Marcio Freire Interview
Maui’s Underground Big-Wave Charger
Posted: March 7, 2011
Introduction/Bio by Rodney Kilborn/HandsomeBuggaProductions.com Interview by Eric Akiskalian/Towsurfer.com
Marcio Freire is a handsome native Brazilian who came to Hawaii 12 years ago with the intent to learn the Hawaiian Culture and surf the biggest waves he could on the outer reefs of Oahu and Maui. His short stocky body and wide shoulders make him look like an ‘Army Tank’ that is ready to take on anything in his path.
Many would quickly turn away from Marcio at first glance because of his stocky appearance. However, if you were to get to know Marcio, you would notice his gentleness and how his handsome smile will never disappear. His radiant energy filled with warmness makes you want to just ‘Hawaiian Hug’ this handsome ‘Gentle Beast’.
I call Marcio the Greg Noll of Pe’ahi and here’s why. Back in the early 60’s, Greg Noll was everyone’s hero for us young surfers and back then he was always looking for the ‘Giant’ and ‘Biggest’ days to surf and conquer for himself and his soul. This is how I see Marcio in today’s big-wave arena. He is a very gentle giant with the purest of hearts, waiting and seeking the biggest days he can paddle at Pe’ahi without a care for media coverage or sponsors. Just like Greg Noll used to do at Waimea and Makaha in the early 60’s.
Marcio portrays the same ‘Soul Surfer’ attitude that many big-wave surfers of the early days had. He has no sponsors and has never had any media coverage on himself for his big-wave abilities and status. Like Jeff Clark who pioneered Maverick’s in the late 70’s only to surf monster waves by himself for 15 years, eventually, one will be recognized for their amazing abilities and commitment to paddle into giant waves year after year. Especially now, because what was once known as a tow-in or windsurf the only location on giant days, has now been overthrown by the pure at heart who have chosen to paddle into the giant JAWS of Pe’ahi. What was once thought as almost impossible or a death sentence, is now being accomplished and the bar has once again been raised in the paddle-in community.
Marcio has made the decision to not tow-in surf Pe’ahi or uses a PWC to access its arena on any monster day that he chooses to paddle. He has actually only towed a couple of times and is not really that pumped on it. His commitment is always, man versus ocean and he always makes the hike down the sheer 200ft. cliff with his broad shoulders caring his 10’ gun to the 8’-10’ pounding shore break that crashes upon the shoreline covered with giant boulders. Once standing on the shoreline covered with massive boulders, he waits for his break and begins the heavy paddle out. Marcio can surf Pe’ahi w/ 15’-18’ + sets Hawaiian Luau feet. Marcio has made the hike down this cliff many times by himself since 2007 and now with fellow big-wave chargers like Danilo Couto, Yuri Soledad, and a couple others.
Whether Marcio is with his friends or by himself, he always finds his way into the channel and right under the hook of the biggest and meanest Pe’ahi waves he can find. Sometimes he’s by himself and many times with 15-20 skis in the water towing the rights as he is paddling into the big giant lefts. Yes, his mind would ‘Fear’ but he would also attack each wave with a ‘Fearless’ attitude that was backed with pure respect for his surroundings. This is his surf medication for the addictive desire he has to ride massive waves at Pe’ahi. He knows this spot and the shoreline better than any other surfer on this planet. He has paid his dues and made his mark as one of Maui’s elite and respected underground big-wave chargers.
For this reason, we have decided to share his story and interview with the surfing community and introduce to you, Marcio Freire as one of the world’s elite big-wave hellmen. To all our friends who ride and paddle into mountains! We have so much respect for you and how you are all supporting the growth of our sport and paving the way for future generations. Malama Ke Kai (cherish the Ocean)
Where were you born and how old are you?
I was born in Salvador City, Bahia State on the Northeast side Brazil and I’m 35 years old.
When did you start surfing?
In the summer of 1985 when I was 9 years old. I remember I got my brother’s old board because he had just got a new one. I can also remember how stoked I was to have my first board and I did not even care that it was an old one. I just wanted my own board and I wanted to learn to surf. I think we as surfers can always remember our first board and what happens at that moment! Very special feeling for me.
Tell us about your family?
I don’t have a wife and kids. From my real family, my sister lives close to me. She lives here on Maui working as a Marine Biologist. My parents, they are in Bahia, Brazil with all my other relatives. My brother, he is living in Sao Paulo City with his wife and two kids. My family here in Maui is my sister, my friends, and Hawaiian Canoe Club Ohana.
