The Art Of Tow Ft Kai Lenny, Lucas Chumbo + Nic Von Rupp

Editor’s note: The Tudor Nazare Big Wave Challenge 2024 might run in as little as 8 hours from writing. Watch it at the link above.

Anyone can grab a rope. 

Tow surfing cops a lot of flack. Rightfully so. There is a legitimate problem of making big wave surfing too accessible to too many people. If Mark Zuckerberg claiming he surfs 15-foot waves, like he did recently on the Lex Fridman podcast, isn’t enough to make you throw up a little in your mouth and hop off the bus, then try disgraced WeWork CEO Adam Neumann, who refuses to be burdened by “paddling out”, using a jetski to navigate the mammoth walls of Montauk on loop. 

“‘The way I surf, I don’t have time for paddling’,” he told a colleague. Instead, he would hop on a chauffeured Jet Ski. Some surf spots in Hawaii even forbid the practice, but Adam would hire local surf coaches who knew how to skirt regulations,” wrote the NY Post. 

But that’s just one leg of a dog riddled by fleas. 

“With a jetski, you could barely be able to surf a six-foot wave and then go get a 60-foot wave and win an award and get a hundred grand or something,” says reigning Nazare tow challenge champ, Kai Lenny. “Towing is a shortcut. We all know that. I would probably tow my grandmother into a big Nazare shoulder,” quipped Nic Von Rupp. 

If Nan’s towing Naz, it’s probably time to redefine ‘extreme action sports’. 

On January 4 2023 at 4:07PM, Lucas Chianca whipped underground charger Marcio ‘Mad Dog’ Friere into the last wave he ever caught (pictured here). “A steady line was set and the vision of the dark wall of water couldn’t have felt unfamiliar to a man well versed in tackling massive lefts at Peahi, but he was eventually outrun by the avalanching white water. Rescue teams scrambled to locate Marcio during a rather long hold down, a situation made hypothetically sketchier by the absence of an inflatable vest. He went under between First Peak and Second Peak, a significantly deeper area of the Praia do Norte lineup. Seconds later, Lucas Chumbo jumped off his ski to retrieve Marcio from the turbulence. With the aid of Lucas Fink, the pair were able to bring his lifeless body back to sand, where all efforts were made by lifeguards, surfers and paramedics to attempt resuscitation. Sadly, Marcio left us right there and then, becoming the first fatal victim of big wave surfing at Nazaré.” Photo: Joli

2023 Stab Surfer of the Year Nathan Florence said it nicely: “I feel like over the last 10 years, some of the gnarliest waves ever have been ridden at these slabs, and few were celebrated the same as a crazy Jaws or Nazaré ride. That’s funny to me, because 90% of surfers at those spots fear these heavy, shallow waves, where you need to be so technically efficient and smart with your choices to surf them. To me, that’s the pinnacle of what heavy water surfing is. It’s not so much about the height of the wave, but how shallow and technical the barrel and drop is. How much water is in the lip of the wave. How big the barrel is. How risky it is to fall.”

So where the hell should tow surfing belong in our crabby little culture if even the best guys in the world at doing so often detract from it? I called them to change my mind.

And they did a little. 

“I compare it to snowboarding, there’s the Jeremy Joneses’ who’ll hike the entire mountain, and then they’ll ride that one run down. That’s like paddle-in surfing. Then I look at someone like Travis Rice, who takes a helicopter to the top and does a bunch of different runs and does maneuvers, and his goal is performance-based, and it’s not so much the climbing the mountain, it’s just the ride. I don’t think one is worse than the other. I do think tow-in surfing just has the ability to push the performance boundaries beyond what we thought is possible.” 

Kai Lenny

Here’s our very pretentiously titled piece called “the art of tow” featuring big wave specialists: Kai Lenny, Lucas Chianca and Nic Von Rupp. 

One of many learnings from 2023 was that specialty events can be incredible.

Watch The Tudor Nazare Big Wave Challenge 2024 here (if it runs).


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