Tuesday's European big wave sessions, fueled by a winter storm in North America called Hercules, are already the stuff of legend. Australian paddle-board champion Jamie Mitchell stroked into what is likely the largest wave ever caught by a human without a jet ski assist, at Belharra Reef in France. Vincent and Julie Kardasik, a husband and wife team from nearby Capbreton, documented the action and released an edit from it hours later.
Most big wave surfing footage is either shot from too far away on land or it's shaky from being filmed in a boat in rough seas. Vincent came back with smooth footage at Belharra by shooting from a boat in super slow motion with a Red Epic camera and a long lens. The result is HD big wave footage like you’ve never seen. We caught up with him to find out more about the historic happenings in France.
XGames.com: Was this the largest swell you've ever seen to hit Europe?
Vincent Kardasik: According to the specialists, Hercules produced the biggest swell ever recorded in Europe. From Ireland to Portugal, people witnessed unusual waves even in the most protected areas. For example, lots of buildings in Biarritz [France] were touched by the waves the night before the session.
What were the conditions like at Belharra?
The swell peaked during the night so we all knew we would have to deal with decreasing conditions. At sunrise, wind was really low and line-up looked really clean. We arrived there at high tide and the wave was already breaking -- Belharra is supposed to be a low tide spot.
Because of the tide going down and the swell dropping, it was really hard to find the perfect take-off spot, even for the guys towing-in. Some sets were massive. I couldn't tell you the size, but we saw a lot of waves in the morning as big or even bigger than the one Jamie tried to paddle on.
At midday, the wind turned strong and made the spot impossible to paddle because of the massive bumps in the waves. In the afternoon, the wind dropped but unfortunately the waves dropped too.
Were you nervous to film it from the water? Did you ever feel scared in the boat?
I was lucky enough to be on Sebastien Saint-Jean's boat, he's one of the pioneers over there and we had a really experienced pilot who made the crossing from Capbreton to Saint Jean de Luz (almost 20 km) in heavy conditions the day before so I wasn't scared, but during the session I asked the pilot to go closer and closer to the peak, and sometimes he had to put our boat in sketchy situations.
Is this the first time guys have paddled Belharra at that size? What makes it a difficult wave to paddle?
Benjamin Sanchis already tried to paddle the wave three weeks before that. The waves were really big and he was with Stephane Iralour, who rode his [stand-up paddleboard]. The fact there were just the two of them made the attempt difficult as the lineup is so big. It's really hard to find the spot to take off.
Last year Nathan Fletcher and Dane Gudauskas managed to catch and make a couple of waves. Conditions were cleaner then than yesterday and probably smaller. Waves don’t always break in the same spot at Belharra, and the line-up is the size of two to three football fields. You're 3 km from the shore so it's really hard to figure out where you have to wait, where the best spot to start paddling, etc., and when you fall, you have to be ready to spend a lot of time underwater and to be dragged for a hundred meters or sometimes more.
Do you think Jamie Mitchell's wave was the biggest wave ever paddled into?
Jamie's wave was huge. I don't remember seeing anyone in a photo or video paddling on such a thing.
Lots of people claim that the wave doesn't really break at Belharra, but on the one Jamie paddled, you fully see that the wave breaks from top to bottom. It's a heavy wall with a huge drop.
Yesterday, guys in the line-up said this wave was a 60 footer ... I don't know about the size as it seems impossible to measure it.
With the North Pacific having a bad winter season for big waves so far, do you feel like much of the surf world's attention has focused on Europe? Is that a good thing for European surfing?
So far we're having a great winter, couple of big interesting swells, some really normal surf in between and weather hasn't been too cold yet. I'm not sure if the surf world focuses on Europe right now but if it's the case, I guess it can only be something positive for us ... and the fact we don't have to travel that much makes things easier.
Did the local crew enjoy surfing with Jamie, Shane Dorian and Twiggy Baker?
Local surfers and Belharra pioneers were really stoked to see Shane, Jamie and Twiggy coming to Belharra. When the guys paddled out (Shane Dorian, Jamie Mitchell, Twiggy Baker, Benjamin Sanchis, Pilou Ducalme, Sebastien Saint-Jean, Peyo Lizarazu, Stephane Iralour and our local girl Justine Dupont), all of the tow in teams stopped surfing and decided to provide them security in case something went wrong. Shane had already paddled with some of them in Nazare and they had a great experience so they were all frothing on that session. These guys are legends in big wave riding but they are really humble. They show a lot of respect to everybody at the line-up and they mix really well with our local surfers. The locals would be stoked to share more sessions with them.