Stab Magazine | How To Make It As A Big Wave Surfer In 2019 With Nic Von Rupp

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How To Make It As A Big Wave Surfer In 2019 With Nic Von Rupp

“I went to Mavs. I went to Jaws. I went to Ireland. I was chasing it all over the place…”

style // Apr 20, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

“Soccer will always be the biggest sport in Portugal, or Europe for that matter,” Nic Von Rupp explained in 2015 when we caught up with him about a new video series he was launching.

At the time, Tiago Pires was leading the charge for Portugal on tour and the big-wave community was just starting to comprehend what Nazare was capable of. In only a few short years things have changed dramatically.

Von Rupp’s gone from QS hopeful to slab hunter, and now he’s got his eyes trained on the Big Wave World Tour. He’s dedicated himself to riding big boards in giant surf, and he’s very matter of fact about where he wants to take it. Stab spent some time with him recently, this is what he had to say:

Stab: You live pretty close to Nazaré, how’s that changed your whole program?

Nic: Nazare is the best training ground there is. It’s so consistent. Every week there are over 20-foot waves. There’s no better place to tune in your gear. I feel like I had a good year, I’m stoked. I live an hour and a half away from Nazaré, so that was my base and my training ground. But I went back and forth all over the place. I went to Mavs. I went to Jaws. I went to Ireland. I was chasing it all over the place. I was trying to really give it a go and try to put myself out there as a possibility for the Big Wave World Tour next year. 

We grew up and it was all about Hawaii and Australia and anywhere else but Europe. We used to travel to put ourselves out there and improve our skills and acquire knowledge. And it seems like, these days, Nazaré is pretty much the epicenter of big-wave surfing. I wouldn’t say it’s the best wave in the world, don’t misquote me on that one, but it’s the most consistent one for sure. Guys are coming from around the world to post up and train and surf Nazaré. Fuck, it’s amazing to be part of this evolution. Surfing in Portugal was really small just a few years ago, and it’s definitely evolved into an important place. It’s really put surfing on the map and at the same level as any other sport in the country. 

Making the jump to boards over 10 feet has been a challenge for Von Rupp, but with Stretch on the planer, he’s getting used to it. Photo: Alan Van Gysen

You’ve always charged and are one of the standouts at spots like Supertubos, but it seems like you’ve stepped up your game considerably in the last couple of years. What’s changed?

From one year to the other things just started to click here in Portugal. Our Portuguese teams got more organized. We have a group we do swimming pool training. A group of us that surf Nazaré get together and just slay it. It’s called Wave Crushers Training System. It’s pretty mad. It puts you underwater in the worst situations. It simulates everything that could happen to you in the water. It’s freaky. When you get pounded by a wave you’re getting that rush, you’re adrenaline levels are running so high that you’re in a different dimension. But when you’re in that swimming pool and you’re out of air, it’s a scary place to be. 

We’re trying to get more comfortable in uncomfortable situations without air. In our training, we push it so far that it freaks you out at the start. It’s like, “Holy shit, this is what it feels like to almost drown.’ It’s pretty nuts. For me, it’s one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced. It’s really uncomfortable. Like I said, experiencing that in the ocean, you’re just in another dimension. You take it in easier. For me, doing it in the swimming pool is the hard part, for sure. But it’s good. You have to turn the table. You have to do it so much until it feels natural…but at the start, it’s painful, for sure.

So, has all the training worked? What difference has it made to you both physically and mentally when you’re getting pounded?

The heavy situations that I have been in, for me it’s such a shock. You’re pre-visualizing the moment where you get caught inside by a huge wave for so long, but then when it actually happens it’s like a shock situation. It’s like, “Holy shit, fuck, I’m fucked.” 

For me, I go into another dimension. I go into survival mode. My animal instincts are kicking in. I almost feel like I’m not there like my body goes into auto mode and does its thing. I’m not thinking underwater. I don’t know, maybe it’s I’m still seeing stars from the wipeout, but fuck, I don’t know what happens down there. It’s so dark. It’s so violent. You just follow gravity and try to find their way up.

The perks of having Nazaré an hour and a half from your front door? Plenty of reps on bombs like this. Photo: Pedro Miranda

Does all of the new flotation and safety procedures give you more confidence that when you go under you’re going to come up, and, hopefully, be rescued?

It’s such a blessing. Those pioneering guys really turned the sport around. Whatever we’re doing these days is thanks to guys like Shane [Dorian], Danilo [Couto] and Kohl [Christensen]. They put in the time perfecting that vest. There are certain places and certain attitudes that we have in the water these days that weren’t doable a few years ago. Nobody’s paddled big Nazaré without a vest. 

There are generations of people that paddled Maverick’s without a vest and those guys were going so hard. But I feel like, at places like Nazaré, it spooks you with 30-foot sets out of nowhere. If you weren’t wearing a vest you wouldn’t come up, for sure. The vests really opened the gate at Nazaré. I’ve heard a lot of people say that their worst beating was at Nazaré and if they weren’t wearing a vest they never would have come up. It’s just a really violent place. 

And what about your equipment, you’ve made the jump from pintails that you can knife into on slabs and gotten on some bigger boards. How’s that adjustment been?

I’ve always felt really comfortable charging big slabs with small boards. Big boards are a different sport, man. It takes a while to get used to what to ride, where to position yourself, how steep can you go. I’ve been surfing big boards for five years or more, but it took me a while to figure it out. My confidence level with a 10’6” is not the same as with an 8’0”. 

But I’ve found my groove. I’ve been working with Stretch for the last two years and we’re really fine-tuning the big-wave guns. When I went over to Maverick’s—I’ve been dreaming of surfing the Mavs left—he had hand-shaped a board for Nathan Fletcher in 2011 and had it ready for me. He was kind enough to lend me that board. It’s really important to have these people around you that have been around a long time and know their shit when it comes to shaping surfboards for extreme conditions. 

When you surf Nazare regularly, you get beaten down regularly. Photo: Pedro Miranda

And what’s next for you, will you be chasing purple blobs in the southern oceans this summer?

Man, my winter was really intense, so I can’t wait to take some time off, to be honest. I was burned out by the end of the winter. Big-wave surfing is awesome and breaking new barriers and chasing swells and putting your life on the line like that, is fucking amazing. But here in Portugal at Nazaré, you do it too often that it gets to a point where you’re burned out, man. If you’re putting your life on the line 30 times a year, at the end it’s like, holy shit. I’m glad that everything when fine. It’s a relief. The swells are starting to slow down. 

I’ve had Kai Lenny and Shane Dorian both tell me that the best big-wave surfers are also the best small-wave surfers. Do you still enjoy getting out amongst more civilian conditions?

I surfed a one-foot wave the other day and had so much fun. I had so much fun just grabbing a little shortboard and doing some turns. Just feeling the other side of the spectrum of surfing again and enjoying the peace and not worrying that there’s a 30-foot set going to land on you, it was really nice.

That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m sure the hype is going to come back in, and I’ll be chasing some big barrels, but at the moment, I’m enjoying the downtime. I’m going to take a month off, enjoy Portugal, surf some smaller waves, maybe do a couple of contests for fun. Then I’ll get back on the horse for the Pacific season.

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