Big Wave Surfer Alex Botelho Hospitalized After Terrifying Crash at Nazaré

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Screenshot from video of Alex Botelho and Hugo Vau’s crash at Nazaré

A Portuguese big wave surfer is lucky to be alive after a frightening incident at one of the sport’s most dangerous locations. 

Alex Botelho was competing in Tuesday’s Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge in Portugal when he wiped out and was picked up on a jet ski by his partner, Hugo Vau. As Vau attempted to outrun the wall of water behind them, a second wave hit the jet ski from the front. Botelho and Vau were thrown from the jet ski and tossed around in the surf, with Botelho face down in the water and apparently unconscious. Rescuers hurried to get the two men out of the water and both were rushed to the hospital. 

The World Surf League said in a statement Tuesday that Botelho was conscious in stable condition. In an Instagram post Wednesday, the WSL said Botelho’s condition remained stable and that he would remain hospitalized “under close observation for the next 48/72 hours.” 

The mayor of Nazaré, Walter Chicharro, told Portuguese television station TVI24 on Wednesday that Vau was not seriously injured and had been discharged from the hospital. Botelho was breathing on his own, Chicarro said. 

A fellow surfer said Botelho was lucky to be alive after the incident.

“Today I was confronted with the reality of our sport, heartbreaking watching my brother [Alex Botelho] between life and death right in front of the eyes of the world,” Nic von Rupp wrote on Instagram. “Honestly, very few would have survived, just a beast of a human like Alex to pull thru.. not only because the strong human he is, but mostly for the love many people have for him praying to pull thru. Love you brother, to many more sessions!!!”

Nazaré is notorious for its massive waves, attracting surfers every winter who wish to ride record-setting swells. A submarine canyon off of the Praia do Norte beach creates optimal conditions for some of the world’s biggest waves. In 2017, Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa rode a wave at Nazaré that was measured at 80 feet tall, a world record. Britain’s Tom Butler rode a wave at Nazaré in 2018 that was reputed to be 100 feet tall, but the claim was not verified.