This season's sure going to be a weird one. The gates are open for the northern hemisphere's primary swell time and yet, a lot of people are grounded – or choosing not to travel because of social responsibility and the likes. Big wave surfers, who usually make the annual pilgrimage to either Nazare or Jaws, and a handful of other XXL pantheons, will likely be looking around home for lesser adrenaline-fuelled kicks as COVID continues to wreak global emotional and financial havoc.
A few weeks ago, we were due to hop a flight to Austria and meet up with Natxo Gonzalez at the Red Bull Athletes' performance center. That didn't go well. Restrictions and travel are changing, constantly, and each country in Europe has their own set of rules to abide by. And here's pretty much the guidance breakdown; you can travel, but don't, but also do because the economy's shredded, but you'll be the enemy of the people if you do. So don't. But maybe only to these countries, where you have to quarantine for two weeks either side of the trip. And it goes on and on...
Live cam: Mundaka
So, plan B. We'd shoot the Red Bull team a few qs via email and have them record the answers from Natxo and ping those files back to us. What we really wanted to get to the meat of is how COVID is impacting planning a winter of big waves for chargers like Natxo. What's the back up plan? Also, how do you stay on top of your game when you don't have a season to press for?
Weird times. Anyway, here's what the softly spoken (in interview anyway...) Basque Country warrior relayed back.
With COVID quarantine rules changing all the time, are you planning any trips? If so, where are you heading and can we go?
This year for us, it's a bit tough with chasing swells and travelling on the last second. For some places you have to do 15 days quarantine. It's kind of impossible. We are looking at Chopes, maybe soon – but that's all we have [laughs].
Usually now's the time that Euro big wave chargers get ready for the season, how have you been prepping?
This year, my goals were a little bit lower because of COVID. But I've been keeping relaxed in summer, you know, fishing a little bit. I'm training right now and getting ready for winter and trying to get ready for those big swells at home.
Has the preparation been different than other years then?
Yeah it was much later, my motivation was quite low. But now, it's fully on [laughs]. We did start in August, the goals aren't like major – I'm prepping physically.
Right, and you're at the Red Bull Performance Center now – getting whipped into shape. How's that going?
Yeah, I've never been here before. But for me, it's been a surprise. Been professional, next year I'll come with my personal trainer for 15 days and have a good plan, a good year of training. It takes a lot and I have things to work with. After summer, it's hard but super fun.
Let's talk big waves for a moment - or, the biggest wave there is. Do you think Nazare has reached its full potential?
Maybe, but I think paddling, you can get even bigger waves. I think it's hard to get it really clean for paddling. There's room for next level paddle surfing. Maybe this winter, maybe in a few years.
And if we're talking about paddle waves, and what do you think about Ireland? Personally, I'm convinced the biggest ever paddle wave will be there.
Oh man, Ireland for me, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. The best big waves I've ever surfed, the people the community, they smile and have good vibes. I think Tom Lowe's wave this year, was the next chapter in surfing for the Irish. He surfed that wave as good as it gets. There is a big window there, we can try paddling there more. But Lowey, he just upped the entire game.
If you want my opinion, the way it looked on the camera, it looked... smaller. But from the water, that wave was just insane.
Something that people don't talk about is diet in big wave surfing. Are you on a healthy regime of keeping it loose?
Right now, keeping it loose [laughs]. Two years ago I started to get on a diet plan, which felt really good. Since I was a kid, ate all I wanted, chocolate but food is so important in surfing and I'm working on it.
Natxo's wave – is there anything you'd do differently if you went back?
[Looks confused]Natxo's wave? Is that what it's called? [laughs] That was a crazy experience. Yeah loads I'd do differently. Hard to go there now, but the next swell, I'll be there. Share with a few more people over there. Maybe...