Mercedes-Benz Sebastian Steudtner Source of life.

The search never ends.

Big wave surfer Sebastian Steudtner is always on the run, chasing the ultimate wave. His goal: breaking the world record for riding the biggest wave. Over the course of a year, photographer and filmmaker Alex Laurel accompanied Steudtner from the training units in Hamburg, Germany to the roaring waters of Nazaré, Portugal. The result pays tribute to the powerful force of the ocean’s waves – one that exerts a pull that can hardly be avoided, yet one that can never be conquered either.

Waves won’t be rushed.

The thought hit him as forcefully as the sea smashing against the cliffs behind him. In Nazaré, the small fishing village on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, where the autumn and winter storms whip one gigantic wave after the other towards the shore, Sebastian Steudtner realized that he wouldn’t succeed in breaking the world record for riding the biggest wave. Not today, anyway. And maybe not at all, at least not this season.

All the weeks he spent studying weather apps with his team, poring over storm forecasts, trying to make the unpredictable predictable. All the kilometres he ran on the treadmill, the weights lifted in the gym. This season, they wouldn’t lead him to reach his goal. Because the wave Sebastian Steudtner wanted to break the world record on simply didn’t come. Even the massive wave he caught on a cold December day, the one that earned him yet another nomination for the Biggest Wave Award – it isn’t big enough.

The big-wave surfer Sebastian Steudtner stands on the beach of the Portuguese town of Nazaré and looks at the raging sea and the surging waves in front of him.

Patience pays off.

Despite this difficult realization, Steudtner doesn’t feel beaten down. His goal continues to drive him. “As a surfer, you learn to be patient. Nature is stronger than you; the sea is stronger than you. You cannot control the waves, you can only get involved with them – and in the meantime do everything in your power to prepare yourself for the moment when it approaches you: the ultimate wave.”

Sebastian Steudtner has pulled a grey hood over his head and looks at a non-visible point outside the picture. In the background the silhouette of the city of Hamburg is visible.
Gigantic, dark waves at the shore of the Portuguese town of Nazaré. In the upper right hand corner of the picture is a small dark spot: the big wave surfer Sebastian Steudtner.

Focusing on the goal.

It is this attitude that has made Sebastian Steudtner go far. At 16, he left his native city of Nuremberg to learn how to surf in Hawaii. At 19, he decided to become a big wave surfer. In 2010, he won the Big Wave Awards for the first time in the “Biggest Wave” category as the first and only German surfer to win such an honour. In 2015, he did it again. Now, he could win the prestigious award for a third time. Yet, Steudtner isn’t one to settle down; he has set his eyes on the next, the overarching target: the world record, which is currently held by his American colleague Garrett McNamara, who in 2013 rode a 24-meter-wave.

Rigorous preparation.

To achieve his goal, Steudtner follows a rigorous training plan at high altitudes to improve strength and endurance, and freedives to learn how to hold his breath for as long as possible. Steudtner runs, exercises and lifts weights seven days a week, to be perfectly prepared for when he dives into the water. “I count on the fact that the big wave is coming. The biggest of them all. This is my motivation. And it is the only motivator to train properly and prepare for the moment when it finally rolls in.”

Sebastian Steudtner is jogging through the city of Hamburg. The image was shot using a double exposure effect.
Mercedes-Benz Sebastian Steudtner Source of life.

Getting to know the waves, one by one.

Meticulously studying waves through topographic maps is also part of his routine. “It would be crazy not to do that.” Every place, be it in South Africa, Tahiti, Portugal or Ireland, is different and has to be surfed differently. But the analysis doesn’t stop there: “Each wave has its own character. But you only get to know it once you’re on top of it.”

Around the globe.

Steudtner appreciates the unpredictability of the water. It drives him on his quest to reach his goal. “In training for the ultimate challenge, I surf new and extraordinary waves all the time. They all amaze me, no matter how big they are.” His preparation for the biggest wave has taken him all around the world. “I’m always looking for new waves. Waves no one has ever seen before. There are so many great places no one has yet explored in Australia, Africa and South America. And in one of those places, the greatest wave, the world record, will hit the shore. Maybe it’s in Nazaré, maybe somewhere else. But I would like to be there when it does.”

Mercedes-Benz Sebastian Steudtner Source of life.
Sebastian Steudtner's face is reflected several times in a mirror, which creates a kaleidoscopic effect.

The power of the waves.

His goal is not to conquer the wave, though, says Steudtner. “It would be presumptuous to say so. A wave travels thousands of miles from the moment it is born to the moment it breaks. It is so much bigger than I am. I’m in no position to conquer it. But I can be a part of it, at least for a brief moment, on its very last metres.” Maybe the ultimate wave is already on its way? In any case, Sebastian Steudtner is ready for it.