Serious doubt is being cast over the future of the World Surf League Big Wave World Tour event at Nazare, off the coast of Portugal, following a day of near misses and injuries during the contest earlier this week
The event, which was won by Australian Jamie Mitchell, made for compulsive viewing with huge, sketchy drops, potentially-fatal near misses and utter carnage for competitors.
Former World Tour surfer and big wave barrel specialist, Damien Hobgood was nearly killed after a jet ski landed on him while attempting to make it out from shore for the start of his semi final. His driver and fellow big wave surfer, Garret McNmara was forced to abandon ship at the crest of a ten-foot 'teepee' with Hobgood still on the back of it. The Floridian barely had time to react before he was thrown in the air and hit with the ski.
"I knew I had to distance myself from the Jet Ski, so I tried to get away from it while I was in the air — and it felt like we were in the air forever — and then suddenly it was like getting hit with a ton of bricks, a full car crash. I have to think it was the Ski, but I can't say exactly what happened, you'll have to look at the footage. But it hit me on my whole body, with my head and back taking the brunt of it. And then, I kinda don't remember, but I came up and somehow my vest was inflated. I'm not sure how," he told Surfing Magazine.
Elsewhere, Hawaiian Aaron Gold suffered an injured hand, Portugal's Joao de Macedo a black eye, American Nic Lamb a concussion, and Brit Tom Butler was hospitalised with suspected water on the lungs.
While not the heaviest wave in terms of ride-ability, what Nazare lacks in that department it makes up for with sheer chaos. Where reef breaks offer a natural deep channel in which to escape should the ocean get out of control, Nazare is a beach break subject to the full randomness and raw energy of the tremendous storm swells required to run events like this.
It has traditionally been surfed with jet ski assist (that is, surfers towed into the wave by jet skis and collected at the other end) but even then was almost responsible for killing Brazilian female big wave surfer, Maya Gabeira, who had to be resuscitated on shore much to the horror of onlookers.
Following the event, former Big Wave World Champion and current world number one, South Africa's Grant 'Twiggy' Baker, suggested he will not return to contest the event again.
"Nazare as a wave is a phenom, as challenging and beautiful as any big wave I've surfed but the dangers involved seem to out way the rewards. Those 20 minutes during each heat, on the back of a ski, holding on with all your strength while jumping 10ft foamies, were some of the most terrifying experiences of my life and something I can't see myself repeating?" he wrote on Instagram.
The next event will take place anywhere between April 27th and Aug 31st at either Peru's Pico Alto or Chile's Punta De Lobos depending on conditions. Check the World Surf League website for details.