, I need to get more experience and keep learning in heavy situations. If I have the chance to compete, I will do my best.
You have been putting your time in at Nazare over the past two years, getting in a number of paddle sessions. What do you think about the wave? Does it live up to the hype?
We started surfing Nazare a couple years ago on smaller days, me and Natxo. We don't like to tow, so we just show up when it is paddleable. We have had some good sessions out there, trying to gain experience and learn more about the wave.
I think it is one of the most challenging big waves in the world. The main reason is that you don't have a channel where you are safe, so what we do is always have a jet ski as close as we can without disturbing the waves.
If you get caught by a set in Nazare…man, that wave can put you on shore in three or four waves
If a big set comes, the ski can pick up the surfer and get him out, because if you get caught by a set in Nazare…man, that wave can put you on shore in three or four waves. It’s even dangerous for the jet ski, because there is a lot of water moving under the surface, and you have to look every where so you don't get in trouble or mess up the ski.
But we all know we have to spend time there, because it is probably the place were you can surf the biggest wave in the world, both towing and paddling.
I heard you also had a crazy session at Mullaghmore this year. Tell us about that.
Yes, I went there with Natxo—we always travel together. He knows the wave really well and has been there plenty of times, but it was my first time there, so I was excited and scared at the same time. The swell was looking huge, but the wind was really variable.
We arrived the night before the swell, slept for a few hours, then woke up and boom—6- to 8-meter waves at Mullaghmore. They were towing in the morning, and then some guys started to paddle, so we jumped in the water. I watched from the channel for like 40 minutes, and after that I decided to get some waves. It is not an easy place—that place scares me so much.
The wind was kinda onshore, so the guys were pulling into huge barrels but with no exit. And the wave is shallow, so it was crazy to see them doing that. You don't want to get vaporized, but that’s what I ended up doing! I went on a medium one and was late, and got stuck in the lip.
I free fell into the flats with my 9'2 and hit the water pretty bad, then got annihilated. I was able to inflate my vest just before the next one, and got picked by the jet ski. And that was the end of my session. The next day was smaller and I got a good one all the way to the channel and made back in safe. That two-day trip to Ireland was the most stressful trip of my life.
You have had some trouble with an ankle injury over the past couple of years. It seems like every time I’d see you, you’d be in a brace or a cast. Is that doing better now?
Two years ago I fractured my tibia and the fibula wile surfing a big swell at Puerto Escondido. After that, nothing was the same in my ankle—the fibula was alright, but the tibia had many problems and struggled to recover.
Because it was in the lower part of my ankle, the doctors couldn't do surgery due to risk of losing movement. This last year was sort of a nightmare for me. I fractured the tibia again in January, but kept surfing and fractured it two more times after that. So finally I took six months off, from January till July.
After a couple of plasma surgeries the doctors finally told me I could surf again, so I went to Indonesia for two months to get into shape and get ready for the winter. I still feel pain in the ankle, but it will get better eventually, as long as I don’t break it again.
Wow, sounds like you deserve a run of good waves without any injuries! What do you have planned for the rest of the winter season?
We are going to be on the North Shore of Oahu till the beginning of February, and then after that we will focus on Nazare till the end of the winter in Europe. And who knows what will pop up to chase! We are ready for whatever.