It has been a dream of mine for quite some time now to see the big wave surfing at Nazaré. Last week, not only did I get to realize that dream, but I got to attend the once-in-a-year scheduled Nazaré Tow-in Challenge. This is an event that is scheduled for only one day between the months of November and March. They give one or two days notice to the invited qualified challengers to fly in for the event when the largest swells are predicted.
On Monday, December 6th, my friend in Nazaré, Vitor, who I met on my first trip there, texted me that big swells would be there that week. He and his wife Nelli own the restaurant, Rosa dos Ventos and the Airbnb apartments above it, where I usually stay. Well, after hearing from him, I bought a bus ticked departing early Tuesday morning from Lisbon. I got to Nazaré with at 10am, dropped off my luggage in the apartment, and went straight to Farol do Nazaré, (the Nazaré fortress).
The waves were huge! They were probably about 45-50 feet and there were surfers out there with their jet-ski partners practicing on these mammoth waves. It was this exact moment that I saw the biggest waves in my life. Although I had been here before, the waves were never this big! I let the moment soak in.
It was so cold and windy on that cliff but thankfully, I bought snow-boarding thermal ski pants with prior knowledge of how cold it would be up there. My neck wrap, skull cap and gloves certainly helped too. The next two days, I spent 6 – 8 hours a day just watching and filming video and drone footage. It was indeed a dream come true!
Later that afternoon, I walked to the Marina and had no idea of who I was about to meet! Pro surfer Andrew Cotton was getting into his car after a day of practicing on the waves! As I was walking up to him, he simply said, “What’s your name, mate? And, where are you from?”. I told him not only my name but the story (see below) that the Portuguese plumber told me, about his own encounter with Andrew. Andrew just smiled.
Then, I walked over to the prominede and there was a commercial being filmed. It was Lucas Chianca (Chumbo) with Lucas Fink filming for Red Bull. My jaw must have dropped because Lucas saw me and smiled and waved me over to meet him. I spoke briefly with him, got a picture with the cliff and lighthouse in the background and wished him luck. Little did I know, I just took a picture with the eventual winner!
I saw Andrew “Cotty” again the next morning in a healthy vegan restaurant for breakfast and he remembered me, “Morning Johnny!”
(Below is the story I told Andrew a day earlier…)
I spent a few evenings at a family-owned pub/restaurant on the promenade Praia do Norte. One night, I met a local Portuguese group of people and started practicing my Portuguese. I chatted with one of them named Procopio and asked if he was a surfer.
He said, “No, I am a plumber.”
Procopio then told a story where he had recently stopped to fill his truck with gas and recognized the man filling his car next to him…. it was Andrew Cotton, the Englishman (and plumber) from the 100-Foot Wave series on HBO.
He said he asked Andrew about his profession, and Andrew told him, “I am a plumber that loves to surf.” I have never seen a more proud individual.
Portugal is an amazing country with the nicest people you will ever encounter.
So, on Friday morning I got on the bus and headed back to Lisbon with great memories, video and drone footage and a few extra pounds from the awesome food! The minute my bus arrived in Lisbon, Garrett McNamara, back in Nazare, made the announcement that the official championship would be scheduled for Sunday, when the biggest swell to date was finally forecasted. Yup, I washed my clothes, hung dried them over night, (cause that’s how we do it here), and boarded a bus back to Nazare Saturday afternoon! The event was scheduled for and 8am start Sunday morning.
I decided to wake up early and get a good spot on the cliff as I knew there would be thousands of people in attendance. When I woke up, I looked out my apartment window and saw nothing but fog. Fog everywhere. Low hanging fog. Soupy-thick fog. It was crazy. I got dressed, got some coffee along the way and took the Ascensor up the mountain. When I got to the top, the fog was even worse. And yes, there were thousands of people up there with me. We all thought it would be gone within an hour or so. Much to our amazement, it hung around the entire morning and into the early afternoon. The event was pushed from 8am to 10:30am to 12:00pm to 2pm. Finally, at 2pm they announced it was cancelled for the day and rescheduled for 8am the next morning on Monday.
Yes, it was disappointing but I changed my bus ticket and stayed for an extra day of course. I could not miss this. So, I would get some dinner, have a few drinks and dream of what was to come the next day.
Each time I visit Nazare, I usually have lunch at Restaurante Mili, a very small nondescript little restaurant that is a short walk from Sítio da Nazare, the village center.
I have come to know the owners, Milton and Irene, a very sweet couple that make the most amazing chicken curry I have ever tasted. Milton is the chef and Irene provides the service; on any given day Irene is literally running from table to table to serve the constant line of customers. Each time I visit, I insist on leaving a small tip, they always argue that I gave them too much money, and then they insist that I take a complimentary bottle of wine.
That late afternoon, I was enjoying lunch when Milton suddenly came racing out of the kitchen visibly upset, ran out the front door, and headed up the street. I immediately assumed somebody had skipped out on their bill and Milton was trying to catch them. A few minutes later he returned completely out of breath. I asked him what happened, and if there was anything I could do to help. I was astonished at his reply.
Milton told me that shortly after the group paid their bill and left the restaurant, he realized he accidentally charged them for drinks they did not order (it was actually the drinks that I had ordered, and likely came to no more than 4-5 euros). He chased after them to return the money but was not able to find them. He returned completely stricken with guilt for having overcharged them.
Milton and Irene are extremely exceptional people; our world needs more people like them. I am now a lifelong fan and customer of Restaurante Mili.
The next morning when I woke up, I looked out the window and there was no fog. It was going to be a phenomenal day!
Enjoy the video set to some big wave music!