When did you start riding big waves?
When I first came to the North Shore of Oahu in the winter of 98’/99’. I was just 23 years old and I was riding every big swell that season on the North Shore. I did not have any equipment back then so my friends loaned me, boards. Danilo Couto, a very good friend of mine told me about this old 8’6” gun that was under his house, and nobody was using it, so I cleaned it and start surfing Sunset Beach with it. Then, my friend Lapo (ASP International Judge) let me use his 10’4” gun and that is when I started riding Waimea Bay.
How long had you been watching Pe’ahi (JAWS) and thinking about surfing it before you actually surfed it the first time?
You are not going to believe this but I never once watched Pe’ahi or thought about paddling it until that first day. I remember one day parking my car on the top of the cliff with Danilo Couto and we could see these monster lefts and it was then that I started to think about it and envision myself dropping into one of those amazing waves. At that moment, I knew it was a waste of time to be on the cliff just watching these giant empty waves. On days this big, I would usually fly to North Shore to paddle Waimea or just paddle outer reefs or Honolua Bay in Maui. In my mind I only think of tow-ins at Jaws, cuz no one paddles giant days so I thought it would be impossible to paddle into. Since I was never really interested in tow-in surfing I never had much interest to just sit and watch. So on this day, we decided to paddle Pe’ahi and what a life changing experience it turned out to be.
Tell us about your first time surfing Pe’ahi. Who was with you, how big was it and what were you feeling?
It was March 14, 2007, a day I will never ever forget for as long as I live. I woke up at my friend Patric De Billy’s house who is a lifeguard from Maui. I remember thinking that today was going to be a big and very special day for us. We were getting ready to surf some secret spot close to his house that was supposed to be solid 8’-10’ with heavy tubes. At that moment I got a call from my other very good friend Yuri Soledad and that is when my life changed forever. Yuri told me he was on his way to pick Danilo Couto up from the airport and then go surf monster lefts at Pe’ahi. At first, I did not like the idea and I wanted to stick to my plans and charge big barrels. Moments later Patric and I somehow ended up meeting the boys at Maliko where Yuri and Patric then decided to launch a ski with their boards and head to Pe’ahi. Danilo and I decided to drive to the cliff and this was my first vision of Pe’ahi as I stated in my previous answer. When I first saw those monster waves going off I looked at Danilo and we both smiled and could not believe how big and good it was. Right away I started to wax my board and get ready for action with a lot of respect, deep breaths, and lots of focus. I was feeling glad, stoked, positive and ready to do what I like to do. Before any big wave session, I try to control my thoughts, and feelings, so that I can stay calm, focused, and connected. The swell was 15’ to 18’ feet with light Kona winds and blue sky. It was so heavy but I scored a few waves and one bomb that changed my life as a big wave rider forever. That was a special challenge, a true big wave experience. The most amazing feeling was going down the line on a monster left at Pe’ahi and knowing I did not tow but paddled into it. After my first session, I realized that Pe’ahi paddle-in is very real, very heavy and it is very fun if you approach it with the right mental attitude! This is so important for me.
Who are some of the regular guys that paddle Pe’ahi with you now?
A couple of my best friends like Danilo and Yuri. Now, more guys are showing up in the lineup.
Tell us about the latest paddle session on Feb. 8th at Pe’ahi with Danilo, Yuri, Greg Long, Mark Healey, Ian Walsh and a few others.
I decided to watch first before paddling out because I wanted to learn something new about the spot since they were all surfing the right. I watched from the rocks below and then I went back to the top of the cliff to see more action from another angle. I have stoked that some of the best big wave surfers in the world were nowhere and they were surfing and not towing. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to watch them because this was truly the best show on earth today! Everybody was catching and charging waves. After watching and learning more about the spot, I finally jump from the rocks and paddled out. These guys inspired me for sure and especially Danilo who rode a monster right. I never ever thought about going right at Peach because as you know, that wave is so heavy top to bottom and especially with all the wind blowing up the face and for me, backside is crazy you know! Now that I have seen Danilo who is also a goofy foot make it, I’m thinking of paddling the right and pulling into a monster barrel.
What do you think about that epic wave Danilo air dropped into and almost got blown off by the wave, then sticking it thru the bowl?
