Its 2am. I can’t sleep. I’m lying on a small bed in a little room in the corner of Gmac’s compound here in Nazare. The cement walls and tile floor are cold, its humid and I can hear the surf roaring off in the distance. I say compound because its more than a house. Its several houses on a very large fenced in property on the beach. Just north of the famous lighthouse on the point and the wave that bagged Garret his Guinness book world record. It even has solar panels covering the rooftops. I’m here because Garret asked me to come. I’ve seen the pictures, been fascinated with the images but never had a huge desire to check it out. Mainly because I’m not a big tow surfer and partly because it didn’t ever look like that good of a paddle wave. It also looks extremely dangerous and without the proper safety plan you can put yourself and others in a bad situation very quickly. A few weeks ago I got an email from the “Red Chargers’ asking me all sorts of questions about myself. I glance at it and tell myself ill get back to it when I have a bit more time. I forget about it and it disappeared in my inbox. A week later I get a message from Garret telling me to come out. I can’t, the Titans of Mavericks ceremony and some other life commitments get in the way. A few days after that some pictures start to surface. Garret sends me one of him on this absolutely massive left wearing a bright green wetsuit that looks fake. Then Joao de Macedo tells me in an email that he paddled into one and that he also got cleaned up by one. The following week I get a face time call from Garret and he tells me that Thursday through Sunday are going to be epic for paddle. 20 ft. easy and great conditions. Winds are looking awesome right now he tells me but that is the only wild card. The forecast looks “amaaaaaazing”.
I still haven’t asked him what the “Red Chargers” are yet. I hear rumors of a contest. I hear rumors of Mercedes Benz. I know he has reached out to other big wave surfers and invited them to come out. Andrew Cotton, Rafeal Tapia, Rodrigo Koxa among others are already there. Aron Gold and Ben Wilkinson told me in Hawaii that he asked them if they could make it out. I’m intrigued. I hear he has the key to the city. I hear the food is fantastic. I hear they have the oldest bread recipe in the world. Seafood that will blow your mind. A perfect forecast to paddle? Not the 100ft cliff bashing purple blob with shit weather but some nice conditions and some big paddle waves. I’m in. If nothing else I get to go check out his whole deal. See it for myself. I hear Keali’i arrived a few days prior. Aron Gold calls me and asks me if I’m going. Its on. I clear my schedule and book a ticket the morning of the flight. It takes me through Newark and then direct to Lisbon. I arrive a 6 am. I make it through customs and am greeted by cameras and am instantly mic’ed up. I’m shuttled to the curb where a brand new red Mercedes Benz is waiting. On the side is a silver surfer looking character with a much larger pointier surfboard then the original and in big lettering “Red Chargers”. There it is again. I’m filmed strapping the boards to the roof and then asked to drive. I look around to make sure I don’t have to drive on the left hand side of the road and once I confirm that, I agree. I barely hear the car start, punch in Nazare on the full screen GPS, have a bit of trouble releasing the parking brake (it does it for you) and hit the road. The sun happily makes its appearance during our hr. and 20-minute drive. I blast music and am filmed the whole way. I thought I was going pretty fast at times until I would get overtaking by another German made vehicle like I was parked. As we head north out of Lisbon we pass fields of windmills, vineyards and small villages with white homes and red tile roofs. Wisp’s of fog cover low lying fields, I smell smoke from early morning fires. I barely catch our exit and then its down a windy road through a forest and into a fishing village on a point. The point with the lighthouse and the deep underwater canyon. I’m here. Just like that. How fucking crazy is that. I pull up to the lighthouse in my new red Mercedes AMG and notice a very similar car parked on the road looking at the waves. Wait, its the exact same car. Inside are Cotty and Keali’i checking the surf and spotting for Garret who is down below towing his son Titus into some waves. The point