A man in a well-tailored suit will always shine bright. Photo: Lyon Herron
Francisco Porcella Is One Confident, Handsome Motherfucker
Meet the big personality behind the man who surfed the year's biggest wave.
The door swings open in our LA office. Francisco Porcella’s voice cranks like an Italian V-8 engine. “I brought the suit,” he exclaims and a laugh bounces off our walls. He's magnetic. And, he may be partially deaf; he’s almost yelling. Everything about Francisco is big although he stands at an average 5'10. He’s New York-born, Sardinia-bred and moved to Maui at 15 where he started surfing. While big wave surfers chew on a mouthful of humble, one thing’s for certain: Mr Porcella is a confident, handsome motherfucker. We dig it.
At this year’s WSL Big Wave Awards he was nominated for Ride of the Year, Best Overall Performance and Biggest Wave (he won). Because of his success, he, along with Leo Fioravanti have become the pride of Italian surfing.
Fresh off a trip to Peru and on his was to Italy to be the centrepiece of a major television show, we greet him on a two-day layover in California. “In Italy, everybody wants to interview me,” he says. “Nothing like this has ever happened there. They’re stoked. An Italian guy making the world surf scene and catching the biggest waves in the world. They want me to share that with people who don’t really know what we do.”
"It feels good when you put on suits like that. Everything fits right, and it almost gives you a newfound confidence."
Yeah, Francisco won the biggest wave of the year, but what piqued our interest, and this story, was the suit he wore to the awards. Claims like, “it’s the best suit I’ve ever seen," drifted through the office. Being occasionally pretentious men, we decided to make that judgment ourselves. And, it is superb. The suit was handcrafted by Italian-born fashion co, DSquared2, with neoprene lapels, pockets and zippers up the ankles reminiscent of a wetsuit from '98. Got a penchant for $235 USD tank tops? Then DSquared2 is so you! “They wanted to make me a suit,” he says. “I felt like a million bucks when I showed up at the awards. It feels good when you put on a suit like that.” The get-up altogether runs $5k, so they gave him two. “I let my brother wear the other one. We went to the awards 007 Italian style!” he laughs.
His award-winning wave, at Nazaré (measured at 73 feet on the face), was a tow-in. Which has become a dirty word in big wave surfing. “It feels weird to win with a tow wave,” he says. “Normally I’m just focusing on paddling into big waves and getting barreled. But it's cool to win because everybody knows that I’m out paddling on the biggest days.” If that wasn't the case, the award may have gone elsewhere. But when you’re nominated for Overall Performance and Ride of the Year, that tow detail is irrelevant. “Nazaré was a place I wanted to paddle, until that day. I think the win was a reflection of what I do all year round. If I was just doing the towing thing, I don’t think I would've won. People give shit to guys that just tow and say that it's cheating, but there are some places that you can’t really paddle into when they’re that big.” On Francisco's award winning wave, he cascades down the face, speeding towards the shoulder, knees cocked, outrunning an avalanche that'd make Warren Miller cry. Was it wave riding? Yes. But it transcended what we know as surfing. “On a wave that big, it feels like snowboarding,” he tells us. “You’re going so fast that it feels like you’re going through moguls when hitting chops at such high speeds.”
Waves get scary when they stop looking real.
Francisco and his brother Nicollo have been on our radar for a while. Nicollo, who we’ve jokingly referred to as Captain Suicide, has had some of the most shared wipeouts in digital memory. One of which earned him the Wipeout of the Year at Chopes in 2015. “It’s crazy how our bodies can handle such heavy situations,” he laughs when I reference that. “A lot of it is mental preparation. But I’ve had some heavy moments. I got hit by a ski last year at this secret slab in West Oz. It got caught by a wave and we couldn’t get away from it. The hull of the ski hit me and split my head open. Underwater, I was seeing stars and almost blacked out. That was one of the scariest moments–just trying to not black out and keep it together. I came out with a concussion and nine stitches in the back of my head.”
Seriously, this thing's psycho.
For the life-threatening nature of big wave surfing, the paychecks aren't the same as their high-performance act. Francisco’s one of the lucky ones. His sponsors shell out just enough to keep him out of the red. “My sponsors back me up when it comes to travel and salary,” he says. “I’m not putting away that much money, but I’m living a really amazing life. Just to be able to inspire people to live their dream, travel the world and experience all these beautiful places is a reward in itself.” However, his funding is new-founded. “For a while, I worked side jobs to support my travel. I would build houses, do construction, private surf lessons, whatever I could. At home in Maui, I also work with autistic and special needs kids and getting them in the water brings me so much happiness.” His sponsors aren’t big named, but after his standout year, he’s confident that'll change. “I’m just focusing on training and surfing to the best of my ability. I’m getting more attention. The big sponsors are going to come. Sometimes you do get a doubt, thinking, 'Am I gonna be able to do this, make enough to have a family, buy a house and live a more stable lifestyle.' But my passion and love for this sport are far greater than fame or money. I love it so much; I’d be doing it no matter what.”
Modern big wave surfing, for those able to maintain their health, has more longevity than high-performance (unless you're Slater...). "Twiggy just won the Big Wave Tour and he’s in his 40’s," he says. "Then there are guys like Shane Dorian. It just shows that you never stop learning in big waves. At Nazaré on that big day, Ross Clarke-Jones was out there catching bombs, and he’s in his 50's or something, it was amazing.”
Everybody loves a roll in, right?
“I do wish I could’ve gone the high-performance route,” he admits as we talk about the pay gap between the top big wave guys and the top surfers on tour. “But I came from a soccer background. Then I fell in love with the ocean, first with windsurfing in Sardinia. I didn’t start fully surfing until I moved to Maui when I was 15. I had sponsors paying me to windsurf, but I’d be surfing the whole time instead. All I wanted to do was get barreled. I wish I could’ve gotten into surfing professionally sooner, but I’m a bit of a late bloomer. That was my road in life. I feel like I’m finally coming into my own and I want to show the world that this is just the beginning.”
It's been said that inside barrels like these you'll find God.