I first had contact with Mauricio when I was learning about his game changing product, LeblonFins, which represent something completely new in the swim fin world and have been attested by any who try them. What Mauricio did with LeblonFins is to take a scientific approach to his design of fin and incorporate a lifetime of experience, the end result is amazing, if you want to know more about that, you can find the article here.
But we are not here to discuss the fins today, what I would like to introduce you to a 'point of view' story from Mauricio and his crew who surfed this terrifying wave with just his fins on. Yep, that's right, cahonas the size of coconuts. Here are the pictures and the account from Mauricio all about the day 'The Beast' awakened.
Mauricio: I got the "Go go go" on Wednesday 9th August 2017 when Mark Drewelow sent me this Code Red alert about the arrival of a once-in-a-decade swell. Many sleeping giants would be awakened, including 'The Beast' which is an infamous wave that breaks over several slabs next to an abandoned military fortress on Tamandaré Island, at the mouth of Guanabara Bay.
"The depth of the ocean floor before entering Guanabara Bay is huge, so it is almost impossible to imagine what will happen when it hits the slab of 'The Beast'. As the depth tapers, the energy concentrates, and the wave is formed. As it hits the slab there is a sudden change, and when that happens the wave grows exponentially, forming a straight wall ", explained David Zee, oceanographer of UERJ.
On 12th August I was in the closest spot to 'The Beast' recording these images and sending them to our team riders alerting them about the real possibility of challenging 'The Beast' the next day.
Adrenaline was surging through everyone. It was not about the size of the wave, but the place. There are several slabs that transform one wave in several, coming from different directions. And these waves do not break in only one direction and not over the same spot. The place is so shaken that surfers sitting on the boards have difficulty to visualize where the next wave comes from. The guidance of the jet ski pilot is essential.
Indeed it was these conditions that welcomed the Portuguese when they first arrived there in January, centuries ago. Amazing to think that it was the mouth of a gigantic river and that was why they named the city of Rio de Janeiro so.
In 2011 the big riders Carlos Burle, Eraldo Gueiros where the first surfers to challenge 'The Beast' and everybody said that it would be insane and impossible for bodysurfers to try to do the same.
On Sunday morning (13th August) our dream team was set up, and for the first time ever a group of bodysurfers hit the water to challenge 'The Beast'. I couldn't wish for a better team: JC Rodrigues aka the Kamikaze from soul bodysurfing, Fabio Russo, Paulo Pilleggi , Lieutenant Colonels CBMERJ Fabio Braga (coach of Brazilian lifesaving team), team doctor David Spilman, director of SOBRASA, Captain Luiz Morizot, from Firefighters and Rescue Service of Miami Dade County US, the Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Bizzi from Surf Resgate piloting the jet ski, the boat pilot Carlos Eduardo, aka Dadá, Amorim the photographer and me.
As soon as we left the marina dock at Late Clube, Rio de Janeiro, we realized that the conditions were aligned with the with the ridiculous forecast. Our boat had to fight bravely to get close to the main slab and avoid the mountains of white water and cross-over swell due to the waves coming from everywhere. The feeling was like that of being in a lifeboat after the storm had sank our ship.
We went up and down in the waves like in these YouTube clips about ships in ocean storms. It was a mess. Everyone wore the flippers as a precaution. including me.
Several times I wondered what direction to swim in case the boat sank ... and if I would be able to return to the safety of the marina by surfing the tsunamis that came against the boat, towards the marina.
But Dadá, the boat pilot exceed our expectations, and we arrived at The Beast slab's closest point, all safe. It was empty. From there the only option to reach the surf spot was with the jet ski. The water was very very dark and very foamy. You couldn't even think about opening your eyes under water!
When the jet left us on the slab of The Beast, there were no surfers, no bodyboarders, nobody but us. Suddenly we realized we were in the eye of the hurricane. It was not possible to stand in a place waiting for the opportunity to descend a wave. We did not even have 1 minute to stand still. If it were not the waves that came from all sides, it was the current of a river dragging us out of the desired area.
I lost count of how many 50-meter High Octane fin-swimming apnea sprints I performed in order to cross six meter waves, diving as fast as possible until I felt the explosion above me. Add to the height of the wave three or four meters of the dive, and in seconds you were under the huge pressure of the wave. Ten meters deep. We emerged with lungs exploding, eyes wide open trying to know where the other Beast would come from, and get ready to charge another 50-meter 'High Octane' sprint. My senses where over-heightened and everything was crisp and very very real.