Danilo is a freaky big wave surfer. He always likes to go deeper and bigger in massive waves. He is for sure, one of the best big wave surfers in the world today, without any question! I’m proud of him and especially proud to be such a good friend of his. He made history dropping into that big BOMB and I believe he deserves the XXL-‘Ride of the Year’ Award this year. Soon we will see what happens with that. I am so stoked for him either way.
What is the worst situation you have been in while surfing Pe’ahi and how did you overcome it?
It was a January 2010 swell, when Danilo and myself paddled out by ourselves without jet skis or anybody in the lineup. It was my third wave of the session and I was feeling pretty good. On this one, I couldn’t make it around the section so the wave blew up on me. Next thing I remember, I got pounded pretty good then held down pretty good until I finally popped up. Then the second wave I took on the head and it was nuts because I went down very deep underwater, deeper than the first one. At that point, I had to start climbing my leash to get back to the surface. The second wave really took it out of me. Once I got to the surface and got a quick breath I got hit right away with the third wave, an 8’-10’er on the inside. This wave dragged my body way too long and fast underwater. I actually thought I was going to hit a rock and worst yet, pass out or something. Then at the very last moment when my head was feeling all light headed and fuzzy, I somehow came to the surface and I remember being so happy and stoked to be alive. After this heavy three wave beat down, I ended up close to the second cove where the rocks are smaller on the shoreline. I basically just rode whatever whitewater came my way thru the rocks safely and to the shoreline. I remember that I couldn’t save my board against the rocks because I didn’t have any more energy to do anything. I just lay on top of my board exhausted from the beatings as the whitewater flushed me thru the rocks. I ended up breaking all my fins off and my board getting pretty battered as well. As it was, I didn’t feel 100% on this day because I was still recovering from a 6-week old knee injury but I wanted to surf this wave so bad. I was basically still in recovery mode and I could feel it on this day. The main thing I had to tell myself was to stay calm, be positive and you will survive this. I just kept my faith strong and did not panic once! One thing I learned is that if you are going to surf big waves anywhere, you better not have any physical issues the day of the swell!
Have you ever towed into waves at Pe’ahi and if so, what was your thought about that experience?
Yes, I have tried tow-ins a few times but not in huge conditions. It seems much easier compared to paddle in and this is why I prefer to paddle. Tow surfing is good to score some monster slabs and or ride the biggest swells on the planet that you could not paddle into! Otherwise, why bother? For me, it is a waste of time, energy and gas. Plus you are cheating yourself from the real test as a waterman! So no tow-in for me these days. Sooner or later I will become a tow surfer for the right reasons! I am not in a hurry for this change especially when my big wave paddling is becoming so rewarding. I learned how to surf paddling on a surfboard and I want to keep my evolution paddling into big waves. This way I become way more connected with the ocean and earth, and this will not happen with a jet ski.
What do you get from surfing big waves?
When the waves are big, the reward is just as big or bigger. The drop is the most critical part of the wave and yet it is the most fun part. If I don’t fall from my board, the satisfaction and stoked feeling is a guarantee. It makes me feel so alive when I ride it. It is a special vibe when I’m going down the line fast on a monster wave. It is the adrenaline that runs thru my veins that keep me wanting more. The wave that I dropped into on Jan. 16, 2011 was so amazing I can’t even explain to you unless you are a big wave surfer. My body was completely extended twice during the drop. I felt like I was free falling from a cliff and then I made it. Big waves don’t happen very often, so when it’s on, I like to get the pleasure and satisfaction which big waves provide for me. Also, it is a very spiritual and special moment. During the big days, I feel very connected to the earth and universe. It is then that I feel most alive!
How big do you want to paddle into Pe’ahi?
I want to surf it bigger than I already have, I hope to nail it solid 20’-25’ next season or bigger if conditions permit. There is a lot to consider. Swell direction, tide, currents, the wind etc. Everything has to come together.
Do you think it is possible to paddle into 25′-30′ Pe’ahi?
I am starting to believe it is possible if the conditions are perfect. The swell has to be really west, with no wind and no ski wakes all over the place. Skis will only be used for rescues on these giant days that we are paddling. Or for the biggest tow surf size waves out the back that we are going to get cleaned up on. In order for the paddlers to make a solid effort though, we need the support from mother nature and just ask that the towsurfers respect us and our commitment when we are out there paddling.
