Two-time world champion in giant waves, Carlos Burle also pioneered tow-in surfing and is mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records for the performance in Mavericks. His biggest wave was surfed in Nazare Beach back in 2013 – something around 35 meters high that is now, of course, part of surf’s history. Besides training big riders, at 53, he keeps searching for new water mountains across the world – and has his own surf show on Off Channel.
Clara Jardim: Carlos, you’ve started your story inside the ocean when your parents took you to the beach after a pediatrician’s recommendation, but you were very small. Do you have any memories of that?
Carlos Burle: At that moment, when my mother was advised to take me to the beach by the pediatrician, I was very young – two years old. And I have a few intense memories from that time. It was a life full of nature and freedom. We lived on a farm; my father was a chicken farmer. There were lots of animals, a great abundance of fruit trees. Also, a lot of love and affection from my parents. And there was an intense relationship with these elements. I believe that, from the beginning, I was encouraged to live in the elements that would lead me to choose surfing in the future.
Clara Jardim: You were about 13 when you saw older boys on the beach with colored surfboards and thought “I want this type of life”. How did you get into the world of surfing at the time?
Carlos Burle: This was really an interesting moment. I was a teenager and had my questions. My family wanted me to choose what to do for a living. I had already suffered a major trauma – my parents’ split – when I was 8 years old. There were those problems of growing up with divorced parents and their new relationships. And I was looking for my place. I realized that society was very hypocritical and, at the same time, very dominating. You were driven to do what society wanted. Like any boy who had this rebellion feeling, when I saw that scene of four young people carrying their colored surfboards, everyone tanned… I thought it all had something to do with me. It was the counterculture; I’ve never seen that before. There was a relationship with nature, and I wanted to get involved with this sport. At that time, I had no idea where it was going to take me, but this sport fulfilled my desire to say “no” to everything that was being imposed on me – what my family, my parents, my relatives and society wanted for me. And most important of all, surfing would take me to that environment that I’ve always loved. I didn’t go to farms anymore like when I was younger; I was already living in a big city. That was the life of a teenage boy who went to school and was constantly questioned. I thought surfing would take me back to the origins of a deep relationship with nature. So, these two elements were super important – going against society and being close to nature.
Clara Jardim: How does your mind work while you surf a giant wave in Nazare? Are your thoughts just technical, one after the other? Do you think for a fraction of a second that it can end badly? Tell me what is it like for you, alone on a giant wave, surviving it.
Carlos Burle: When you’re going to surf a big wave – there’s adrenaline and stress in the situation, because you know there is danger, and danger puts you on alert -, you don’t connect much with the thought that disconnects you from that moment. That’s a moment of flow, of being present. Reflexes are conditioned to everything you have trained. You have to be very present to help your body react in the right way. So, it’s a very great ecstasy caused by strong feelings of adrenaline, survival, euphoria, fear. The presence of risk. You’re so close to death… It makes you feel very much alive – very much. But you don’t digress, there is no room for long thoughts. Those little fractions of a second when family, children, wife and parents sometimes go through your mind may even happen, but they aren’t the main thing. The main thing is the reaction you’re having to those super intense moments on that wave. The jump you’re making on the surface. The wave that is trying to catch you. You have to be very present for the right reaction.
Clara Jardim: You’re admired all over the world for records within the sea. However, there was a time when your own father didn’t put faith in surfing as a job. How was it to go through this disbelief?
Carlos Burle: Going through this challenge of proving I could make a living from surfing – proving to my parents, my family and society – and really making my dream come true, but a dream that wasn’t to show everyone I could be a world champion or perform well… Because, at that moment, I didn’t even know that I would get where I am now, or that the sport would evolve as much as it did. What is very clear to me is that these challenges motivated me much more than anything. My great intention in the sport was to demonstrate that we shouldn’t have prejudices and judgments about people – labeling and discriminating against people for their choices – and that everyone should have the right to try. With good intention, focus, determination, discipline… you can do it. For me, it’s very pleasant. Not only did it motivate me, but it also gave me the strength to continue during my difficult times. I have memories of very strong emotions, of crying really. And telling myself that I would not give up. This love, this whole belief, this emotion that is difficult to describe, it’s very powerful. You need those energies conspiring on your side to achieve these things in life. And when all of this is very true, that energy multiplies. It gets even stronger. I am very grateful for all of this. If I hadn’t taken all the challenges to that side of the road, and looked for motivation and the opportunity for growth in my challenges and obstacles, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I’m very grateful for everything I have lived. Very grateful to all of my relationships; the relationship with my father. My parents, family, society, everything. Today, I understand it much more clearly. I also labeled, I also judged. And I see that this friction is important. The world is perfect for provoking in us a situation of need to create something new, to create something better, to get out of the ordinary. And the new generations will have different challenges than ours. I think it’s all really cool, life is very dynamic. We have to understand, trust. I understand, I trust, I accept and I thank.
Clara Jardim: The sea is your philosophy, and your values are strong. What are the things you refuse to leave behind in your life today?
Carlos Burle: Look, I don’t give up on my quality of life. And there is a rather harsh phrase that I say to myself a lot: you have to fit into society. Society is not just you, what you want. The world is not just what we want. It’s also what life wants for us. What it provides for us to evolve. The universe is always wiser. In the business world, I can even sell my image. But I will not sell my soul. And when I say that, there are very important things for me – such as being able to be who I am, be with the people I want, have the life I want, close to the elements I like, with the routine I choose. Sleep early, wake up early. Being able to do my practices. Have time for me, for my family, for my friends. I will not give up on these things. No way I would give up. I think it’s super important for you to understand yourself, to have self-knowledge. Because you’ll need to make several decisions, choose one path or another. And when you know yourself better, you get to choose the things that are the best for you. I’ll not give that up. Because I know that happiness is in the simplest things. Happiness is in you doing good for yourself and the people who are by your side. Having emotional balance. This is your biggest contribution to the world. The biggest and most true transformation you can do is when you’re balanced, at peace, at ease. In this world where we’re often questioned and left in doubt, tempted to run away from our own values, you need to be very sure not to give up those things that you love so much. And I will not give up on what I love. Nature, family, friends, quality of life. This is very important to me.