Nicole Pacelli bottom turns for the crowd at Jaws. Photo: Fabio Dias

SUP Women | Nicole Pacelli On Big-Wave SUP Surfing

Interview by Rebecca Parsons

Nicole Pacelli isn't your average standup paddler. Not only did she bring home the first ever women's Standup World Tour title in 2013, but in 2014 she became among the first women to SUP surf at Jaws. Now, Pacelli remains a fierce contender on the tour as well a regular in the lineup at Jaws. Here, the Brazilian shares what it's like being a female in big-wave surfing and gives us some insight on training for and riding waves of consequence. –RP

Why did you decide to get into big-wave surfing?
Since I was a little kid I liked big waves; I think it's because of my dad. He always told me stories about his big-wave sessions and he showed me confidence in the ocean. He always kept calm in gnarly conditions and I learned from him.

When was your first time surfing big waves?
The first time was when I went to Hawaii when I was nineteen, in January of 2011. It was my first time in Hawaii and I went straight to Maui with my sister because our dad was spending the winter there. My dad was planning to surf a big swell at Jaws—it was going to be 30 feet—and I wanted to go with him. It was the first time I saw a big wave in my life!

What was that first experience like?
I was scared on the way to Jaws because I didn't know how it would be; I was anxious to get there and see the wave. The wave was the most impressive thing I'd ever seen! I wasn't scared anymore once my dad started towing me to get my first wave. I got focused to do everything right and not fall. I released the rope, made the drop and rode the wave all the way to the channel! It was the best feeling I ever had.

When you're out surfing big waves are there ever any other girls?
I was the first and only girl that SUP surfed Jaws! My first wave there was in December 2014. I'm always the only girl SUP surfing on the big days, but there are some girls charging on regular boards.

What's it like being a female in big wave surfing?
It's hard to do a thing that nobody's done before, you need to be really confident about yourself. Being a female in big wave surfing riding a SUP is even harder. People think because you're a girl you can't handle gnarly situations. Imagine being a girl riding a SUP in the middle of the crowd in a 20-foot swell! I have to prove myself and conquer my space with every new spot I go to. It's challenging, but it's worth it!

How do you mentally prepare for riding big waves?
The most important thing in big-wave surfing is being mentally prepared. It's normal to have fear: it helps me make better decisions. I know my limits, but like every sport I want to overcome them. I think that's the biggest achievement a big-wave surfer can have.

What has been your scariest big-wave experience?
A couple years ago I went to an outer reef in Oahu with my SUP. It was just me, my boyfriend, and a friend surfing. The spot is really far from shore and you can barely see the beach, so it's difficult to know if you are in the right spot to get the wave. Suddenly a big set came and it broke just in front of me; I was in the worst spot I could be in. I got five waves on my head,15-foot, barreling waves and I lost my paddle. It was when I first started getting big waves so it was really heavy for me.

What are your plans for SUP surfing this year?
I'm going to compete on the AAP World Tour and I want to do well this year. I’m also training to get big waves with my regular gun to put an entry in the XXL because they don't accept waves ridden by SUP. I want to have a chance to compete in the Big Wave World Tour. I also want to surf some big waves never surfed by a SUP girl, I have some spots in mind.