For the past three years the big-wave break just off the coast of Nazare, Portugal has continually served up some of the most massive rides in surfing history. The bar may have been raised further on Monday when Brazil's Carlos Burle was towed into what might prove to be a new world record wave. The exact height has yet to be determined.
Near the end of a harrowing day in the Atlantic in which Burle had to rescue his tow partner Maya Gabeira from a near drowning incident, he was pulled into a giant wave via a jet ski driven by his friend Pedro Scooby.
"After rescuing Maya and getting her off to the hospital I went back out," said Burle in a phone interview. "The wind had come up and it was getting pretty bumpy and ugly, but I knew there would be a window. All I wanted was one wave, for some reason I felt like I had earned it."
The break at Nazare has been pioneered in large part by Garrett McNamara, who rode a record-setting 78-foot wave in 2011. On January 28, 2013, he rode a wave that appears to be larger, but is awaiting official measurement. McNamara was on-site working water safety when Burle caught his wave.
"All of the angles that were shot with video and still cameras, they don't do it justice," said McNamara in a phone interview. "He was right on the peak, right in the most critical section of the wave and the drop just kept going and going. It can be hard to tell where the bottom of this wave is, but I haven't seen anything like that before.
"There are places where you find huge waves every once in awhile, in Nazare, Portugal, it's huge all of the time. It's the eighth wonder of the world," added McNamara.
Earlier in the session Burle towed Gabeira into a wave that ended up taking her down and almost costing her life. Burle said Gabeira took a massive left then fell.
"The problem is that the second wave got her and took her out of sight. I couldn't see her, so I had to go into the shore break to try and find her. It was huge. The third wave that got her was the worst part because it tore her lifejacket off and took all the air out of her lungs," Burle said.
Burle said he tried to give Gabeira the tow rope when he could get close to her, but she was barely responsive. When she did grab the rope, they got caught up in more waves, and she lost consciousness.
"I don't know how she managed to have the power, but she grabbed the rope and I was able to pull her for a little while before another wave hit us. At that point she knocked out and went unconscious," Burle said. "A couple more waves hit us and I knew I had to do something, so I jumped off the ski and swam with her to the beach, where I began to do CPR."
According to Burle, Gabeira regained consciousness relatively quickly. She was then rushed to the hospital where she was treated for near-drowning symptoms and a broken foot. She was released the following morning.
"[Gabeira is] superhuman," said McNamara. "I spoke with her this morning and if she hadn't hurt her foot she would be out there. She's recovering very well. All of her training and preparation really saved her life."
Burle then went back out into the lineup and shortly thereafter was towed into what's hands-down the biggest wave of the winter surf season.
"I was just thinking of her the whole time," said Burle. "Things could have been a lot different, but when I knew she was going to be okay I felt like it was important to go back out and try to catch at least one wave."
For Burle the day came with mixed emotions. The ride will surely earn him nominations at the Billabong XXL Awards should he chose to participate, and it may just end up a world record after it's properly measured by Guinness. The exact height has yet to be determined, but could be verified within the week. But that's all little consolation for saving a friend's life.
"Anybody could have ridden that wave, I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time," said Burle. "The most important part about surfing is that you go out with your friends and you come back with them. Everything else is just extra."