jets out pretty far and its pretty steep on the south side which opens up to a huge bay and the boat harbor. To the north is the long beach with endless breaking waves. The huge wave that Gmac got his world record wave at is directly out off the point, maybe a tad to the north. That’s fist peak then there’s second and third peak a bit more north and so on. It seems like the beach goes on forever. Keali’i breaks it down for me. As we look north Keali’i points out the only house or “compound” as they call it on the hill overlooking the beach. Its surrounded by forests and a reindeer sanctuary. Beyond that are some windmills. . “that’s the compound bra, from there we don’t miss nothing” Keali’i tells me. Of course that’s G’s house, of course he has five more Mercedes wrapped with “Red Charges” zooming around. He has the fricking key to the city. As I’m taking all of this in and watch Titus ride some waves a similar red looking care pulls up. It not a Mercedes, it’s a Mazda but it has its own wrap of Neptune and a hashtag that says #nazare2015. Under that is a name. Maya Gabeira. The girl that drowned out here a couple years’ prior and was resuscitated on the beach. She is back and hungry as ever. I’ve know Maya since she started surfing big waves, but haven’t seen her for a bit. She gets out and I instantly notice a black eye. “what now I ask?” A fin she says and laughs. Wow, this girl has like twenty lives. You got to hand it to her though. She loves what she does and has the Courage of a lion. The waves look fun but before I head to the “compound” to get settled in we swing by the boat harbor where G has his warehouse full of toys or in this case tools of the trade. Jet skis provided by the city, tow boards designed with the help of Mercedes, some of the biggest paddle boards I’ve ever seen, a couple four wheelers and a pit crew that keeps the place squeaky clean and all the machines purring. My big board (10’6) has a smashed tail from the trip over so we drop it off with the crew to get it ready for Friday. Its Wednesday. The swell is barely reading 8ft 14 seconds and its solid 10 foot on the sets. They can thank the canyon for that. It extends from the south side of the point out off in front of the light house and dives thousands of feet in the course of a few football fields. Basically what that means is, the waves don’t slow down, don’t lose their size and in fact are amplified as they are funneled through this underwater corridor. Its a sight to see. No energy loss means some massive fucking waves when they hit that beach.
Its time for my first session. We get to the compound and I wax up my 8’6 and walk down to the beach. Paddle surfing in Nazare is a bit different then most places. At 8ft plus your lucky if you can paddle out. . I’ve surfed Puerto, Pascuales, Ocean Beach and several other heavy beach breaks around the world. Nothing compares to this. The waves don’t lose power until the beach eats them. Because of the canyon effect, waves seem to just pop up out of nowhere. Peaks, side waves, rips. It’s a sensory overload. Its solid 10 ft. Hawaiian and crossed up with wild teepees and wedges all over the place. In between the madness there are great waves. Garret, Keali’i, Cotty, and Hugo vas (a surfer/fisherman from the Azores Garret brought in at the beginning of the project here 5yrs ago) all take turns doing safety and paddling. They don’t wear leashes to save their boards. The boards get washed in and so do you pretty quick. One of them will fly in to get you when your ready to come back out. It’s pretty fucking cool. Your wave count goes through the roof. Its not towing, but is jet ski assisted paddle. I’ll take it. Without it I would have maybe got one or two waves.
That night we have a big dinner at Garrets. He invites all the surfers that are here for the swell. He found a guy in town that makes homemade pasta and the food doesn’t stop coming out of the kitchen. There are about 20 or so people at the dinner. Several different tow teams from around the world. He begins by saying that this is the most people that have ever been here and we all should be on the same page if something happens. Radio communication, spotters on the cliff and everybody have the proper amount of ski vs. surfer ratio. It was exactly what should happen around the world before any big swell. It rarely does and this type of communication was inspiring.
