Brazilian waterman and Jaws paddle pioneer Marcio Freire passed away while surfing Nazare on Thursday, January 5th. He was 47.
Rescue teams left no stone unturned trying to rescue Marcio, and his passing was the first surfing death here since September 11th, 2018, when 38-year-old bodyboarder Ricardo Batista died while surfing Praia do Norte. This place claims lives all the time, though, usually tourists swept into strong currents. Nonetheless, news of Marcio’s death has rocked surfing communities all over the world.
Marcio was an inspiration, if not a guiding light. A pure soul surfer who lived simply and happily, bringing light to every situation, then shying away from the media to connect on a deeper level with the things and people he cared about. For those that knew him, he was so much more.
Marcio moved to Maui from Brazil in the late 1990s with fellow countrymen Yuri Soledade and Danilo Couto for one reason. To surf the greatest big wave on Earth: Jaws. At the height of the tow revolution, this trio became known as the “Mad Dogs” and remained dedicated to paddling out there even on the biggest and heaviest days.
“I don’t think most people really know the impact he’s had on surfing,” said Yuri of his closest friend. “What he did at Jaws was truly pioneering. No safety, no flotation, no ski. Just him and the ocean.”
“Marcio would say, ‘I want to paddle this thing, I want to surf with my chest on the board and feel the drop.’ Said record-setting Brazilian paddle surfer, Andrea Moller. “He just had this pure desire to paddle into that wave. And he proved to everybody that it was possible. He out of everyone needs to be remembered.”
Yuri, Danilo and Marcio were all born in 1975 in Brazil’s Bahia state: Danilo on January 23rd, Marcio on August 19th and Yuri on September 30th. Marcio started surfing at nine years old on his brother’s surfboard.
“From those first conversations I had with him in the water, I knew he had a higher spirit, a sense of being,” Danilo said. “We were just kids surfing, but I could tell that being out there meant more to him than anyone else. He was always smiling, even back then.”
Marcio eventually competed alongside Danilo for their school team at Jean-Paul Sartre Collegio. They would come up against Yuri, who attended a different school, and were always vying for first, second and third. After competing on that circuit for a couple years, something clicked with them: big waves. “We’d just go out at home, find big waves and paddle them all day,” said Danilo.
“It was really Marcio who pushed that movement, even as teenagers. He was always surfing heavy spots in Brazil, even at 14 years old,” said Danilo. “He’d always paddle out with this huge smile on his face. It didn’t matter what (waves) he was surfing, he just wanted to be around it all.”
Danilo eventually shied away from competitive surfing, while Marcio and Yuri kept at it. Yuri won one competition where the top prize was a ticket to Maui — the seed for the trio’s relocation. “Coming from Brazil, we didn’t really know what big waves were,” Yuri said, “but we had heavy waves here. Super gnarly. All of us had heard about the waves of Hawaii.”
Yuri moved there in 1995. Danilo joined Yuri on Maui the following year. Marcio arrived in the winter of 1997-98. He was 23 years old and arrived with no equipment. Posting up on the North Shore, the three would surf every big swell, often at Sunset Beach or Waimea Bay. Marcio usually borrowed an 8’6” gun from Danilo and split his time between surfing Oahu and living on Maui. After countless big-wave sessions, Marcio first saw Jaws in March 2007. He paddled out that same day.
First Jaws Session
“I remember it well,” says Danilo. “Marcio wasn’t really into forecasting but I’d seen what was happening on the buoys. He picked me up from the airport and I was hyping him up for a change (laughs). But he was the guy, and we knew he would send it.”
They pulled up on the Pe’ahi cliffs and were greeted by a proper Jaws swell, 15-20-foot (Hawaiian-scale) behemoths. It was like nothing Marcio had ever seen before. No words were exchanged as Marcio unloaded his borrowed gun from the truck. It was dirty after sitting under Danilo’s house all winter. Marcio applied fresh wax over the top of the old stuff and the trio made their way down the cliff and jumped from the rocks for their first paddle session at Jaws.
“We all got bombs,” said Yuri. “Just us. At that moment, we knew paddling Jaws was what we had to do.”
The Mad Dogs were not the first to paddle Jaws. But they were the first to paddle that outside peak. And they kept coming back, swell after swell, surfing bigger and bigger waves no matter the consequence. “We all believed that this was meant to be,” said Yuri. “Our attitude was, never give up.”
“Marcio pushed paddle surfing to a whole new level,” said Danilo. “He had this unbelievable attitude that everything was going to work out, that we were all there for a reason. He would say after those Jaws sessions, ‘We were meant to do this.’”
