Sleepy time for the North Atlantic is almost here and with the season winding down, it's time for big wave hellmen and women to submit what they believe could be the biggest wave surfed over the past few months – or, if they're lucky, a wave that may contend as a new record-setter.
While this season has been incredibly consistent at Portugal's hyper wave at Nazare, there hasn't been too many full on colossal days – perhaps two in total. But that doesn't mean we haven't seen some impressive waves. Vini Dos Santos navigated a monster last month, if the measuring system was slightly flawed (wave needs to be measured from where it breaks). Mason Barnes is making noise about his wild wave from the same February 25 session – but we're fairly sure that one wasn't as big as his insane-o bomb from October 2020. Remember that session? One of the most unforgettable swell events in modern surfing history.
That's kind of where this story, or opinion, picks up. Because, in this editor's view, the new biggest wave ever surfed has been hiding in plain sight. You see, when Vini Dos Santos sent over the measurement of his wave to MSW towers, we immediately got to work comparing it to other notable and gigantic days at Nazare.
We looked at November 2017, when Brazilian froth-lord Rodrigo Koxa broke the record for biggest wave ever surfed – a record that still stands now. We took a peep at 2015, January 2018 when Sebastian Steudtner went wild, Tom Butts' 2018 bomb, Hugo Vau's last light Big Mama effort, anything Justine Dupont rides, Maya's world record, Cotty's world record. Hours spent going deeper in to the rabbit hole, plunging the archive for all its worth, filtering through MSW's expansive CMS and then pulling vids and pics up from those times and comparing.
Not anything scientific mind, just eye-balling and scrutinising for days and days as humble observers who have covered every major swell at Nazare for the past who-knows-how-long.
One wave stood out. Take the following statement with a healthy dashing of salt but, in my opinion, this may well be the biggest wave ever surfed. Sebastian Steudtner's October 29 2020 face-melter. The sheer look of this thing is mind-boggling. Sebastian, streaking across the face of a hulking Nazare face, as the video pans out you realise what you thought was the bottom of the wave is the wake from a ski, which is only half way down the face of this thing. A lot is said about Chumbo going wild in big waves and toying with Portugal's giant. But Sebastian is Mick Fanning to Chumbo's Filipe Toledo, all great tow surfers, very different approaches.
And yep, it's all subjective, of course and the exact science of measuring XXL waves is hugely nuanced. But nothing else from the archive felt like it came close to this ride and nothing feels as if it's come close since. In fact, the only comparable rides was Sebastian's wave a few days before on October 26 (but the footage isn't great) and his wave in 2018, which, at the time, many thought had broken the record for biggest ever surfed, just two months after Koxa set it.
Here's Rodrigo and Sebastian's side-by-side. Rodrigo's shot is pulled back, giving more scale to the thing, whereas Sebastian's is slightly cropped. Rodrigo's is a classic teepee peak and Sebastian's is tall with less white water to give it that daunting perspective. Both impressive, but Sebastian's feels like there's a bit more to it. Until the officials get their measuring sticks out and have a proper deep look at this thing though (if they ever do...), we can all throw a few wild ideas around over which is bigger. We also tapped up the lensman responsible for these images, Helio Antonio and even he said it's too close to call. "I think the video does it way more justice than my photos," he said. "I remember Sebastian's wave, it was a beast." Take a peep at Sebastian's wave above and Rodrigo's below.
We also pulled all the historic data from the MSW archive, compared swells and charts and a load of other factors to try and make sense of it all. It has become an obsession now, a swell prison that only official confirmation will free me from (maybe).
You're probably wondering; 'huh, if that's true, why hasn't it been acknowledged?' And it's a great question! We had the same questions. In fact, we've asked the question about that entire 2020 season – but no one seems to have a definitive answer, yet. So here's hoping the science teams pick this thing up and pop under the microscope but who knows how that will pan out. Reason for the delay could be that the October 2020 session was right before Nazare was shut down due to COVID fears, so perhaps that put a halt to things.
Anyway, with this season winding down and more and more people making record-setting calls, here's mine. And it's been out there for almost two years. Go figure! Are you fussed? Are you as intrinsically and emotionally as invested in this thing as I am? Or am I an obsessive with nothing better to do? Let your opinion soar in the comments below!
Cover shot of Sebastian at that October 2020 session by Helio Antonio.