Storm Troopers


Day three is a destructive one as the "Storm Of the Century" bears down in Portugal

By Chas Smith

Patrick Swayze reached down from heaven this morning and touched the central Portuguese coast, his angelic finger stirring "the storm of the century." Locals and tourists came to gawk as monstrous waves crushed the coast. The swell was the largest to hit Europe in ages. Some said months, others years. Regardless, both ocean lovers and non appreciated the magnificent show. Appreciated the slow moving beasts as they detonated into rolling walls of white. I overhead a British woman say to her husband, "I have never seen the ocean so angry, dear." He responded, "Nor I."

Workers at the event site hurriedly tore down tents and moved sand defensively in order to forestall the Rip Curl Pro tent city's final destruction. Earlier in the night a rising tide had destroyed the VIP and surfer's areas. Shattering glass and plywood. It was a mess that needed looking after and large tractors and excavators ground through wetness and windiness. Elderly women stood to the side and shielded themselves from pelting rain. Young children screamed and threw sand at each other. It was a mad scene. Wildness creeping into the veins of those present.

And the surfers bravely paddled. I had gone to Supertubos early-ish in the morning knowing that the event had been called until at least 1:30. But I, like the British and the elderly and the young had to witness nature's wrath. Witness the work of Bodhi. I saw what everyone else saw. Big, storm infested waves. Unrideable.

But, to the right of Supertubos proper is a long seawall. At its tip a green and white striped lighthouse which looked very Jean Paul Gaultier. The swell seemed more protected from the wind there. Big but organized. I could see a knot of black wetsuits bobbing up and down. I could sometimes see one of the black wetsuits stroke into a shifting beast. So I shuffled down.

When I arrived I saw Kieren Perrow in a grey and red wetsuit stretching. His hair was dry. I asked, "Are you going to paddle out." He answered, "Yeah, mate. It kinda looks fun." I asked, "Are any of the other boys out there?" And he answered, "Drew's out there, and Miky." Then he bounced to his feet, ran to the water's edge and began the paddle out. I always cringe when I see a surfer duck dive into cold water for the first time. Of course it is worth it. Of course. But it is still cold and nobody likes cold.

Kieren attacked his first wave with passion. A right-running track bending from the seawall toward Supertubos. He pumped once, bottom-turned hard and gave the lip a good crack. Mist flew into the sky and joined the mist falling from the sky. A man who looked like Sunny Garcia was riding a yellow sea kayak and hooted approval.

I love that the surfers on tour love to surf. The waves were, indeed, workable, but by no means great. And these professionals surf the best waves in the world for a living. But here was Kieren and there was Miky and there was Drew enjoying a surf for surfing's sake. Enjoying a storm warbled, colder mess. And enjoying it with vigor.

Across town, near the contest's alternate site Lagido, Mick Fanning and Taylor Knox were putting on a tow spectacular for the spectators and cameramen that lined the cliff. Both men threw themselves into unruly bombs as shutters clicked. A tourist from Chicago commented, "How are they not scared?" to no one in particular.

The event might have commenced at Lagido later that afternoon. A growing and restless crowd packed any and all shelter waiting for official word. Buondi coffee was served up free and hot. And the rain continued to fall. And the ocean continued to stir up grey demons. And it was officially called off at 1:30. I stayed for a while after it was called. Enjoying the horrible weather. Enjoying the coffee. Then I left to go play golf outside of Lisbon. The weather is better there.