Reigning World Surf League (WSL) Big Wave Tour (BWT) Champion Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker battled through three rounds of daunting six to nine metre (20-30 foot) waves to finish fifth in the Nazare Challenge at Praia de Norte in Portugal on Sunday.
The third stop on the 2017 / 2018 BWT was won by rising big wave star Lucas Chianca, 22, from Brazil who won all three heats he contested with an amazing repertoire of manoeuvres more commonly seen performed on waves a quarter the size of those on offer at this event.
The second-ever BWT event at Nazaré ran over two days after dangerous conditions threatened the competitors following the opening heats on Saturday. Big Wave Tour Commissioner Mike Parsons, alongside the judging panel, rated conditions a Bronze coefficient, awarding the winner 10,000 points.
Competing in just his second BWT event, Chianca earned his first finals appearance and event win today after dominating the competitive 24-man field, made up of the world’s best male big wave surfers. The young Brazilian demonstrated command over Nazaré’s powerful waves and challenging white-water speeds to climb up to No. 5 on the Big Wave Tour rankings.
“I am stoked to win this event,” Chianca said. “Thank you to everyone for all of their support. All these guys competing are so crazy and inspiring. It was hard because when you get the call for BWT events, it is at the last minute. We flew here as soon as we got the call, were a bit tired, and then just went straight into the competition the next day. The waves yesterday were so gnarly and scary. And then today, we were on again. I am super stoked. Thank you.”
Baker, 43, a two-time BWT Champion (2013 and 2017) was the oldest competitor in the six-man final which represented a ‘changing of the guard’ in big wave competition by also featured 2017/2018 Puerto Escondido Challenge winner Kai Lenny (HAW), two-time Pe’ahi Challenge winner Billy Kemper (HAW), and up-and-comers Natxo Gonzalez (EUK), Nathan Florence (HAW), and Chianca, all of whom are in the their early twenties.
Lenny kicked off the hour-long final with a low-range score of 3.83 (out of a possible 10). The next wave of the set saw a split peak with Baker picking up 3.50 on the right while le Chianca gained control of the heat with an authoritative 7.33 on the left.
Gonzalez challenged Chianca with two mid-range scores, but the Brazilian consolidated his lead with a 6.73. Kemper stayed patient and was able to collect a 4.83 and 4.67 at the end of the heat to take second place ahead of Gonzalez, Lenny, Baker, and Florence.
Kemper’s runner-up finish moved him to No. 1 on the 2017 / 2018 BWT rankings, topping Lenny by 2,311 points. His recent success, both on the WSL Qualifying Series (QS) and Big Wave Tour, is a testament to his training and commitment to surfing. Not only does Kemper lead the BWT ranks, he recently won the Sunset Open Qualifying Series to put him in second place on the Hawaii/Tahiti Nui Regional QS rankings.
“I am over the moon right now,” said Kemper. “First and foremost, I want to thank the country of Portugal. All of the people here are absolutely amazing and this place is beautiful. The warm welcome that you give all of us surfers is next to none. I am very thankful. I came here with that goal to make the final and do as best as I could.”
Today’s win marked a first for Chianca, but also a last for his mentor Carlos Burlé (BRA) who pioneered big-wave surfing and rose to become the 2010 BWT Champion. Burlé retired last year but competed at this event as an end-of-career victory lap. The fifty-year-old big wave surfer was eliminated yesterday in Round One Heat 2.
The Mavericks Challenge still has the potential to run before the Big Wave Tour season closes on February 28, 2018. BWT officials will continue to monitor swell systems and weather patterns and will only call the event on when surf reaches the 30-foot-plus mark, mobilizing on 72 hours’ notice
For more information, check out WorldSurfLeague.com.