The Man Who Surfs the World’s Biggest Waves Without a Board

Early one morning in October of 2015, a 21-year-old Brazilian surfer named Kalani Lattanzi stepped onto the sand at Praia do Norte in Nazaré, Portugal. Muscular and clad in a tight wetsuit, Lattanzi was indistinguishable from the many surfers who, every day, stood on the seaside the place he now stood. Like all of his friends, Lattanzi was making ready to enter hallowed water, a devilish patch of ocean revered and feared for producing the world’s greatest swells. Just two years earlier, American surfer Garrett McNamara had been towed by a jet ski into an estimated 100-foot wave in these waters, a world-record journey that cemented Nazaré’s place in the pantheon of surf spots.

Lattanzi, nevertheless, deliberate to make use of a completely different strategy to browsing these legendary waves. He was going to paddle into the chaos with out a essential piece of apparatus: a board.

Later that morning, Australian Ross Clarke-Jones and American Jamie Mitchell, each skilled huge wave surfers, arrived at the seaside. A significant swell had descended on Praia do Norte and the two males had been wanting to get into the water earlier than every other surfers arrived. As they headed out into the surf, Clarke-Jones was surprised to find that they weren’t alone.

“The sun was rising and I saw this like, what appeared to be someone in the water swimming,” says Clarke-Jones in Kalani: Gift from Heaven, a quick movie documenting Lattanzi’s life and exploits in Nazaré. “Is that a seal, or is that a dolphin, or is it a shark? Fuck, that’s a man.”

As different surfers started to reach at the seaside, they had been met with the fast-spreading information: a individual was trying to swim out into the lineup. To Portuguese huge wave surfer Nic Von Rupp, this was an not possible process, a stroke of insanity that may certainly finish in the thriller swimmer’s loss of life.

“I was on the jet ski,” stated Von Rupp in the movie. “Everyone’s praying, ‘Guys, hope everyone survives, this is heavy shit right now, some of the biggest waves in the world.’ And all of a sudden we hear on the mic, ‘There’s a guy paddling’ … I was just like, ‘Holy shit this dude is going to die.’”

In the water, Lattanzi powered ahead, swimming by way of huge waves and harrowing currents earlier than lastly settling amongst the riders in the lineup.

“In the beginning, people said, ‘What are you doing, you crazy?’” says Lattanzi. “But I said, ‘Oh, I’m just bodysurfing.’”

Photo courtesy of Jorge Leal

Kalani Lattanzi was born in Hawaii in 1994. Shortly after his delivery, Lattanzi’s household relocated to Brazil, settling close to Rio de Janeiro in Itacoatiara, a coastal neighborhood in the metropolis of Niterói. Itacoatiara, which sits on the Atlantic Ocean, is considered one of the world’s premier browsing locations, and was a perfect place for the younger, water-obsessed Lattanzi to nourish his urge for food for adrenaline.

“It’s a small beach, eight hundred meters between two rocks,” says Lattanzi. “It’s a beach break, super heavy wave, super barreling, a lot of current, it’s a gnarly place … my favorite beach in the whole world.”

From the outset, Lattanzi bucked conference, spurning the surfboards and bodyboards (also called boogie boards) utilized by his buddies, selecting as a substitute to bodysurf the seaside’s huge swells. Bodysurfing, as its title suggests, is the artwork of using a wave utilizing just one’s bodily body, a phenomenon acquainted to anybody who has ever been carried to the shore, deliberately or not, by a breaking wave. At Itacoatiara, bodysurfing performed third fiddle to browsing and bodyboarding, a actuality that pushed Lattanzi to the backside of the seaside’s browsing hierarchy. This demotion assured that his entry to waves could be restricted, an unacceptable actuality for a younger surfer.

“When you are bodysurfing and you are a beginner and you’re small … you don’t have priority on the beach,” stated Lattanzi. “So I start bodyboarding.”

Lattanzi swiftly established himself amongst Itacoatiara’s secure of elite bodyboarders, incomes a status for his uncanny means to journey monstrous waves with a monk-like composure that belied his age and expertise degree. Speaking in Kalani: Gift from Heaven, Dudu Pedra, a skilled bodyboarder and Itacoatiara native, recollects recognizing these traits in the wunderkind.

“He’s always had this predisposition to throw himself into the sea,” says Pedra. “He is a very cool guy, very joyful, always smiling. He’s crazy … he takes this tranquility into the water, he is able to stay cool in any situation either on a flat day or in days like we’ve seen with waves above 50 feet.”

