To charge The Beast, a 20foot slab wave, imposes both fear and respect, even to the bravest and most experienced big wave riders. For those ambitious enough to try and tame the beast, there was a major holding period of 7 years, as a massive swell hasn't occurred there since 2010.
One of the factors that makes it so scary is the waves are completely unpredictable. A set can come from anywhere, with tremendous speed and brutality. One wave comes from the horizon and the next one comes from your left and the other from the right. It is almost impossible to position yourself.
One moment you're swimming fast in one direction and suddenly everyone has to accelerate in another direction. There's always a serious risk of being dredged by the wave. Even diving four meters below the foam, you are shaken by the pressure of the Beast.
The Leblon Fins Crew got the green light to charge on Wednesday Aug 9th. It was then the arrival of a mammoth once-in-a-decade swell was confirmed. The swell arrived from the Southeast, awakening many sleeping giants, including The Beast. The infamous wave breaks over a 23ft deep rocky slab next to Laje Island, at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. Due to its depth, The Beast only breaks with a swell at least 9ft high from the South or preferably Southeast.
The wave never before been challenged by bodysurfers, until founder of Leblon Fins Mauricio Jordan assembled a elite crew of riders: Team LeblonFins: Júlio César Rodrigues, Paulo Pillegi, Fabio Russo, Mauricio Jordan and Luiz Antonio.
The risks for bodysurfers were exponentially higher than with board surfers.
"Surfers can rely on their boards, photographer on the boat engine and us .. on LeblonFins alone."
In addition to these bodysurfers, the team counted on support of lieutenant-colonels firefighters Fábio Braga and Dr. David Szpilman both directors of Sobrasa (Brazilian Society of Aquatic Rescue) and captain Luiz Morizot, Dunga , Chief of the Miami-Dade County Rescue Service in Florida. Along with a support boat and a rescue jetski piloted by Patrick Bizz.
There was also an eerie brown foam, that the fishermen claim to be produced by algae, which was taller than our heads and capped our eyes. Even our photographer had a hard time finding us, as his boat has to be on the move all the time.
Sunday August 13 most waves were over 13ft at the Beast. The biggest one cleaned up the peak at precisely 1:56 PM: it was an easy 20-footer. The crew remained two hours in the water around the low tide slack, in order to avoid the strong currents that sweep the mouth of the bay.
“Besides the waves’ huge energy, they didn’t break in the same spot. To remain in position was very hard. There was no line-up as such” described JC.
“When they rolled over us, you had to duck dive very deep. Even so, after a long while you couldn’t surface right away because you couldn’t advance in the midst of foam” added Dunga.
“When the bombs passed over the slab, they suddenly jacked up. If we dropped near the slab, it would be suicidal. You’d be spit and go over the falls into the foam inferno. So we’ve tried to ride the shoulders”, explained Pillegi. But the shoulders melted instead of opened because waters around the slab are at least 50 ft deep. The waves were fast, over 20mph. The riders had a hard time trying to drop in."
There were many almosts when Dunga, for example, managed a drop, everybody cheered, but he couldn’t keep the line and was swallowed. Immediately after, they attempted a bodysurf tow in from from the jetski to add more speed. That proved too risky. “I’ve tried twice to jump directly from the jetski already dropping on the wave, but when I saw the almost vertical water wall over me, I gave up. I wouldn’t slide fast enough to escape being sucked into the storm”, confessed Mauricio.
That is how it went until the moment when Russo was miraculously on the sweet spot at the right time with his Slyde Handboard & Leblon Fins. “I noticed the shoulders backed off a lot. So I positioned myself closer to the critical area without risking too much. I’ve taken bearings on land and tried to remain on that spot. Sooner or later one will pass through here" Russo said.
Suddenly it did, after 40 minutes of bobbing around and duck diving, a 12ft Wave came over him. “As I’ve watched that huge wall, the shoulder seemed to open. So I’ve started to fin and paddle madly. To my surprise it did open as the wave jacked up. When I saw that huge open ramp in front of me I dropped and made the line. I’ve rode for long while, bumping around, with foam in the face until the wave crumbled and died. Dude, it was awesome. I cannot believe it still. I’m so stoked" cheered Russo, the first bodysurfer/handboarder to conquer the Beast.