Shane Dorian, Benjamin Sanchis & Eric Rebiere paddle big Nazare, Portugal

Words by Ben Mondy

“I caught one wave that was pretty memorable. It was one of those big wedgy ones and I was kind of right in the perfect spot. I was right next to Sancho, but I was a little deeper and just in the right spot. It kinda kicked me into it and was really steep and really intense. Riding an 11’3” board, that is four inches thick, I was holding on for dear life, literally trying to dig my toenails into the wax.”

Shane Dorian is talking about a wave he surfed at Portugal’s big-wave spot of Nazaré on Friday 11th January. Dorian had flown in from his home in Maui, arriving the night before, hooked up with the Billabong Adventure Division and surfers Eric Rebiere and Benjamin Sanchis, had one hour sleep, and then tackled the wave he described above. This is a wave which has a legitimate claim to being the biggest wave ever paddled into in Europe.

Dorian was loath to put a size on the waves caught, but when pushed, said, “You know the waves didn’t seem that enormous, but they would wedge or jack up and almost double in size. If I had to, I’d called it 20 to 25 feet on the Hawaiian scale.”

While Nazaré has been pushed to the forefront of big-wave surfing, primarily by the exploits of another Hawaiian Garret McNamara, whose wave caught in May 2012 has been registered by the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest wave ever at 78 feet, this session was historic in the fact that all three surfers successfully paddle surfed the giant, erratic, detonating wedges.

“As far as intensity, power and size goes you could compare this wave to anywhere, whether its Cortez Bank or Jaws or Mavericks,” said Dorian. “The waves I saw today were absolutely enormous and if you had paddled into the biggest waves today, you would have paddled into the biggest wave ever paddled.  I have no doubt about that.”

Dorian caught four waves, was mowed down by two of them, free fell from the sky on one, pulled the ripcord on his self-designed inflatable wetsuit three times and was almost annihilated in the ferocious shorebreak. That deadly shorebreak over the course of the day would incapacitate one ski and sink another. Just another day’s work then for the world’s best big-wave surfer.

“The main thing I learned from Shane today was how calm he was, both before and during the session,” said Sancho, who also paddled into some bombs. “He really took his time, and even though he told me later he was nervous, he didn’t show it all. And then as soon as a wave came, there was no hesitation.”

Both Sancho and Eric left the session both stoked to be alive but already focusing on the next session. “We are really just starting out on this,” said Sancho. “We want to paddle the biggest waves we can find in Europe. We need to get our boards and our safety right, but this is just the start for us, so we are learning all the time. But I’m super psyched, there’s so many opportunities in this part of the world.”

A graphic indication of the size and nature of the swell moving around Nazaré

A graphic indication of the size and nature of the swell moving around Nazaré

Shane’s fin bag says it all.

Shane’s fin bag says it all.


Shane somehow still relaxed and ready.


Even with jetski getting back out proved almost impossible. At one stage Dorian spent an hour on the shore attempting to rejoin the lineup.


Shane resting on the back, while Sancho and Francois Leits plan the next attack.


Eric paddling through the mist and mystique of Nazaré


Clean up sets were a constant threat. Sancho scrambles over a peak.


Eric Rebiere looking understandably concerned.


The 16th Century Fort São Miguel that overlooks one of surfing’s best big wave amphitheatres.


A graphic indication of the size and nature of the swell moving around Nazaré


Eric sneaks around another one.


Funnily enough the hotel didn’t have a surfrack that could handle Sancho’s rhino chaser.


Eric Rebiere, all smiles and that was before the session.


Shane prepares for battle.


Shane talks Sancho through the self-inflatable wetsuit.


“This is 11’3”, four inches thick, has been glassed twice and weighs around 15 kilograms. Basically it’s a boat.” Shane Dorian


Benjamin Sanchis and his 10’6” Rob Vaughan gun.


Francois Leits and Sancho ready to leave the port and take the five minute ride to Nazare.


The early check revealed rain, mist, fog and 25 foot lumbering peaks.


A lot of big boards, most of them with four fins each.


Rebiere, Sancho and Leits looking calm before entering into the wild.


French professional surfer Justine Dupont was on hand, ready to tow as well as being Billabong Adventure Division’s eyes and ears on the ground.


Perhaps the safest place to be.


Shane described it “like Duranbah, but on steroids.”


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