Nazaré by Matt Majendie

Reviewed by Clare Brook

When it comes to extreme sports there are those who dare, and willing to die daring, such is their addiction to adrenalin, and those of us who are mesmerised by such audacious deeds.  Of all the extreme sports there is none more spectacular than big-wave surfing. Witnessing someone ride down an eighty-foot wall of water is breathtaking.  But why, oh why, do they do it?  Matt Majendie, a journalist from London, thoroughly investigates that question.  The location of his study is Nazaré, a small fishing village on the coast of Portugal, considered to be the Holy Grail of big-wave surfing.

Majendie’s in-depth study explores the radical commitment of the men and women who participate in what is a life-style as much as a sport, where death is ever present.  Whereas he details many different actors in this space, the main enquiry concerns five surfers: Andrew Cotton, Nic von Rupp, Maya Gabeira, Sebastian Steudtner and Sérgio Cosme.  He delves into their early family life, how they came to be who they are, how this sport impacts their girlfriends, wives and children.  And, of course, the financial side, their sponsors plus their own entrepreneurial skills.  Readers vicariously encounter victories, defeats and injuries.

The scope of the study ranges broadly, issues such as the gender inequality that exists in the surfing world, the politics of the World Surf League (WSL) that regulates the surfing competitions, and how the big waves are measured.  Not an exact science, but one that controls who holds the record for the highest wave, so not without some controversy on occasion.   Readers enjoy a comprehensive view of Nazaré, the stunning scenery, its history and culture.  How the massive Nazaré underwater canyon, the largest of its kind in Europe and one of the largest in the world create such enormous waves.  And, the cast of characters responsible for promoting its potential as the World’s most exciting surfing destination.

All of the above combines to make Majendie’s Nazaré  a most enjoyable read, particularly the profiling of the five main characters, who are all so very different.  What they do have in common is discipline; training and keeping in peak fitness is essential.  The burning desire, compulsion, perhaps addiction, to surf as many waves as humanly possible in search of the perfect wave.  And, to the never-ending concern of family, friends and even their children, as they share a list of horrible injuries and near-death experiences. In this Majendie does not shy away from the details.  A cautionary tale for those who think they might ‘dabble’ –  this sport is not for the amateur.

But the differences regarding how each approach the challenges of big-wave surfing are telling relating to character, education, personality and sheer panache.

Maya Gabeira, a brave Brazilian trailblazer for females in the sport, has an entrepreneurial flair ensuring financial security.  Maya is an inspirational character; readers will find her story uplifting.  I worried about Andrew Cotton, now in his forties, he lives as if still twenty, finances are always a concern.  But a total legend in North Devon, England, where he was once a plumber, and within surfing circles. German Sebastian Steudtner, analytical thinker, meticulously works toward improving his style and is very concerned about safety issues for everyone participating in the sport.  He has excellent sponsors who help him research these issues.  Portuguese Nic von Rupp speaks five languages, and bizarrely as a child was terrified of rocks in shallow water, a phobia that took some effort to break.  His parents prefer not to watch his risk- taking performance – just too nerve-wracking.   Portuguese Sérgio Cosme, known as Mr. Fix-it and the Guardian Angel of Nazaré because of his success rate at rescuing surfers from perilous situations scooping them up onto his jet ski.  Dislocated shoulders are the price he pays for his acts of daring.  Like Steudtner he worries about safety and death in the sport and does his level best to improve his skills.  These are of course only the briefest of details concerning these amazing people.  Majendie profiles them to the point where readers really feel as if they know them personally.

Nazaré is a most engaging well-written documentary.  Majendie transports the reader to the fishing village, almost tasting the salt spray from pounding waves they become acquainted with an unusual (some might say crazy) group of people.   Only criticism: perhaps more action photographs.

Highly Recommended.


By Matt Majendie


Welbeck Publishing Group


ISBN: 978-1-80279-580-6

$34.99; 296pp



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