RSPro Creators. First Swell of the season. Madeira 2020. Part I by Paul de Nagy
My name is Paul De Nagy. I’m a surfer and professional surf photographer.
It’s late October 2020, the world’s been through many changes and we’re all hungry to shake off some frustration and enjoy life a little. The first big swell of the season is due to arrive and we’re all pumped. As I was driving across the island to set up at the break, I get a call from Ruben, a local and seasoned big wave surfer. “We’ve got a small crew of four and we’re leaving port at 3pm. Wouldn’t you prefer to shoot from the boat?” Wait while I think about that for a minute... “Hell yeah, I would!”
At the harbour, the atmosphere is intense. The swell is predicted to be big, and there’s nervous laughter as everyone deals with their own demons in their own way. Some repeat mantras as others prepare their lungs with breathing techniques. The crew consists of Ruben, Jorginho and Didi, who are all local chargers, and Felipe, a Brazilian import on his first big wave mission. The weather is dark and moody, with a strong wind. After scouting out some other spots, we settle on Jardim Do Mar, the famous big wave spot on the southwest of the island.
We power out in the inflatable rib, as close as possible to the peak, and the waves are a huge 5-6 metres at least. The waves are making these loud, thunder-like rumbles and cracks as they break on the reef.
Once the boys are at the peak, we reposition the boat on the inside, near the channel, to get the best angle to shoot from. The pilot has to stay alert as wide sets are coming through all the time, threatening to take us out, and the bumpy sea makes shooting a challenge. Just as we negotiate the final large lump of water on a wide set, we see this huge outside set starting to show a good 50 metres from were the crew are sitting. They all start paddling frantically to the channel, but the waves have plans of their own. Didi is a few feet ahead of the other three and luckily scratches his way over the lip of this monster wave. The others get sucked up and over the falls, crushed by the lip and pushed to the bottom. Three equally menacing waves follow, pushing Jorge, Ruben and Felipe under and closer to the rocks. After several dangerous hold-downs and a grueling paddle back out, all three make it out to the channel and relative safety.
The crew soon finds their rhythm and I manage to get some nice shots. The sun even comes out and the wind dies down, turning the scene into a colourful display with turquoise lips, bright green mountains, a deep blue sea and a setting orange sun.
The boat crew were fairly casual, which was nice, but I’ve surfed this place many times and know all too well how quickly a wide set can come without a warning. I finish shooting Ruben kick out of a beautiful set wave when I look over my shoulder and, to my amusement, see that the pilot is casually scrolling through his facebook feed while his assistant is inflating the boat with a rusty old foot pump. As I look to the horizon, the sky goes dark as this huge, wide outside set starts looming over us. Suddenly this wild scene is unfolding before my eyes and I feel like I’m the only one aware of the danger. Half laughing and half nervous, I’m like “Jesus guys, just get us out of here now!” The pilot quickly drops his phone while his assistant hits the deck, and we power straight at this monster. We just about make it over the lip as it starts to feather, and we drop down the steep back of the wave with a crash. The adrenalin and the comedy of the last few seconds keeps us all in good spirits as we reposition the boat in the channel.
Later in the day, Grant Twiggy Baker paddles past and joins the crew for a few chunky ones before the sun goes down. For me and the crew, this day will always remain special in our memories. From the wild wipeouts to the goofy boating antics, it seemed to have all the makings of a Hollywood disaster movie. The relaxed jovial return to port really illustrated that feeling all surfers get, no matter what size of waves...pure Stoke.