Biggest wave ever ridden or media hype?

Carlos Burle on what is supposedly the biggest wave ever ridden at Nazare, Portugal. Photo by Getty Images

Carlos Burle on what is supposedly the biggest wave ever ridden at Nazare, Portugal. Photo by Getty Images

Words by Gero Lilleike

There is a debate raging on in the surfing world about whether Carlos Burle managed to ride the biggest wave in history on Monday 28 October 2013 at Nazaré in Portugal. Various media sources imply that the wave was in the 100ft range or in excess thereof, which would certainly be a monumental feat for surfing, if it’s true that is…

A few months back I wrote about Garret McNamara’s record wave which he also rode at Nazaré and I questioned whether that wave was indeed the biggest wave ever ridden, and so forgive me, I have to question Burle’s wave, too. That said, I have tons of respect for big wave surfers and the waves they ride and I take nothing away from them, in fact, I applaud them. But take a closer look at these two pictures, which is bigger? It’s really difficult to tell.

Garrett McNamara rides the big one in Nazare, Portugal. Photo by Tó Mané

Garrett McNamara rides the big one in Nazare, Portugal. Photo by Tó Mané

However, like millions of people across the globe, I watched the footage, I read the articles, but somehow I remain skeptical. Maybe the footage is poor or the pictures are misleading, or both, but in my mind that wave was not in the 100ft range, but it was big for sure. But therein lies the problem. My perception could be horribly wrong and will probably differ from everyone else’s, but consider this though, someone who has never set foot in the ocean and with very little knowledge and experience of waves will probably look at that footage and be in complete awe at what they are seeing and quickly be convinced that that is indeed a 100ft monster bearing down on Carlos Burle. It therefore becomes easy to sensationalise the size of the wave, don’t you think?

What is interesting though is that throughout the coverage of this event, all kinds of figures have been thrown around,  ranging between 70 and 100ft+ and the truth of the matter is that nobody knows for sure, and how will it be verified anyway? For all we know it was a 50ft wave. Look, there is no denying the fact that the big-wave surfers who were out there were indeed surfing big waves, there’s no questioning that, but for the media to insinuate that a 100ft wave was surfed is shooting the piss a bit far, I think.

Big wave surfing extraordinaire, Laird Hamilton, has his doubts, too. For Laird, claiming the credit for riding the biggest wave means that the surfer needs to complete the ride, which in his eyes Burle failed to do after getting eaten by whitewater. In an interview with CNN, Laird gives his opinion on Carlos Burle’s ride, “In the school I grew up in, unless you complete the ride, it’s really, you know, a non-factor, and as every big wave rider knows, it’s all about finishing the ride, and I think that even Carlos would tell you that unless you finish the ride, you didn’t really make the ride but otherwise it was a great attempt”. Following Laird’s interview with CNN, Burle responded by saying that Hamilton was “spoiled” and that he “never had any support from him”. Concerning the ride though, Burle commented that “I had already ridden through the bottom of the wave. He [Laird Hamilton] is right to a certain point. It would be better if I’d kicked out through the channel, but there have been approved waves with the surfer falling in the whitewater”.

Laird Hamilton riding the 'Wave of the Millenium' in 2000. Photo by Tim McKenna

Laird Hamilton riding the ‘Wave of the Millenium’ in 2000. Photo by Tim McKenna

To add another spin to the tale,  before Carlos Burle rode this so-called record breaking wave, he came to the rescue of female big wave surfer Maya Gabeira who wiped out while surfing a big wave and narrowly escaped drowning. Burle managed to get Gabeira to the safety of the beach where she lay unconscious with a broken ankle until she was resuscitated and taken to hospital for treatment. From the outside or from a readers perspective it seems that the media is latching onto this wonderful story of courage and bravery and riding it all the way in to the beach, creating dramatic sensational hype in its wake. That’s just my opinion though.

Whether all of this is just trivial media hype or whether Carlos Burle rode the biggest wave in the history of surfing is all a matter of opinion, but the fact remains, the size of that wave is a mystery, for now at least. Opinions aside, Burle deserves credit for saving Gabeira and still getting out there and catching the wave of the day, well done Burle.

How big do you think that wave is? Share your comments below.

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