The swell arrives Thursday. Its foggy until 1 pm. A bit mixed up and not that good. Goldy arrives and decides to give it a miss and wait for Friday, “The big day”. Garret asks me if I want to get whipped into a few, I can’t help myself. I grab one of Hugo’s tow boards (the only other goofy on garrets team) and go out for a few waves. Garret has been working with a local shaper SPO and Mercedes Benz to design and come up with a superior weapon to meet the the high demands of Nazare. The speed of the swells coming out of the canyon, the crossed up side waves and wind chop and of course the massive size of the swells. I ask garret how fast he thinks he gets going on the waves and he says he doesn’t know for sure but maybe 50-60 Mph. Wow. Ok, so what’s so special about these tow boards. I pick one up and instantly feel the awkwardness of the weight. Its fucking heavy. Their narrow pointy spears with all the weight in between the feet. When you lose the board all you see is the point of the nose floating. Made from high tech, top secret materials from the Mercedes Benz factory they seem indestructible. They aren’t quads which surprised me, but Gmac explains to me how thrusters work better in the bumpy surfaces. Small double foiled side fins toed out a little more then normal thrusters and a larger back fin. Hi tech, fast as fuck and they have a Mercedes Benz logo on them. Garret grabs me off the beach with Hugo’s tow board. One quick warm up to feel it out and I’m blown away how the 30+ lb. board responds to the chop and ugly faces. We start hunting a double up insider. I want to get barreled. The crossed up swells coming out of the canyon demand an innate wave reading ability. It’s a matrix one can only begin to understand with years of ocean experience. Garret navigates me into a gem amongst the chaos. I let go of the rope far behind the barrel section. The board accelerates with the slightest motion, as I back door the section I give what I think was the necessary amount of movement to get myself and the board through the tube safely but end up flying down the line with more speed then I’ve ever had on a wave craft. Almost out of control I kick out as the wave closes out. Interesting. I love paddle surfing but that was a pretty fucking cool. I can see why this 48 yr. old man laughs like a kid all day and has more stoke then most groms I know. Between paddling, getting whipped into waves and toning your skills on the jetski it’s got to be one of the best training grounds in the world.
Friday comes. No fog and its beautiful. The sun rises over the low lying mountain range behind us as we walk down to the beach with our boards. Aaron and I watch 10-12 ft. A-frames break up and down the empty beach and we laugh like little kids. Garret has found the fountain of youth. The waves build all day. Garret surfs longer than anyone. Kealli’i paddles into some bombs on his SUP. Aaron gets a bomb only to disconnect at the bottom and slide down into the trough on his board but on his back. Some young Maui kid named Torsten gets a bomb on Keali’is board. I break my 10’6 having to bail my board in front of a massive peak that popped up 20 yards further out then where I was sitting. Carlos whipped Maya into a bomb and she rode it beautifully all the way through and kicked out on the inside. She’s back. Cotty and Hugo both paddle and catch some wild windy peaks. The Brazilians Koxa and his partner find some tow waves and paddle a bit, trading off with Rafeal Tapia. Langer whips Domke into some wild finless skimboard rides. Towsurfer Eric runs safety along with all the other boys trading off. Skis where flipped, one had the sled ripped off leaving a gaping hole in the back. Nobody died, nobody got hurt and that night we celebrated Keali’is birthday with a big family dinner at their local go to grinds. We were treated like family and served dish after dish of incredible food. Afterwards we headed out to the night clubs and in true European style we didn’t make it home until sunrise. The waves were still pumping, but there was no rush. Garret said its gonna blow offshore all day. So we took a nap and went for an afternoon surf. The next morning, we took one of the Mercedes on a cruise down to Lisbon. No boards, we broke um all, just us and the road. Joao de Macedo took us to the ‘old part’ of the city were we drank and listened to live music in different bars nestled amongst weathered stone alleyways. Garret organized our stay at the Pestana Palace Lisboa, an old Castle turned Hotel and the next morning bid farewell to our ‘Red Chargers’ ride in the airport parking. It all happened so fast. I totally get it now. Portugal has embraced Garret for his surfing and charging the big waves of Nazare Canyon. It’s a special place and within it Garret has truly discovered his fountain of youth. The ‘Red Chargers’, all the cars, their different awards for outstanding performances and top notch media is his way to share with us what Portugal has given to him. Obrigado Garret.