Two Hours Solo: Paddling Nazare with Andrew Cotton

Moments like these are why I surf.

Weekend before last, UK big wave charger Andrew Cotton got up before first light, walked down to Nazare’s north beach, saw the waves were four-foot and paddled out, alone. For two hours, Cotty surfed the world’s most photographed wave — solo. “It was like surfing Disneyland,” he said. We tapped him up to get his take on the session

When I surfed that morning, I knew it was going to get bigger in the afternoon, so everyone was waiting around for the swell to fill in. Which is what we do here. People wanted to tow later on. Everyone wants the biggest waves.

But I checked it and it was in the four-foot range. I remember thinking, ‘sick, I’m out there, no one else is in, this could be special’, because even at that size, it’s just such a fun wave. As soon as I paddled out, it got bigger. Way bigger than I thought. It was beautiful though, an incredible sunrise with these amazing, clean waves, alone. I knew the tide was getting high and when that happens, that’s the session over, it can go to s*** real quick.

Took an 8’0” board out but quickly realised I wanted something longer. Even when it’s not big, it’s just fun to catch a load of waves on a big board. Was mostly surfing second peak and looking around at waves everywhere thinking ‘am I in the right place?’

It was funny, I had all that space, been surfing here for years — and I didn’t know where to sit [laughs]. But watching the sun come up, no skis, nothing around… that’s what surfing is about. This is why I like get up early.

One of those perfect mornings at smaller Nazare. Looking inviting under the morning light. Photo Helio Antonio.

After a bit, realised I probably needed a 9’0”. By the evening it was 20-foot-plus. Wasn’t the best swell direction, there were two swells in there, one from the west, which makes the waves more walled. And one from the northwest, which can make it more peaky out there.

But had two hours by myself. Get in alone, got out alone and Helio [Antonio, Nazare photographer] was on the beach, he was like, ‘I got some amazing shots of you.’

Which was rad, you know, my schedule now: I’m crowd-avoidant. As soon as people surf, I just head in. But it means I don’t get that many shots or clips. But Helio, he gets up at first light, checks it from the beach. He’s always there. At the start of the season I had another quiet session at last light, and Helio was just there, you know [laughs] he got some crazy images. It’s completely not planned. I’ve known Helio a long time, since like, 2010. He grafts for this place.

“Managed to snag a few, it was so groomed out there and quiet. Was actually super stoked with this shot,” says Cotty. Photo: Helio Antonio.

The magic of Nazare… it never gets old. It has so many faces, it can be big, fat but can also be heavy, hollow and performance-orientated, that keeps you coming back – you have the what if factor, you can get barrelled and do turns. It’s so hard to leave.

And this season’s been good. I’ve been trying to keep it fun this year and not too samey-samey, love training and surfing at Nazare. The goal is to do well in the contest and progressing my performance. Keep it fun, sometimes I take it so seriously. For me, I don’t want to be hassled, just get waves, enjoy it, feel like I’m improving a little bit, hopefully. Get out. Job done.

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