Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca, a 21-year-old Brazilian with a nickname that means “lead” in Portuguese, has begun to make a name for himself in the realm of big-wave surfing, just over the short span of a year. Right before the start of the Puerto Escondido Challenge last year, many big-wave mainstays who were warming up for the contest took note of Chumbo, who was frequently seen scratching into Puerto’s huge, sand-bottomed barrels. Later that year, footage of him flying down the face of a gigantic Nazaré beast (and taking a massive set wave right on the head) went viral. Then a few months later, he jetted off to Mavericks on one of the biggest days of the year and proceeded to put on a standout performance. Chumbo’s quick rise earned him 2nd place in the XXL’s Best Overall Performance Award in April and a spot on this year’s Big Wave Tour. With the waiting period for the 2017 Puerto Escondido Challenge underway–which will be Chumbo’s debut onto the WSL’s main stage–we decided to catch up with the young Brazilian to talk about his upbringing and why he left the ‘QS to focus his sights on bigger things.
Where’d you get your start?
I grew up in Saquarema, Brazil, and I started surfing with my dad when I was 3 years old. When I was young, I always liked bigger waves. Every time it was bigger, I'd tell my dad, ‘I want to go out, I want to go out!’ Saquarema was a nice place to grow up because the heaviest wave in Rio is there, and it’s a great place to live and train.
When did you first start paddling out in bigger waves?
My uncle is [big-wave surfer] Marco Monteiro, and he taught me how to ride my first big wave, by phone, when I was 14 years old during my first time in Hawaii. When I got there, I stayed for about 30 days, so I got a couple swells at Waimea. Before the swell, I was super-nervous because I had never seen waves bigger than 10-foot in person, and the swell was 15-foot. My uncle couldn’t come with me to Hawaii, so I called him, and he told me just go out there, stay relaxed, and get one wave. He said, ‘Don't worry about the size of the first wave, just take one wave to remove the nerves. Just enjoy the session.’ I'm still doing the same thing now. I have to get my first wave within the first hour in the water. I don't care about the size; I just care about getting a wave to take the pressure off me.
After that first session at Waimea, what was your trajectory like?
After Waimea, I had one thing on my mind: I had to surf big waves whenever I could, between competitions. But I wasn’t able to surf a big swell for another few years. My first really, really big swell was at Jaws 4 years after that. It was about 30-foot and I was on a really small board. I wasn't feeling too comfortable out there, but I still caught a lot of waves, and it was a really fun session. After competing on the ‘QS in 2015 and 2016, I left the ‘QS because it’s kind of expensive and it's hard to keep that up. I knew in my heart, that I loved surfing big waves anyways. Then I started working with Burle–that's the point where I changed my mind and decided I wanted a career in big waves.
Why’d you decide to start training and surfing with Burle?
I started working with Burle in October of 2016. Before that, he was talking to me in Mexico during the Puerto Escondido Challenge. He was using my board during the contest, and after that, we became friends, and he invited me to train with him in Nazare. It was so nice because we were training so much. When we had a really big swell, we went out and had an amazing session. After that session, he asked me, ‘Do you want to keep doing this or do you want to go back to Brazil?’ I told him I really want to do this and I want to change my career to try and made the big-wave tour. After that, we became a team. We now travel together and are training every day together.
Brazil isn’t exactly a hotbed of big-wave spots. How do you keep training for big waves living in Brazil?
We don't have any big paddle waves, but we have some slabs. And in Saquarema, we have a really nice wave that I can paddle with my gun. It’s not huge, but I’m able to test out my guns in 7 to 8-foot waves to develop a better relationships with my equipment.
What was that first session like for you at Nazare? I believe I remember you taking a huge set on the head.
I was there a day before the swell, and I was super-nervous. I kept asking Burle how big he thought it was going to be the next day. I wanted to paddle it, but I didn't know if I could. When we got onto the ski and went out the next day, we saw amazing, huge waves. They were for sure the biggest waves I had ever seen at the time. When I got to the outside and I saw Jamie Mitchell paddling into massive waves, one that he took all the way to the beach, I told Burle I definitely wanted to paddle. I jumped in the water with my board and paddled out. Throughout the session, I got one of the biggest waves of my life and took one of the biggest waves of my life on my head. After that, I got pounded by four waves and they smashed me straight to the beach. Once I got to the beach, Burle came and rescued me and took me back out to the outside.
But after that session, I thought, This is the game I want to play. This is the life I want to live. I really wanted to make the big-wave tour, to become one of the best.
You also made quite an appearance at Mavericks this year, one of your waves being an entry for the XXL Ride of the Year category. What’s your relationship with Mavs like?
I love Mavericks, I love the wave, and I love the locals. To me, it’s one of the best big-wave spots in the world. It's a really powerful, scary wave, but it's perfect. You can get barreled, do maneuvers, etc. When I'm there, I stay with Alex Martins, who is amazing there. He's taught me so much and has helped me understand the spot.
Do you think the popularity of big-wave surfing in Brazil has grown over the past decade?
So much. Many younger guys are watching us—me, [Pedro] Calado, Burle, and Scooby [Vianna]—in films or on social media and they really want to do what we do. We are seeing the younger generation coming up, like my brother who is 16 and loves to surf big waves. Some of his friends who do the ‘QS or the Pro Juniors are starting to love bigger waves. But surfing, in general, is so popular now in Brazil—not like soccer, but still famous.
Where do you think the future of big-wave surfing is headed?
I think big-wave surfing is not just about surviving the wave, but actually riding the wave. For me, I see Mavericks like a big J-Bay. I can ride the wave, I can do maneuvers, I can pass sections. I can really ride the waves. I think that is what everyone is talking about now. In the future, I think we’re going to surf huge waves like small waves. We're going to do maneuvers on 100-foot waves and get barreled at huge spots. I think big-wave surfing is going to change so much. We are going to change its history, too.
[Featured Image: Lucas Chumbo, Mavericks. Photo by Pompermayer]