• Sebastian Steudtner

    Two against the forces of nature: Sebastian Steudtner and the X-Class.

    Sebastian Steudtner is one of the world’s best big wave surfers. But the German surfer still has one major goal: the world record.

    Text: Marcel Schlegel

The X-Class can handle almost any terrain.

Anyone who wants to surf the monster waves at Nazaré first has to battle their way through the treacherous sand dunes of the Praia do Norte. Further to the south, where the beach is more level and the sand finer, hundreds of tourists bask in the summer sun on Portugal’s Atlantic coast. However, the coast around the picturesque fishing village to the north is rocky and the beaches are a wilderness of untamed plants, palms and rocks. The X-Class from Mercedes-Benz effortlessly handles the rough and sandy terrain as it passes by a handful of local fishermen and their nets. Sebastian Steudtner is behind the wheel of the mid-size pick-up and headed for the world-famous surfing spot in Nazaré.

Sebastian Steudtner sits on the loading surface of his X-Class
Sebastian Steudtner leans against his Mercedes-Benz X-Class

Steudtner studies the waves like a wind report.

The 32-year-old German surfer parks his X-Class in a narrow trough between the dunes. Steudtner lifts his equipment out of the bed of the premium pick-up and throws his wetsuit onto the sand. Now he climbs onto the bed of the X-Class and looks out over the sea. He reads the waves like wind and weather reports. Sometimes he checks them hourly. The exceptional surfer has repeated this ritual thousands of times. These massive waves are exactly what has drawn Steudtner from Nuremberg to Nazaré. They are easily 20 meters high, weigh 500 tonnes and move at more than 70 km/h. Thunder announces the presence of the huge waves from far away. Music to Steudtner’s ears.

From Hawaii to the top of the world.

Sebastian Steudtner is a big wave surfer. He moved from southern Germany to Hawaii when he was 16 to focus on surfing. Steudtner became better and better and tackled ever bigger waves. He discovered his limits, failed, yet always kept on going out. He learned to gage the risks and pushed his boundaries. When he ran low on money he worked on construction sites. At 19 he ultimately went all in:

He decided to chase the big waves all over the world – with success. In 2004, Steudtner surfed a 20 meter high wave on the northern coast of Maui - the largest wave in the world at the time. A year later, he took his most dangerous ride at Teahupoo in Tahiti. With every wave, the Franconian has surfed his way up the world rankings. In 2009, he arrived at the top and took the Biggest Wave Award for the first time in January 2010.

Nazaré – harsh wind and salty sea.

But Nazaré is the place where he ultimately wrote history: Sebastian Steudtner walks the final meters to an impressive rocky outcrop near the Sao Miguel Acanjo fort with his surfboard held under his arm. Some days, hordes of spectators protected by wet weather gear flock around the red lighthouse where the massive waves ceaselessly pound the coast. They come to watch the amazing feats of surfing’s greats. Seen from up here, the pro surfers look like specks on the horizon.

Steudtner listens to the waves as they crash against Portugal’s Atlantic coast with a size and power seen almost nowhere else in the world. The wind is harsher than usual and the Atlantic’s salty scent stronger. Steudtner loves them both. It has been an essential part of his life since he first stood on a surfboard when he was nine years old.

Sebastian Steudtner walks along the beach with his surfboard under his arm

Steudtner is chasing McNamara’s world record.

For big wave surfers like Steudtner, Nazaré is the Mecca of waves. The small fishing village is always a home-coming for the 32-year-old. Here, 120 km away from Lisbon, the German celebrated his greatest success so far, which truly put him among the world’s best: In 2014, Steudtner challenged a 21 m high wave in Nazaré – and won. This was the second time the European won the “XXL Biggest Wave Award”. He repeated this hell ride a year later – and triumphed for the third time. However, the rocky coast at Nazaré also represents something else for the man from Nuremberg: a vision. Sebastian Steudtner is pursuing the world record that the scene’s expert and guru, Garrett McNamara, set in 2012 – also in Nazaré. The wave that the US American rode was 24 meters high - the highest a surfer had ever tackled. McNamara, now 50 and still active, spent years travelling the globe on his search for the ultimate wave. Before he finally settled down near Nazaré. All roads lead to Portugal. For big wave surfers, at least.

The Nazaré Canyon creates giant waves.

A deep sea chasm lies off the bay of Nazaré. The underwater canyon is five kilometers deep and 230 kilometers wide. It is the source of the massive waves. Allegedly, a wave more than 40 meters high has been seen here. On this day, Sebastian Steudtner is hoping for a wave like that as a jet ski toes him into the center of the waves. Any wave could be the highest. Steudtner is ready. He races ahead of the white water, almost founders several times before he finally finds his balance. No luck this time. The waves were too small to beat McNamara’s record. Yet Steudtner is still smiling as he walks towards his X-Class with his surfboard and lashes it onto the pick-up’s bed. Night is falling as Steudtner makes his way home. The pick-up transports him safely over the rough terrain. Sebastian Steudtner can rely on his X-Class. But today at least, not on the Atlantic’s surf. However, Sebastian Steudtner will be back. One day he will catch the perfect wave. And he will be ready. That is why Steudtner keeps on coming back – to the Praia do Norte in Nazaré.

Sebastian Steudtner loads his surfboard onto the bed of his X-Class