Praia do Norte, Nazaré: one of the world's best beach breaks for bodyboarding | Photo: APB

The 2018 Nazaré Pro kicked off at Praia do Norte with the big, heavy shore break conditions we associate with this world-famous Portuguese beach break.

Portugal was on a high in 2017 after the high-flying action at last year's Nazaré Pro when local legend Tó Cardoso won the comp in fine style, and Joana Schenker from Sagres became the first Portuguese to wear the world title crown in the history of surfing.

APB Tour Director, Alex Leon, says it was great to be back at the remarkable Praia do Norte, "probably one of the best beach breaks in the world that can hold really heavy waves which is perfect for real high-performance bodyboarding."

"I think last year to see António Cardoso, a local Nazaré boy who made it on to the top twenty-four in the world, win an event in his backyard in front of his whole family, friends, and community was spectacular."

Alex admits with last year's big moves, Portuguese winners and Perfect 10s, it will be a tough event to eclipse.

Nevertheless, the last few days of action have seen Brazilian wonderkid Socrates Santana win the trails event, Canarian ripper Alexandra Rinder win the Nazaré Pro, and Japanese sensation Ayaka Suzuki win the APB world title.

From Japan, With Passion and Talent

The new world title holder found it hard to believe that she was finally at the top.

"I am really happy. That is all."

Ayaka Suzuki: the first ever Japanese world bodyboarding champion | Photo: APB

Recently, Ayaka returned from training at a notorious Mexican beach break in Puerto Escondido to prepare herself for the power at Praia do Norte.

"That helped me a lot," says Ayaka, "because when I started the world tour, they went to a lot of places where there are heavy waves, or closeout sections, or big shore breaks."

"I realized I got to train in a powerful break, and I started traveling more and more and surfing heavy waves. I think my level got a little better."

It got better, alright. She is now the world champion.

"It took me eight years to come here now. I am really happy to be here. It was my dream. I am living my dream right now. I just feel if you never give up, you can make any dream come true."

Ayaka feels winning the world title will help bodyboarding in Japan.

"In Japan, we have the Olympic Games really soon, but they don't have the bodyboard category. So, I didn't want to push them for a bodyboard division this year, but in the next one, I want to be there. That is my goal."

What's more, Ayaka has just become the first Japanese world champion in the history of bodyboarding.

"That is crazy. I can't understand, but I am really stoked to bring back this championship to Japan."

Ayaka's big win means Joana Schenker from Sagres in south Portugal will have to step down as world champion.

Joana Schenker: the won the 2017 APB World Tour title in Nazaré | Photo: APB

Similar to Ayaka, when Joana became world champion in 2017, she also became the first Portuguese to win a world title in any surfing division, and it was time to celebrate.

"Last year was really funny because I didn't think I would win the world title at the beginning of the year," says Joana.

"I started really bad in Chile, but then I won Sintra, which was a huge event in points, so it was a big deal winning it. And it was so crazy winning the world title at Nazaré."

"It was really tense, and the whole beach was feeling the same as me. If it was anywhere else in the world, it wouldn't feel like that. But here in Portugal, it was crazy to share that feeling."

"My boyfriend, Chico, was there, and the whole Portuguese bodyboarding community was cheering for me. I left the beach because, you know, I didn't want to cheer for anyone to lose. Chico went up the hill behind Praia do Norte. But everything worked out for me."

"Mike Stewart said it best, 'preparation means opportunity.' Many years I prepared for that, and then the universe did the rest."

But now it is Ayaka's year in the spotlight, and you can be damn sure Iain Campbell, PLC, Tanner McDaniel, and Jared Houston are just frothing for that men's title, which is up for grabs in the dumping shore break of Praia do Norte.

Iain Campbell: he loves the Portuguese bodyboarding spots | Photo: APB

The Male Battle

South Africa's Iain Campbell - current world champion and frontrunner on the men's APB tour - has particularly enjoyed the Portuguese leg of the world tour.

"The guys here are really strong. I was super blown away by the pro juniors in Viana. [The tour] is fortunate to have a lot of up-and-coming really good riders, especially from Europe and from Chile."

"Tristan [Roberts] and myself are actually planning something for next year. We are going to be running a competition to get a couple of guys paid to come over here next year and compete in the world tour. Would be good to get a few groms out here."

To be sure, Campbell has former Hawaiian super grom Tanner McDaniel hard on his tail for the world title as well as former two-time world champion Pierre Louis Costes and fellow countryman Jared Houston. As far as competition gets, it doesn't get any stiffer in the world of bodyboarding.

But Iain Campbell is sure to have his game face on, doesn't he:

"Well, I am only human. Emotions and pressure are always there. I have tough guys on my tail that can perform in all conditions. That is going to be difficult, but I am in the best place of all of them. Everyone else has got to take the win here and second is not going to work."

"Looking on that side, I am a little more confident, but then again Pierre and Jared have both won [Nazaré] before and Tanner has been having an absolute blinder of a year, which is good to see. It is good to see he has finally cracked the code or whatever he had to do to figure out success."

"It is all really strong riders, and it is going to be an amazing event with quite a good swell chart lining up."

Praia do Norte: a pounding wave | Photo: APB

Like the rest, Tanner McDaniel is happy to be back in Portuguese waters.

"It is really cool to see such a strong community of bodyboarders in Portugal. Portugal is definitely one of the superpowers of the sport, with lots of good riders coming out of here. The waves are awesome."

"Praia do Norte is one of the best beach breaks I have ever surfed and one of the best waves in the world. Having a bodyboard event here is perfect, all the locals are bodyboarders, so it is kind fitting."

McDaniel didn't have the best result here last year, but this year, Tanner has a shot at the world title, but he needs to win the contest to come out on top in the world title race.

"[A win] is possible." muses Tanner, "It is my first time being in a position to win a world title. It is a new pressure but also a new bit of excitement. I am really looking forward to the main event getting started."

"There is no shortage of waves on the forecast, that's for sure. It is going to be big, and it is going to be gnarly."

Making the Right Call

As always, Alex Leon will be there with his inner circle making all the big calls, but Alex assures me that he relies heavily on the local crew's expert knowledge.

"Dino Casimiro is the guy that we lean on for all our calls. He is the guy who basically brought bodyboarding and surfing to Nazaré and made the Nazaré big wave known."

"And the Mayor of Nazaré, Walter Chicharro, is an absolute legend. He loves bodyboarding, and you can see the passion he has for the sport. He has inducted Mike Stewart, António Cardoso, Dino Carmo, Teresa Almeida into the surf museum at the lighthouse of Nazaré along with all rest of the big wave surfing fraternity."

"The APB is stoked Praia do Norte is known as one of the great bodyboarding waves in the world."

Portugal made a toast to the world of bodyboarding with an epic premiere of Tó Cardoso's new movie "New Age" at the Cine Teatro in Nazaré.

"The crowd who was at Antonio's movie," says Iain Campbell, "was really crazy. Probably the biggest movie premiere I have seen since the Tension days. The mayor is so stoked; he is frothing on bodyboarding."

"Walter is the man," says Tanner McDaniel. "He is the chillest political figure ever. He walked into the APB opening ceremony in shorts and flip-flops. He is such a cool dude."

Words by Seamus McGoldrick

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