In 2011, Lattanzi’s budding expertise landed him a spot on the International Bodyboarding Association (IBA) World Tour, renamed the Association of Professional Bodyboarding (APB) World Tour in 2014. The circuit, although geographically far-reaching — it at the moment options eight stops on 4 continents — lacks the monetary power of its skilled browsing counterpart, the World Surf League (WSL). In 2019, the WSL’s high surfer netted $491,600 in prize cash; the APB’s high earner took house $20,450. This monetary actuality was not misplaced on Lattanzi.

“I want to make a living from surfing and bodyboarding, but bodyboarding is hard, you know?” stated Lattanzi. “You have to be in the top five in the world to make a living on it.”

In want of a new path, Lattanzi turned his consideration to the wild world of huge wave browsing. The self-discipline, lengthy a scattered sideshow in comparison with conventional browsing, was legitimized in 2014, when the WSL absorbed the five-year-old Big Wave World Tour (now the Big Wave Championship), offering a structured setting and a new monetary alternative for skilled surfers. With solely a small crop of riders keen to journey monumental, life-threatening swells however an abundance of sponsors and filmmakers wanting to work with them, huge wave using had the potential to be a quick monitor to monetary safety. Lattanzi was bought.

In late 2015, he made his play, heading for the greatest of huge wave locations, a place of extremes that might assist put him on the browsing world’s radar or, fairly probably, kill him: Nazaré.

Photo courtesy of Joao Bracourt

“Do you know when you meet a person and you feel something good about it?” says Nuno Dias, the director of Kalani: Gift from Heaven. “I felt that about Kalani.”

A couple of days earlier than assembly him, Dias noticed Lattanzi paddle into the surf at Praia do Norte on that now-legendary morning in October of 2015.

“There was a really big swell and all the big wave surfers, the top guys were there,” says Dias. “Kalani went swimming from the village, he swam for about a kilometer or two in the ocean … and stayed there in the lineup, in the middle of those guys, bodysurfing for two or three hours … Every time there was a big set coming I thought, ‘Man, this guy is going to die.’”

Dias’s awe shortly turned to curiosity. He struck up a friendship with Lattanzi and the two finally agreed to collaborate, a partnership that gave delivery to Dias’s movie. Shot over the course of three winter surf seasons in Nazaré, Kalani: Gift from Heaven provides a breathtaking exhibition of Lattanzi’s gravity-defying bodysurfing classes, and options a who’s who of the world’s greatest huge wave riders passionately explaining why Lattanzi is in a class of his personal.

“It’s up there with the top-five most extreme things a human has ever done, I think,” stated Von Rupp in the movie. “It’s up there with climbing the biggest mountains in the world with no safety.”

“The first time I saw him on a giant day bodysurfing, I thought he was a crazy guy,” says Maya Gabeira, the world report holder of the greatest wave ever surfed by a lady, in the movie. “But nowadays I understand that he has a level of comfort and confidence in these conditions that’s way above mine, and I think all of us.”

Amidst the reward, nevertheless, the what-ifs persist. In Free Solo, the Academy Award-winning documentary chronicling Alex Honnold’s ropeless rock climb of Yosemite’s vaunted El Capitán, co-director Jimmy Chin says that, “It’s hard to not imagine your friend … falling through the frame to his death.” Dias understands this actuality and felt its full, terrifying weight throughout a session in 2018. Just moments after watching Lattanzi bodysurf a 30-foot-wave, Dias overpassed him. For 20 excruciating minutes, he and his friends searched frantically for a signal of Lattanzi in the surf. When Dias did lastly spot him, he watched as Lattanzi, swimming in a enormous rip present, managed to rejoin the lineup. He bodysurfed for one more hour.

“When I bodysurf I am confident,” says Lattanzi. “When I am surfing it’s scary because I have the big board … But when I’m bodysurfing, it’s like no fear at all … I feel home.”

That confidence, that unwavering calm in the face of stomach-turning swells is what, in Dias’s view, makes Kalani a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.

“What Kalani does, no one in the world does,” says Dias. “Every guy is fit and understands the ocean at Nazaré, but the level Kalani is at, it’s — I don’t know, man — he’s like a fish.”

Dias’s characterization provides some perception on an surprising facet of his movie. Lattanzi, regardless of being the film’s unequivocal protagonist, is rarely interviewed and by no means as soon as speaks on digital camera. His silence, although shocking at first, really bolsters his legend, casting him, as Dias put it, as “an ocean god or Greek mythology character.”

Or perhaps it’s less complicated than that. Maybe the cause that Lattanzi doesn’t communicate in the movie is as a result of silence is a part of his DNA. Fish, in fact, can not communicate.


To Top