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Brazilian surfing star Marcio Freire died Thursday while riding a huge wave off Portugal’s central coast, local maritime authorities said.
Freire, 47, was known to surfing fans around the world as the Mad Dogs, a group of Brazilian surfers celebrated in a 2016 documentary for winning a huge surf break in Hawaii.
At 4:15 p.m. local time Thursday, a water accident was reported at Praia do Norte, a beach in Nazaré, according to local officials. Portugal’s National Maritime Authority said in a statement that a 47-year-old Brazilian man, whom they later confirmed was Freire, “fell and died while practicing surfing in Praia do Norte.” He was practicing toe-in surfing when he fell, Reuters reported. This technique uses an artificial aid, such as a watercraft, which allows surfers to catch fast-moving waves better than if they were paddling by hand.
Rescuers found Freire in cardiorespiratory arrest, the maritime agency said, noting how first responders began resuscitation after returning him to land but were unable to save the surfer.
Nazaré waves have been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest surfing ever. The world record for the biggest wave has been set three times in Nazaré since 2011. The most recent record was set in 2020, when German surfer Sebastian Steudner rode an 86-foot wave at Nazaré.
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Although the accident occurred at a big-wave location, authorities said Freire’s death is believed to be the first surfing fatality in Nazare.
Born in Salvador, Bahia on Brazil’s northeast coast, Freire started surfing in the summer of 1985, when he was 9 years old.
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“I remember I got my brother’s old board because he just got a new one,” Freire recalled in a 2017 interview with TowSurfer.com. “I just wanted my own board and I wanted to learn to surf.”
According to TowSurfer.com, he later moved to Hawaii with the goal of surfing big waves on the outer reefs of Oahu and Maui. For Freire, who said she prided herself on positive thinking and staying calm in the face of a huge swell, the bigger the wave, the bigger the reward.
“It’s a special feeling when I’m going to the line fast on a giant wave,” he told the website. “It’s the adrenaline that flows through my veins that keeps me wanting more.” She added: “On big days, I feel very connected to the earth and the universe. That’s when I feel most alive!”
Some of his ride videos have been viewed thousands of times on YouTube. In 2015, he was nominated for “Wipeout of the Year” by the World Surf League for one of his rides at Jas, Maui.
He followed it up with a nomination for “Billabong Ride of the Year” in 2016, when he finally won Jazz.
Freire rose to fame with the 2016 documentary “Mad Dogs.” The film describes how he and his two Brazilian friends, Danilo Couto and Yuri Soledad, decided to challenge the massive Jaws wave without jet ski support, rescue teams or life jackets, which were unheard of at the time.
News of Freire’s death devastated the surfing community. Riders remembered him for his incredible skill and kindness to his fellow surfers.
“He surfed all day with a big smile on his face,” wrote big-wave surfer Nick von Rupp, according to Reuters. “This is how I will keep him in my memory. legend.”
Photographer Fred Pompermyer echoed this sentiment, saying Freire “was a happy soul, always with a smile on his face.” Surfer Matt Meola noted on SurferToday.com how what he and his Mad Dog brothers did at Friar Joe’s changed the perception of big-wave surfing.
“Marcio and the Mad Dogs changed big-wave surfing forever,” he said. “They were an inspiration to me and many others.”
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