The trio spent a couple years honing their skills. Being goofyfoots, it made sense to them to sit on the left, where the wave wasn’t so steep — well out of the way of the tow surfers whenever Jaws went into unfathomable mode. One of the problems with sitting there was there was always the possibility of getting cleaned up. But, as Marcio used to say, “We only need to catch one wave.”
Marcio got a nighttime job as a dishwasher, so he could surf all day. When not surfing, Marcio would scour the beaches, hunting down tin cans and aluminum cans for recycling. He bought a truck and created a little business — Big Wave Recycling – earning five cents for every can he turned in. “He didn’t need a lot of money to get by,” said Yuri. “All he wanted to do was surf. He really cared about nature and his connection to it.”
Marcio evolved into an accomplished all-around waterman. He paddled canoes with the Hawaiian Canoe Club, he prone paddled, and he was passionate about all watersports. His sole aim was to be in the ocean as much as possible. “The uncles all loved him because of his passion for the ocean,” said Yuri. “They’ve been calling me and saying exactly that. He was a different kind of human. Genuine and so well-liked.”
Inspiring a Generation
Marcio was notoriously media-shy, but agreed to have the Mad Dogs’ sessions documented after having some conversations about the next generation. “Chumbo and I looked up to those guys,” said Vini Dos Santos, who spent some time with Marcio a couple winters ago in Brazil before reconnected with him at Nazare this season. “We saw them in the magazines and thought, ‘We can be like that.’ Then we’d come in and Marcio would be full of stoke, singing us songs on his ukulele.”
“People were surprised by his warmth, by his gentleness,” said Yuri. “He’d do anything to crack a smile on someone’s face. He just wanted to joke around, be happy and make other people happy.”
Back to Brazil
A few years ago, Marcio decided to move back to Brazil. He arrived in Jaguaruna, a municipality in the state of Santa Catarina, where he met up with his old friend Thiago Jacaré, a fellow heavy-water enthusiast who lives near the big-wave spot, Laje da Jagua. “He came to catch a swell and ended up staying for two and a half months,” said Thiago. “He became part of the family. He was like a brother to me.”
“His spirt was just different,” he added. “Out of all the people that came to surf here, Marcio was the biggest soul surfer I’ve ever met.”
Marcio soon became an honorary member of a group of chargers known as the Jaguaboys, which he got tattooed on his body. Thiago actually spoke with Marcio on that fateful Thursday. “He said he was happy because he had caught two amazing waves,” Thiago said. “I remember Marcio used to say, ‘Every person from the sea must one day return to the sea.’”
When not charging Brazil’s heaviest waves, Marcio spent some time in Indonesia, where he took up surf photography. His aim was to capture images of beginner surfers. “The pros, they have their pictures already,” he would say. “But beginners, the stoke they get is something else, and I want to capture that.”
In November, Marcio flew from Brazil to Portugal. The plan was to meet up with family members from Maui and Brazil and have a bit of a reunion. This wasn’t his first time visiting Nazare, and he quickly reconnected with Vini and Nazare staple Rafael Tapia, who hosted Marcio for a few weeks before the rest of his family arrived. “He told me he was over surfing big waves since leaving Maui a few years ago,” said Tapia. “But that he was happy and ready to surf.”
Big-wave surfer, Kohl Christenson: “He was a humble legend that will be missed dearly. Marcio was all smiles, all heart. He pushed the limits with Danilo Couto and broke down the door for what’s happening out at Peʻahi with paddle surfing today. A true mad dog.”
Surf photographer, Fred Pompermayer: “Marcio invested his life in surfing. He didn’t care about money. He made enough to live a simple life, and he always wanted his life to be about surfing. That’s who he was. He didn’t want the fame or the recognition. He just wanted to be out there.”
Shane Dorian: “We talked in the Jaws lineup a lot. He was always smiling, and seemed to be permanently stoked every day I saw him. He would go out there and pick off good waves with no flotation vest, just a big gun and a couple friends. Catching a big one at Jaws brought him so much joy, and everyone in the lineup loved him. He was such a great guy who will be truly missed.”
Yuri: “Maybe he’ll change people’s perception now. To go back to what surfing should be, just doing it for the love. He did everything he could to be warm, to be present, and to make people feel welcomed. His legacy will live on with me and a lot of other people.”
Marcio leaves behind father, Hagamenon Freire e Silva; mother, Dione Freire; brother, Bruno Freire; sister, Itana Freire; brother-in-law, Jefferson Santo; twin nieces, Moana and Tainá; and hundreds of friends from all over the world.
Magicseaweed extends condolences to everyone who knew Marcio and will post details of any memorial paddle-outs soon.