Few activities are as endlessly captivating as the white-knuckle sport of big-wave surfing. With surfers riding waves measuring anywhere from 30 to an astounding 60 feet, not only is the level of thrill sky-high but so, too, is the level of danger. At Portugal’s Praia do Norte coast in Nazare last February, a perfect storm of conditions produced a swell for the ages and — unsurprisingly — a few nasty spills. During one such tumble, a perfectly placed drone captured one of the most gripping rescue videos ever produced.
As Brazilian surfer Pedro “Scooby” Vianna catches one of the monstrous waves, he speeds across the water at an incredible clip of 45 miles per hour. After avoiding what appeared to be an inevitable crash, Vianna regains momentum before being caught up a bit by the crashing wave behind him. With the water violently churning beneath him, he loses his balance and goes flying off his board, into one of the spot’s most dangerous areas to be immobile.
Thankfully, for most big-wave outings, an assistance crew aboard nearby jet skis remain on-call to help (i.e. pull to safety) any surfer who has crashed or gone into the water. In Vianna’s case, fellow surfer Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca immediately rode out to pick him up. With a 40-foot wave barreling down on the two, Vianna hops onto the jet ski’s attached rear sled and Chianca pulls back on the throttle. On their way to assumed safety and with water continuing to stir furiously, Chianca attempts to steer the two of them toward shore.
That’s when the jet ski hits a series of bumps, tossing it into the air and dramatically capsizing it. Now, the two are back where Vianna originally started — stranded in an incredibly hazardous section of ocean with large waves bearing down on them as they inch closer and closer to a threatening stretch of rocks. Enter a second rescuer — another surfer named Everaldo “Pato” Teixeira — who quickly jet skis out and grabs Vianna. Because the sled is only so big, Teixeira can only take one surfer at a time.
After dropping Vianna off near shore and whipping his jet ski around, Teixeira realizes the onslaught of incoming surf is pushing Chianca closer and closer to the rocks. Though he attempts to find a good spot to grab him, the barrage of crashing waves from every direction continues to thwart his progress. Finally, Teixeira seizes on a short lull, speeding over to Chianca and escaping to shore just as another set began forming.
Incredibly, the drone captured every second of this hair-raising rescue mission and the Maquina Voadora-produced video was picked up by none other than Red Bull and National Geographic after going viral. After nabbing a nomination in 2017’s Los Angeles Drone Festival, the video took the top spot in the “News and Documentary” category.
Though ordinary people may think chasing waves of 50 or more feet is utter lunacy, the many surfers like Vianna who ride Nazare’s skyscraping swells view it as just another day at the office. Even if it’s a day at the office that occasionally brushes them with a near-death experience.
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