Big surfer sues WSL after nearly dying in Nazareth

On February 11, 2020, big surfer enthusiasts watched Portuguese professional Alex Botelho nearly drown in the live broadcast of the inaugural Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge, a competition on the World Surf League’s Big Wave World Tour. Two years later, Botelho sued WSL, accusing the organization of a series of decisions he says led to lifelong physical, psychological and financial damage.

The 29-page complaint was filed February 9 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging that WSL ignored concerns expressed by some competitors about the event’s safety plan and then lied to surfers about several crucial elements of the plan. “As a result of these misrepresentations and failures of due diligence,” the complaint stated,[Botelho] He was left in the water unconscious for up to six minutes before being pulled out of the sea, not breathing.”

the outside He could not reach Botelho for comment, but his attorneys, Neil Fraser and James C. Carr agreed to speak. “We don’t blame the city of Nazareth, nor do we blame the rescuers who were there and did as good a job as they could,” Fraser said. “It’s just that WSL dropped the ball.”

The accident occurred at the sixth hour of competition, during an initially unplanned heat. The original schedule had called for four hours of preheating, but because conditions were uncharacteristically favourable – giant waves with little wind shear – Big Wave World Tour General Manager Bill Sharpe, other WSL staff members, and the 19 competitors agreed to hold Two more heats. With about 30 minutes left in the first half, competition safety manager Scott Eggers went live to claim the win. “This is a proof of concept for WSL,” Eggers said. “So far, so good.”

A few minutes later, Botelho fell into a wave. He was unable to get around the collapsed lip and was swallowed by the white water. The wave wasn’t particularly big, at least not for Botelho, who was a notable veteran of Nazaré’s famous Praia do Norte break, which over the past decade has produced several of the biggest waves ever to hit. Botelho surfaced and was safely carried onto a waterslide by his teammate Hugo Fau.

This is when the problems started. Unlike the rest of the world’s premiere big wave spots, Nazaré does not have an adjacent deep water channel for a jet-ski driver to get to and back safely away from the breaking waves. Not only does Nazaré lack a canal, but it also has an area where two sections of separate waves violently meet. This was exactly the phenomenon that Vau encountered while trying to take Botelho, who was holding on to his rescue sled, away from the area of ​​impact. Trapped between two colliding waves, Vau, Botelho, and their sled sled about 20 feet into the air. According to the complaint, Botelho landed on the sled and hit his head and punctured his lung.

“I remember going down and still holding on to the skis and just thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going out,’ and that’s the last thing I remember,” Botelho said. stab The magazine in an April 2020 interview. Unconscious, he was immediately submerged under water and made more waves for about six minutes.

Vau and another jet-ski driver, Edilson Luis da Assunção, who was assigned by WSL to patrol the area of ​​influence throughout the event, frantically tried but failed to get to Botelho. The waves and current eventually pushed the Botelho close enough to shore that lifeguards grabbed him and pulled him ashore. He was neither breathing nor pulsing. Botelho said stab Four minutes passed before the rescuers could save him.

That night, at a local hospital, he stopped breathing again and had to be intubated. According to the complaint, Botelho spent the following week in intensive care, after his lungs became infected from being inundated with large amounts of seawater.

Botelho underwent months of physical therapy to recover from injuries that “left him weak and unable to lead a normal life,” according to the complaint. The document states that Botelho “has also suffered psychological injuries as a result of the Nazareth incident and has experienced drowning nightmares since February 2020, disturbed sleep and mood, and a gradually fading fear of entering the ocean again” – the shock for which Botelho was treated after discharge from hospital.

At the heart of Botelho’s allegations are that Sharp, Eggers and other unnamed defendants – the complaint includes the potential for up to 100 additional “dos” – are concerns from Botelho and other competitors about the adequacy of the event’s three-tiered security plan.

The WSL’s safety plan was communicated to competitors by Sharp and Eggers in the months leading up to the event. The plan called for each surfer to have a designated surfer and driver, a secondary surfer and driver to track the primary crew, and lifeguards for emergency response ashore.

According to Botelho, it was unsatisfactory for him and the others in the competition. the outside I contacted several competitors who declined to comment for this story. Ahead of the event, Sharp emailed surfers that a lifeguard swimmer would also be available as part of the beach emergency team.

Botelho and the surfers replied that they wanted the rescue swimmer to be stationed on an extra skate in the water. Then Sharp and Eggers allegedly informed surfers that WSL would hire Kalani Lattanzi, an experienced swimmer who surfs in Nazareth. The complaint states that Latanzi is “widely accepted as the only person in the world capable of operating within Nazareth’s area of ​​influence as a lifeguard, and certainly the best”.

Botelho’s lawyers said they have a copy of the event information kit from October 2019 that lists Lattanzi as the official safety swimmer. But on the day of the event, Latanzi wasn’t around. “After speaking to Kalani, he said he was never called to be the lifeguard swimmer for this competition,” Fraser said. “It shocked him when Alex spoke to him and asked, ‘What happened? Why weren’t you there?’ Kalani said, ‘The Premier League never called me.'”

Many surfers did not initially sign WSL’s waiver of liability because they were concerned that the safety plan was not enough. But on the eve of the event, Botelho fell, despite his fears. According to Fraser, Botelho felt “stuck between a hammer and an anvil” because of his obligations to the sponsors. Fraser said he signed the waiver, in part, on the grounds that “it remains understood that Kalani will be there as a rescue swimmer and that safety measures will be in place.”

Not only was Latanzi there, Fraser said, but each team’s shadow skates were missing as well. “There were life sleds on the water,” he explained. “But they weren’t assigned to any particular team.” The complaint also alleges that WSL failed to give each team three radios with dedicated channels, as promised. Instead, Fraser said, “Each team got two radios without dedicated channels.” “So there was cross-talk going on the whole time.”

Controversy over safety measures at the event took center stage in a recent HBO series 100 feet wave, and the filmmakers captured Nazareth break-in pioneer Garrett McNamara, expressing concerns about the safety plan. “It sounds really scary to me what you guys have,” McNamara told Sharp on a call caught on cameras. McNamara was invited to a pre-race meeting with the event’s safety team, but HBO’s camera crew was not allowed in.

“What’s going on there is that he very aggressively expressed his safety concerns,” Fraser said.

Sharp did not respond to an email request for an interview, but a WSL spokesperson provided the following statement: “The health and safety of our athletes, and everyone associated with our events around the world, is our highest priority. We cannot comment on ongoing litigation, but overall, we are extremely proud of our safety record. We are in an inherently dangerous sport and will vigorously defend the league and the athletes we serve.”

Ultimately, the complaint accuses Sharp, Eggers and WSL of “material misrepresentations, willful concealment, and gross negligence.” As a result, Botelho is seeking compensation for damages that have not yet been determined, which include “past, present, future and related medical expenses, loss of earnings and loss of earning capacity”. Botelho was not mentioned in his interview with stabHowever, “everything that happened in the hospital was covered by WSL insurance.”

Court filings show that the complaint was filed by WSL on February 17, which means it has 30 days to respond, at which point the WSL can accept or reject Botelho’s allegations or initiate various procedural appeals. While the case could go to trial, Carr said, “the courts often look to try to force the parties into some kind of mediation to discuss whether or not it can be resolved without trial.” “If it doesn’t, it’s heading toward trial.”

When asked before stab Botelho suggested that if he ever got back into the water again. Despite Vau and da Assunção’s brave attempts to reach him, it was eventually the waves that pushed his body so close to shore that lifeguards were able to catch him. “The ocean could have dragged me out to sea, but it didn’t…It feels good to be out there again,” Botelho said.