In the parlance of competitive surfers, the best breaks in the world are notorious enough to be known by a single name. Jaws. Mavericks. Sultans. Pipeline. Supertube. What these destinations have in common, aside from azure waters and picturesque sandy beaches, are waves worthy of the most skilled surfers on the planet. One name, however, stands apart: Nazaré.
Unlike famed spots in California, Hawaii, South Africa, and the Maldives, Nazaré isn’t a destination known for sun, sand, and palm trees. This is where surfers come to do battle with a frigid grey ocean and risk their lives to ride some of the biggest, gnarliest waves on the planet. Each year in February, when winter storms churn the Atlantic into an angry frenzy, the world’s best surfers converge on this quiet Portuguese beach town in search of bragging rights and world records at the World Surfing League’s TUDOR Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge.
One such rider is Nic von Rupp, who has recently partnered with Swiss watch brand Tudor. Von Rupp has spent the last five years proving himself as one of the leading figures in big-wave surfing, and along with teammate Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca, took home top honours at the 2022 event. We caught up with von Rupp to talk big waves, training, and what makes a great surfing watch.
What was it like to ride a wave in Nazaré for the first time?
Riding waves in Nazaré is like no place else in the world. The way the wave stands, how tall it is…it is incomparable to other big waves in the world. So tall, powerful, and rough — it’s very unique. When you ride in Nazaré for the first time there is a mix of emotions like fear and excitement. And when you successfully ride the wave it is just the best feeling ever!
How do you prepare for an event like the TUDOR Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge?
I believe in off-season pre-work and working hard on my mental and physical sides. When the day comes I’ve given it my all, so I know my body is ready to take on the big waves. I don’t believe in doing the work the day before the event, I believe in doing the work the month before.
What’s going through your mind when you’re out there preparing to ride a giant wave?
When I am preparing to ride a huge wave, there is a state of flow where fear meets preparation and adrenaline kicks in. It just gives you that sense of confidence, but at the same time, you’re still doing something very dangerous. It’s a moment of focus and flow when you are committed and willing to make something great happen.
How does it feel to wipe out in conditions like that?
Wiping out at Nazaré is one of the most horrific situations ever! Just how violent it is. The moment you fall, you don’t expect it. It’s a shock, and it’s so brutal, with so much strength and power pushing you to the deep ocean and pulling you in a lot of directions. It feels like a different dimension where your animal instinct kicks in and everything is about survival. It’s a brutal experience and it is very important to stay calm.
Despite all of the safety precautions, big wave surfing remains extremely dangerous even for some of the best surfers in the world. Why is it worth the risk for you?
I’m addicted to the progression, to see a better version of myself and to be a better surfer. I’ve always been passionate about challenging myself in extreme conditions and that has led to surfing the biggest waves in the world. Once I took that step, I couldn’t let go and it just drags me into that cycle of risks and rewards. We have safety precautions to minimize the risks and we are very well trained, so I just focus on the positive side and the adrenaline keeps pulling me back.
How is big wave surfing unique from other kinds of surfing?
You are dealing with a superior power of nature with big wave surfing. You constantly face your fears and walk on uncharted ground, especially in Nazaré where waves of that size have never been surfed before. It’s very special.
What’s the hardest part about surfing at Nazaré?
Dealing with injuries and being on that line between success and failure. Waking up in the cold morning and putting on a cold wetsuit and going out on the cold winter ocean. The sacrifice that it takes, the training, time away from family, and a potentially serious injury — those are the hardest parts.
Which Tudor watch did you wear during the competition and how did it hold up?
I wore the Pelagos this winter. If the watch lasts on my wrist at Nazaré, it will last on anyone! I couldn’t wish for a better partner on my wrist as it’s very robust and super comfortable — a very reliable watch.