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Marcio Freire, Mad Dog surfer, dies in the waves of Nazaré, Portugal

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Brazilian surfing star Marcio Freire was killed Thursday while surfing giant waves off Portugal’s central coast, according to the local maritime authority.

Freire, 47, was best known to surf fans around the world as one of the Mad Dogs, a group of Brazilian surfers celebrated in a 2016 documentary for conquering Jaws, a giant surf break in Hawaii.

Around 4:15 pm on Thursday, a water accident was recorded at Praia do Norte, a beach in Nazaré known for its surfing conditions, according to local authorities. Portugal’s National Maritime Authority said in a statement that a 47-year-old Brazilian, who was later confirmed to be Freire, died “after falling while surfing at Praia do Norte”. He was tow-in surfing when he fell, according to Reuters. This technique uses artificial assistance, such as a watercraft, which allows surfers to catch faster waves better than if they were paddling by hand.

Rescue teams found Freire in cardiac arrest, the maritime agency said, noting that rescuers began resuscitation as soon as they brought him back to land, but were unable to save the surfer.

Nazaré’s waves have been recognized by Guinness World Records as some of the biggest ever surfed. World records for the biggest wave have been set in Nazaré three times since 2011. The most recent record was set in 2020 when German surfer Sebastian Steudtner rode an 86-foot wave off Nazaré.

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While there have been accidents at the site of the big waves, officials said Freire’s death is considered the first surfing fatality in Nazaré.

Freire was born in Salvador, Bahia, on the northeast coast of Brazil and started surfing in the summer of 1985 when he was 9 years old.

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“I remember getting my brother’s old board because he had just bought a new one,” recalled Freire in a 2017 interview with TowSurfer.com. “I just wanted my own board and I wanted to learn to surf.”

He later moved to Hawaii with a view to riding the big waves on the outer reefs of Oahu and Maui, according to TowSurfer.com. For Freire, who said he takes pride in having positive thoughts and keeping calm in the face of a giant swell, the bigger the wave, the greater the reward.

“It’s a special vibe when I’m going fast down the line in a monster wave,” he told the site. “It’s the adrenaline that runs through my veins that makes me want more.” He added: “During the big days, I feel very connected to the earth and the universe. That’s when I feel most alive!”

Videos of some of his rides have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube. In 2015, he was nominated for “Wipeout of the Year” by the World Surf League for one of his waves at Jaws in Maui.

He followed that up with a nomination for “Billabong Ride of the Year” in 2016, when he finally won over Jaws.

Freire rose to fame through the 2016 documentary “Mad Dogs”. The film narrates how he and two of his Brazilian friends, Danilo Couto and Yuri Soledade, decided to challenge the giant waves of Tubarão without the support of a jet ski, rescue teams or life jackets, which was unheard of at the time.

The news of Freire’s death devastated the surfing community. Riders remembered him for his great skill and kindness to his fellow surfers.

“He surfed all day with a big smile on his face,” wrote big-wave surfer Nic von Rupp, according to Reuters. “This is how I will keep it in my memory. Legend.”

Photographer Fred Pompermayer echoed the sentiment, saying that Freire “was such a happy spirit, always with a smile on his face”. Surfer Matt Meola noted to SurferToday.com that Freire changed the face of big wave surfing with what he and his Mad Dog brothers did at Jaws.

“Marcio and the Mad Dogs changed big wave surfing forever,” he said. “They were an inspiration to me and many others.”