It was like nothing I had experimented. And man, I've have bodysurfed some heavy waves in Tahiti, Hawaii, Peru, US, Australia, Portugal. I am no spring chicken and have seen a lot, but this was on the next level.
The place is so electric and on-edge that surfers sitting on the boards have difficulty to visualize from where the next wave comes from. The guidance of the jet ski pilot makes their lives easier. But for us, bodysurfers, sometimes was even hard to see or hear the jet pilot.
There was also a brown foam that the fishermen claimed to be produced by algae, which was taller than our heads and foamed over our eyes. We lost vital seconds clearing the froth away from our head and eyes, and it was becoming an extra liability, we had to rely on the guys in the support vehicles screaming out to guide us. The photographer had a hard time finding us, as his boat had to be on the move all the time, a lot of the time there were waves stuck between him and us.
After each wave came the adrenaline and recounting the heads to see if they were all there and safe. The support of the experienced jet ski pilot of SurfResgate was amazing and entirely necessary. This guy did not even blink. He was a true guardian angel.
It was tense. Very tense. For one hour we just fought for our lives at the same time as everyone was praying for a chance for ride The Beast.
"When the bombs passed over the slab, they suddenly jacked up. If we dropped near the slab, it would be suicidal. You'd be spat out and go over the falls into the foam inferno. So we tried to ride the shoulders", explained Pillegi. But the shoulders melted away because the open waters around the slab are at least 50 ft deep and the waves were fast, over 20 mph. There was nothing easy about trying to get in the right place and find the right wave.
There were many "almosts". Then suddenly Captain Dunga managed a drop and everybody cheered. He couldn't keep the line and was swallowed, but charged and managed the drop! I'd tried twice to jump directly from the jet ski onto the wave. But every wave demands a big turn around the slab to be in the right spot, and we realized that the guys were been taken away by the current.
Fabio Russo managed to get in the sweet spot at the right time. "I noticed the shoulders backed off a lot, so I positioned myself closer to the critical area without risking too much. I had taken bearings on land and I tried to remain at that spot. Sooner or later one would come straight too me and it did.", Russo told.
After one hour bobbing around, ducking and diving , an 18 ft "behemoth" came right to him. "As I watched that huge wall, the shoulder seemed to open. So I started to fin and paddle madly. To my surprise it did open as the wave jacked up. When I saw that huge open ramp in front of me I dropped and made the line. I rode for long while, bumping around, with foam in the face until the wave crumbled and died. Dude, it was awesome. I cannot still can not believe it. I'm so stoked", cheered Russo, the first bodysurfer ever to fully drop and hold the line on 'The Beast'.
At this point I must say that everyone there attacked The Beast by the shoulders. This alone was already a feat of bravery, because after starting the drop, no one knew if it was going to go well or not. It was not quite the drop alone that frightened us but more were we would end up afterwards.
After two hours in the water around the low, slack tide, in order to avoid the strong currents that sweep the mouth of the bay we decided to get out of there, full of joy and utterly exhausted.
We went where nobody had been before. I mean as swimmers or bodysurfers. We charged the heaviest wave on the Brazilian coast and one that only appears once in a decade. As half of the guys out there wer over sixty years old and the others around the forty mark (Russo and Pillegi are almost there), who knows who will be able to do it again? The LeblonFins team will try, that's for sure.
This adventure was enthusiastically celebrated within the Brazilian bodysurfing community not only in social networks, but also on the beaches, schools, universities and bars where the crowd meet. We challenged the limits of the bodysurf niches in the social networks and got into the national press.We felt like we set an example for the next generations and for our generation. Can we do it into our 60's and 70's? Yes we can.
SB: A giant thanks to Mauricio for sharing this with our readers, I saw the images first and was lost for words that there were people trying to bodysurf that wave. For me that is just mid-blowing, balls to the wall insanity and the kicker comes when you learn half the line up were in their sixties. This is literally a feat that should go down in wave riding history.
All over the world, every day there are people pushing the limits of what is possible, we are just proud that you read about one of them here, huge kudos to Mauricio and LeblonFins team. I mean this in upmost sincerity when I saw yewwwwww.