Over the past few weeks, Portugal's hyper wave Nazare has gone into a sort of mid-season slumber. Those swells that dominate headlines, the mission for someone to charge the ever elusive 100-foot wave, have been put on hold while Praia do Norte takes a bit of a breather.
One of the standout teams of this season though is Sebastian Steudtner and Tom Butler – two of the original pioneers out at Nazare. Whenever those waves spike to the XXL region, it's consistently this team who put on a show. That's not to say others aren't but there's a level with Mr Steudtner and Mr Butler that is so consistent. And, a year or so back, we were fairly convinced Sebastian had broken the world record for biggest wave ever surfed, only to be pipped by Brazilian, Rodrigo Koxa.
We decided to check in with Sebastian, while Nazare is napping, to talk prepping for XXL waves, safety, life in Germany and much, much more.
How long have you been coming to Nazare?
First time I came to Nazare was in winter of 2012, Tom Butler and myself couldn't stand the cold in Ireland anymore and we saw a good forecast for Nazare. So, we packed the van and drove down. Had a fun first day and decided to stay.
What’s the biggest wave you’ve surfed there? Saw a monster last year...
I surfed a lot of big waves at Nazare, it's really hard to say which one was the biggest one, and it doesn’t really matter to me.
The waves that I keep in my mind where 3 or 4 waves from December 2014 which where crazy and giant, October 2016 was a really big and clean day I had a really big and fun wave, December 2016 windy and giant and last January was a vision I won’t forget, really steep big wave that for some reason turned out clean on a messy day.
Say you see a swell coming in, what’s the plan of action? Do you book flights then and there, do you make calls?
Nowadays, it's a lot of organising with my team, which has grown a lot in the last few years. I start by organising my water team, then safety team and then everyone and everything else. For most of the winter I am based in Portugal, so no need to travel far, unless I am away.
How do you prepare for when a swell comes in? What goes through your mind?
I am ready, the preparation is done already. We train a lot, my whole team trains a lot and we are all professionals, we are experienced and have been though many big swells and seasons. My mind becomes very calm the closer the swell is arriving and my motivation is getting stronger and stronger. I am in love with big waves and I am waiting all year to surf them, so I get very excited.
Who is your tow partner?
Tom Butler is who I surf with. Maya Gabeira is also a very important team member, she is our rescue angel and keeps me safe incase anything happens. Maya's one of the best jetski pilots in the world and I trust her with my life. Andre Santos, our spotter works with me since the first day I came to Nazare, he is my brother and helps our team with everything we do.
Do you prefer paddle or tow?
I love both, towing I am professional, paddling I do for fun, so it's a different approach for me. What I love about paddling is the challenge to have patience, to wait for what is coming for you, Joao Macedo and Alex Bothelo are my favourite guys to be around paddling big waves. They are the most chilled dudes but absolute killers in commitment. I learn a lot from them. Towing is the opposite, it's fast, you chase the waves, you’re active all the time. I would say I am in love with surfing no matter which method.
Hailing from Germany, when did the big wave bug get you? And how did you nurture that and balance travelling to different spots?
I always loved the water and any kind of action, so when I discovered surfing on a vacation I fell in love. I grew up in a landlocked city so there was no chance for me to surf, that's why I decided to move to Hawaii when I was 13-years-old, and then I did when I was 16.
Nelson Armitage Sr took me into his family and I became a big wave surfer
On Maui I saw Jaws breaking and wanted to surf there. Long story after, Nelson Armitage Sr (Hawaiian big wave surfer and freedom fighter) took me into his family and I became a big wave surfer.
And you had a bit of a spill recently at Nazare? All recovered now, what happened?
Yeah, I wiped out on a wave the Sunday which was supposed to be giant and the fin of my board fit me in the head as I was getting pounded underwater, when I came up I noticed I was bleeding a lot.
Tom Butler rescued me and took me to the beach where my safety team took over. The fin sliced my forehead about 10cm and opened a big gap. It was nothing too serious, 10 stitches, a week out of the water.
After the last big days, which where really busy towards the end of last year, the City Hall of Nazare, the Major Walter and the Sea Police Captain called all surfers for a meeting and explained the official rules that apply to all surfers when it is big.
All the rules make a lot of sense and I hope they will be enforced. It's very interesting how many things everyone is dealing with now since Nazare has blown up and everyone wants to be part of it, many of the challenges are related to safety. My wish is for everyone to start thinking about safety and coming together to make sure nothing unnecessary happens one of these days.
Sounds heavy but can't stress enough the importance of that safety crew. Thanks for the chat Sebastian, good luck when Nazare rears up again.