What do you think will happen to the tow-in scene out there now that the big wave paddle surge is here?
More big wave riders will come and the towsurfers are going to have to respect us, and give us the priority! Tow-in only on the biggest days that we can’t paddle into!
I notice you don’t wear a life vest when you paddle giant waves out there but your friends are. Why is that?
I feel comfortable without a life vest. I have a lot of faith that everything will be alright but next season, I will get one because I want to surf it bigger. I have done more than 10 sessions at Pe’ahi without a life vest. So I feel like next season I will be even more confident wearing a life vest on the bigger days.
Do you think you guys will arrange for water security for yourselves on the biggest days?
Yes, we are now talking about how important this will be for future swells and now we will make it happen. Safety first and we know that skis can save lives! Using skis will be for the right reasons.
When you are paddling out there, what is the scariest thing for you? Also, tell us about what happens when you loose your board and there are no skis around. How dangerous is it when you are getting washed up on the rocks in 10′ shore pound without a life vest on and no one to save your ass.
It is raw and wild! What I see when I’m sitting in the lineup are big cliffs, rocks, and a gorgeous valley. There are no houses, or cars, or avenues, or anything like that. Maybe some helicopters, ha-ha! If something happens I’m in the worst situation I can be in. If I loose my board and there isn’t a ski to do the rescue then I probably will end up way outside w/ the current. If I make it swimming to the shore break I still have to deal with a strong inside current that moves parallel from the shoreline full of boulders and rocks. The current moves to the right of a channel and if I don’t make it to the rocks I’m basically screwed with no chance to get to the shore. It is as heavy as it gets at the shore break. It is heavy after the session because I still have to deal with the rocks and shore break. Boards break most of the time and this is to be expected. I can usually hear the rocks rolling under water which is an experience in itself. I have been very lucky so far! I guess I am just getting used to the routine.
Rodney Kilborn tells me that he has been working on producing a paddle-in event next season at Pe’ahi for the Big Wave World Tour and that he will be selecting you as one of his wild cards. Did you know this and how stoked are you?
Rodney knows that I have been paddling Pe’ahi for a few years now and sometimes by myself. So when he mentioned this to me about his idea to run a paddling contest, and place me as a wildcard, naturally I was honored and stoked! It will be a great event for the Big Wave World Tour and it can be the best big wave contest ever!
When you know there is a giant swell coming, how do you mentally prepare yourself for that day?
I prepare myself mentally with positive thoughts, over and over again. I visualize myself making drops and being stoked. This way I can stay calm, and fearless but also remain respectful of Pe’ahi and the punishment she is cable of delivering.
Tell us about your big wave boards that you surf at Pe’ahi.
I have two boards for Pe’ahi shaped by Sean Ordonez from SOS surfboards. A 10’6” and a 10’4”, both are quad fins. The 10’6” is my favorite board. I keep riding this board even in small surf but like a long board. This keeps me comfortable and in the sink with my equipment at all times and in all conditions. Yes, of course, I ride much shorter boards, but from time to time I like to ride my big wave board on small days too. My 10’6’ has such a good floatation and works great on the wall going down the line. It is fast and magic!
How do you train for surfing big waves?
I am a waterman so I spend lots of time playing in and around the ocean. If it is not flat, I paddle out for surfing. If it is flat and windy, then I grab my paddleboard to go do some downwind runs. Also, I have committed myself to Hawaiian Canoe Club every year to paddle in the regattas and long distance races. It is my main endurance training and is a really great workout for me. Canoe paddler makes me strong physically, and mentally. For example, last summer our crew paddled most of the inter-island channels. We paddled from Maui to Molokai, from Molokai to Oahu, from Big Island back to Maui. I have also paddled around Molokai Island and that was an unforgettable adventure of three days paddling, and two nights camping. Paddling in an out-rigger canoe is a good way to experience the Hawaiian culture, and become stronger for big waves. As well, I like to train with swimming, biking, and running up sandy hills.
What are your big-wave surfing goals for the future?
I want to just keep playing in and around the ocean while living a healthy lifestyle. I want to grow stronger physically and mentally and I want to become even more confident than I am now. I want to be so prepared that when I paddle out on big days, I have no fear but only respect! This is the gift I wish upon all big wave surfers!
YouTube Clip: PE’AHI – JAWS PADDLE IN SESSION – WINTER 2011
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