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Márcio Freire, Renowned Brazilian Surfer, Dies in Portugal’s Nazaré

The famed Brazilian surfer Márcio Freire died while surfing in the town of Nazaré on Portugal’s central coast, an area renowned in the sport for its record-breaking giant waves, Portugal’s National Maritime Authority said on Friday.

Mr. Freire, 47, had starred in “Mad Dogs,” a 2016 documentary about his attempt with two other Brazilian surfers to conquer the giant wave “Jaws” in Hawaii.

He died on Thursday, after falling while tow-in surfing, a technique that involves a surfer being pulled into giant waves usually by a jet ski, according to a statement from the National Maritime Authority, the agency responsible for Portugal’s coast guard duties. Although rescuers managed to get him back to the beach by jet ski, they said all attempts to resuscitate him failed.

Mr. Freire began surfing at an early age, picking up medals and trophies in his home turf of Bahia, in northeastern Brazil — renowned for having some of the country’s best surfing spots. After finding local fame among surfers, he decided to move to Hawaii in the 1990s, and it was there that he shocked the surfing world by surfing the formidable “Jaws” wave without being towed in, a feat previously seen as impossible.

He frequently said in interviews that he saw surfing as a lifestyle rather than a profession. He rarely received sponsorships and often worked odd jobs in the service sector to help support his passion for surfing.

“I never made a living from surfing. I never made money from surfing,” Mr. Freire told the podcast “Let’s Surf” in a recent interview. “I had very few times — counting them on my fingers — money that came from surfing.”

“I was more of a soul surfer,” he added.

Nazaré is known for having some of the world’s biggest surfable waves, a spectacle that has turned the once sleepy Portuguese fishing village into a mecca for extreme surfers and the sport’s growing fan base in recent years. Tall as a 10-story building, the waves are caused by a submarine canyon — three miles deep, and 125 miles long — that abruptly ends just before the village’s shoreline.

A number of serious accidents have occurred at the popular spot since an American, Garrett McNamara, first put Nazaré on the map in 2011 when he set a world surfing record. But Thursday was the first time that a surfer had been killed there, a spokesman for the local maritime police wrote in an email.

Riding a wave in Nazaré, Portugal, in 2022. The seaside town is known for its huge waves.Credit…Patricia De Melo Moreira/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“It’s unlike any other wave at big-wave spots,” Andrew Cotton, a British surfer, told The New York Times in 2018 after breaking his back in Nazaré a year earlier. In other big-wave spots, the waves break in the same place, he said, and are largely predictable. But Nazaré, he said, “is just all over the place.”

The spokesman for the local maritime police said that although there were characteristically big waves on Thursday, conditions were not out of the ordinary.

As news of Mr. Freire’s death broke, tributes began to pour in from across the global surfing community.

“Your legacy will live on forever in our hearts. Until we meet again my brother,” Yuri Soledade, a Brazilian big wave surfer who starred in the 2016 documentary alongside Mr. Freire, wrote in an Instagram post.

A sports photographer, Fred Pompermayer, wrote, also on Instagram: “Today we lost a great man, a very good friend and a legendary surfer, Marcio Freire. He was such a happy spirit, always with a smile on his face.” He added, “Rest in peace my friend.”

The American big-wave surfer Ian Walsh called him “a true pioneer,” in an Instagram post.

“Marcio had an infectious happy energy and was a very special person. Every time you crossed paths with him your day was a lot better,” he added.

Ana Ionova contributed reporting.

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