Sebastian Steudtner (Germany) is always, 100% committed to his plan A. No plan Bs.
This inspiring mentality — as well as a thorough preparation — allowed Steudtner to make history by riding the largest wave (unlimited) - male.
He broke the record in October 2020 off the coast of Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal, when he surfed through a wave that measured a whopping 26.21 m (86 feet).
The video of his majestic challenge has recently gone viral, while the ride won the Biggest Tow Award at the 2021 Red Bull Big Wave Awards.
Now 37, Steudtner has chased the waves his whole life.
When he was only 13, he decided he would move to Hawaii.
It took him three years but, at the age of 16, he finally managed to convince his parents and, alone, he left Germany for the surfers’ paradise to pursue a career in surfing.
It wasn’t easy, he recalls, and many didn’t support or understand his decision to move out and relocate to the other side of the world.
However, that risky decision paid off: today, Steudtner is one of the most celebrated surfers in the world. He counts many wins under his belt and, now, a Guinness World Records title.
"It feels amazing," Steudtner says regarding his new title.
"I have achieved everything there is in my sport. It has been a crazy journey to get here and the record is much more than just a number."
"Congratulations to Sebastian for this incredible achievement," said Jessi Miley-Dyer, Head of Competition at World Surf League and first First World Surf League World Junior Champ.
"We are so proud to celebrate him as the new men’s Guinness World Records title holder for the largest wave surfed."
"Sebastian exemplifies the courage and commitment of big wave athletes around the world." - Jessi Miley-Dyer
With the presence of an adjudicator, the achievement was officially announced during a special certificate presentation on 24 May 2022.
The event took place at the famous lighthouse that stands watch over the record-breaking waves of Praia do Norte, Portugal.
The same lighthouse is visible in the epic video that immortalized Steudtner's incredible record.
"It was the first big day of the season and it felt like we started from zero to 100," Steudtner recalls, going back to that October day when he hopped on a surfboard and challenged an epic wave.
"The first thing I thought when we checked the numbers on the forecast was: oh sh*t, this is the biggest thing I've ever seen."
"On the morning of the 29th, there was an extreme uncertainty. What's going to happen now, how will it feel, what will it be like to stand on the board for the first time again after that long break? Then the feeling prevailed that I have waited six months for it, and I was happy to finally surf again."
"The day was very, very intense." - Sebastian Steudtner
"I've never experienced so much energy in the waves, I've never been so fast on a surfboard."
The record-breaking athlete has won the World Surf League Biggest Wave Award three times– in 2010, 2015 and 2021.
All year long, he prepares for competitions with his team.
To face every wave and not risk a wipe out is important to ensure the best possible preparation, mental and physical.
"It's a year long very physical training, working on my equipment together with my partners and improving processes with my team, especially safety and media wise."
During training, Steudtner's big wave partner is Brazil’s Maya Gabeira, the current title holder for the largest wave surfed (unlimited) – female.
Gabeira has broken her record in 2020, riding a 22.4 m (73.5 ft) wave always at the infamous Praia do Norte, on the coast of Nazaré.
But how can something as explosive, ever-changing and quick as a giant wave be measured?
The accuracy of the wave's measurement can vary for several factors, from the weather conditions to the angles and quality of the footage.
In this case, to ensure maximum precision, several frames from the video footage were extracted and corrected geometrically based on the camera position and inclination.
Then, known objects (such as Steudtner himself) were used to measure and convert pixels into feet.
Thanks to this process, it was possible to confirm that Steudtner had surpassed the previous record — which had been broken by Rodrigo Koxa (Brazil) in 2017.
Koxa rode a record-breaking wave on November 8, 2017, at the same location of Praia do Norte, Nazaré.
The coast is famous for its titanic, powerful waves thanks to the presence of the underwater Nazaré Canyon, which creates the best conditions for record-breaking waves.
In what Steudtner defines as "a pinnacle moment" in his career, he surpassed Koxa's measurement by 6 feet and snatched the record.
"October 2020 was also a pinnacle moment: everything just came together that day," the German surfer told the Spanish newspaper Marca. "It's also the fastest I ever felt going on a surfboard."
"I had tears coming out of my eyes because of the wind, my face was melting. It was crazy. I didn't imagine that could happen in surfing until that day."
Steudtner works hard to prepare for competitions and always aims to be in a space of complete preparation (mental and physical) and trust.
He needs to trust himself, but also his jet ski drivers and safety team.
However, he also reports to Marca that, when it comes to bad experiences, "the most scared I've been was never for me, but for the other people".
That is why Steudtner is also co-founder and president of the Nazaré Surf Rescue Association (NSRA).
Through the association, he strives to improve the safety standards in big wave surfing.
As for the future, Steudtner continues to dream big.
"Success motivates me even more," he says.
At the moment, he's analysing every detail of his performances to target areas where he can improve.
"There's still a lot of room for improvement," he says, "especially on the technology side of this sport."
In the future, that could maybe mean more records for him - and we are looking forward to see what challenges Steudtner will face next.
"Success makes me want to go further beyond my limits and see what else there is to reach."