Andrew ‘Cotty’ Cotton is no stranger to big wave surfing . As a multiple nominee for the XXL Big Wave of the Year competition he’s had his fair share of monster waves in a career spanning 15 years. He’s travelled the world chasing storms which have most people running for cover. After suffering a horrific wipeout which broke his back in 2017, Cotty is now on top form and ready for what this winter may send his way! You can read more about Andrew on here or via the Redbull website, one of his sponsors.

Defining what can be called a big wave surfing has always proven rather tricky. It’s a question of perspective. To most, anything over 10 feet high is a big wave. However, to a group of elite athlete surfers, big waves ‘begin’ in the 25 feet + range and go right up to 80 feet +.  The usual method of surfing a wave is to paddle a surfboard down the face until it picks up enough momentum for you to be able to stand up and let gravity take over. However, on waves in excess of 25 feet this becomes harder and harder as the waves are moving so fast and there is too much distance to cover.

The surfers require a little assistance and are towed into the wave by holding a rope on the back of a jetski. The jetski accelerates with the surfer holding the rope until enough speed is generated and the surfer lets the rope go to hurtle down the face of massive walls of water. This method has opened up big wave surfing spots which were previously considered unsurfable.

There are certain places around the world where the geography, seabed, swell direction and winds all line up to allow massive waves to form. By far the most famous of these spots is now a once sleepy fishing town in central Portugal called Nazaré. This is where, in 2011, Cotty towed American big wave surfing royalty Garrett MacNamara into a world record wave measured at 78 feet high.

The Northern Hemisphere 2020 big wave season is now in full swing with huge storms tracking across the Atlantic kicking up powerful swells which make landfall all along Europe’s Atlantic coast. This year is going to be far more challenging than others however as we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Corona Virus will prevent the usual flow of elite professional surfers from being able to freely move around the world and local guidelines will make it trickier for surfers to work closely together as safety and back up teams.

As cases of Corona Virus soar across Europe, the possibility of more national lock-downs is becoming more real. Thankfully, before this happened, a massive swell hit the now famous Nazaré. in Portugal on Thursday 29th October. There was an awful lot of hype around this big wave surfing event and luckily Cotty had travelled to Nazaré just the week before.

He was in great physical shape and really excited about the prospect of a perfect swell. The swell direction was perfect for Nazaré coming from the North West in the wake of Storm Epsilon. The weather was also perfect with light winds and sunshine. The action that day was very impressive with surfers from all over the world surfing perhaps the biggest waves of their lives. You can see some images of this swell on Cotty’s Instagram

This time it was Garrett McNamara (check his Instagram) who towed Cotty into one of the waves of the day. A huge right-hander way out in front of the famous Nazaré lighthouse. This wave is already a nominee for the XXL Big Wave Awards and it will be interesting to see what the final verdict on it will be once the dust has settled.

Going ‘right’ at Nazaré is always a bit more of a gamble. If you fall or wipeout then the subsequent waves will take you right into the rocks at the base of the headland. You really don’t want to be there as it makes rescue almost impossible!!!

Andrew Cotton big wave surfing

Andrew Cotton had this to say about this incredible day: “I’d been tracking this storm for a few days and as it drew closer it looked more likely to deliver huge, clean waves. It’s always tricky to get excited about a particular swell as all the variables need to align. I’ve seen perfect swells roll into Nazaré but then be covered by a thick mist which stops you surfing. But this had all the hallmarks of classic Nazaré.

There was a huge amount of hype around the swell, as there always is on the first big day here. It’s hard to distance yourself from that hype, but that’s what I try to do so that I can focus on my immediate tasks such as equipment check and team briefings. It was clear first thing that morning that this was going to be a classic day. We suited up and headed out to get a feel for the place. There’s nothing quite like it out the back at Nazaré as the sun’s coming up.

There was a real buzz and surfers started catching the odd wave. Once we got a feel for the swell (each swell is unique) the action kicked in. I was being towed by Garrett and he whipped me into a wave. I’d decided to go right which comes with it’s own challenges but it all turned out fine. It was the fastest I’ve ever been on a surfboard, that’s for sure. Who knows what size that wave was. I hate being asked about wave size. I’ll leave that to someone else to decide. I was stoked to have ridden that one though”!

Big wave surfer Andrew Cotton

Andrew Cotton will now wait to see that the rest of the winter holds in store. The storms continue to rage in the Atlantic and big waves are being generated along the whole European coastline. Ireland took the same swell hit from Storm Epsilon and created some of the biggest surf ever seen at the big wave surfing spot Mullaghmore. Normally Cotty would have travelled to surf this swell, but Ireland’s lockdown prevented this. At the moment Cotty is happy to be in Nazaré and continue to surf there. It feels like a second home to him and everyone is so welcoming. Fingers crossed that Corona will do one and surfers can travel again to search for that ever elusive ‘biggest wave ever’!

huge wave at Nazaré
Big wave surfing at Nazaré