South African Grant ‘Twig’ Baker has won the Nazare Challenge, the first event on the 2018 / 19 World Surf League (WSL) Big Wave Tour (BWT), in huge 8 to 13 metre (25 to 40 foot) waves at Praia do Norte (North Beach), Nazare in Portugal.
Baker, the 2013 and 2016 WSL BWT world champion and at 45 the oldest competitor in the event, claimed the fifth BWT event title of his storied career and he now holds the early lead in this year’s BWT rankings.
“I’m really happy to win here at Nazare,” said Baker on exiting the water. “I have spent the last six weeks here with my family, Kate and Billi, surfing every day in one foot to 20 foot (0.5 to 6 metre) waves and it has certainly helped me know more about the break.
“I’d like to thank all my fellow competitors. We all love riding big waves and the vibe out there was incredible. Everyone was sharing waves, everybody knew whose turn it was, it was epic.”
The Durbanite squeaked through his Round 1 and Semi-final heats, placing third in each and in danger of being eliminated from the event if he had been overtaken as the time ran out in the 45 minute encounters.
Baker caught the first ride in the 60 minute final, earning a score of 5.33 out of 10, and he followed that up almost immediately with a 4.93. With two scores in his pocket he had the luxury of being able to position himself to wait for the biggest waves to arrive while the other five finalists needed to chase around the break trying to record their counting scores.
Despite replacing his 4.93 with 6.07, Baker was overtaken by hard-charging Portuguese local Naxto Gonzalez, who had posted the only perfect 10-point score of the event for a ride deep inside an enormous 10 metre tube in the semis, and defending event champion and eventual 2018 event runner-up Lucas ‘Chombo’ Chianca (BRA).
With 10 minutes remaining the horizon went black as a set of massive waves came thundering through ultra-deep underwater canyon that refracts the world’s biggest rideable waves into the surf zone at Nazare. Baker held his nerve and as the biggest wave of the day was about to break on his head he swung around, paddled in and dropped down the face.
Holding his line as the wall of water estimated at 13 metres (40 foot) in height by the commentators towered over him, Baker guided himself around the tons of crushing white-water and onto the shoulder, raising his arms in exultation as he cut-out over the back of the wave.
The judges awarded Baker 8.67, the highest scoring ride of the final, and when he added a 7.70 in the dying minutes, the title was his.
“That wave was coming right to me and Lucas was on the shoulder so I had do some manoeuvring, but I had to go,” said Baker on the podium. “Out at Nazare you’re not too sure where it’s going to break so I had to wait, and wait, and wait. So when I eventually turned and went, it was pretty late and it was really steep, but I made it to the shoulder, and now I’m the champion!”
The Nazare Challenge was given a Silver coefficient by BWT Commissioner Mike Parsons based on the waves being in the 35 foot (12 metre) range which means that Baker earns 11,000 points on the rankings, 10% more than the10,000 points awarded to the winner of a Bronze coefficient event.
For some amazing footage, click the FINALS
- Grant ‘Twig’ Baker (ZAF, Durban)
- Lucas ‘Chombo’ Chianca (BRA)
- Natxo Gonzalez (Basque)
- Alex Botelho (PRT)
- Joao de Macedo (PRT)
- Russell Bierke (AUS)
The 2018/2019 Big Wave Tour (BWT) hosts three events: the Nazaré Challenge, the Jaws Challenge, and the Mavericks Challenge. All holding periods for this season are now open and will await the biggest waves until the season’s close on March 31, 2019. For the Jaws Challenge and Mavericks Challenge, the world’s best male and female big wave surfers will prepare for conditions that will produce waves in the 30-to-60-foot range. Once the decision is made to run the event, a “Green Alert” is issued and competitors will have 48 hours’ notice to be ready to compete.