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German big wave surfer turns to science to tame the breakers

MUNICH, GERMANY (AFP) – Sebastian Steudtner already holds the world record for the largest wave ever surfed, but as the giant wave season begins, the German is looking to science and technology to chase a new high.

Harnessing the technical prowess of racecar maker Porsche and autoparts specialist Schaeffler, Steudtner is seeking to dwarf his record 26.21-metre wave set in Nazare, Portugal three years ago.

“With the world record wave I realised I’ve reached a limit for how fast my board can go,” Steudtner told AFP of his last run, involving the wave reaching the equivalent of around eight storeys.

“Together with Porsche, we asked ourselves how we could make the board faster and more stable,” said the 38-year-old Bavarian.

Surfers who increase their speed can take on bigger swells – although it’s not just a question of a “need for speed” but a question of safety as well.

“Speed is so important to us because the bigger the wave, the more speed I have to have to get away from it,” said Steudtner.

“The power of the wave is an absolute force,” he said, “like having several buildings pushing you.”

German surfer Sebastian Steudtner poses with his new board at the booth of German car producer Porsche of the IAA Automobile show in Munich, Germany. PHOTO: AFP

Steudtner said the pressure of riding the biggest waves means surfers need to know their equipment will allow them to focus on the run itself.

Describing his record-breaking Nazare run in 2020, when he added almost two metres to the previous mark, he said, “I shoot across the wave at 80 kilometres an hour and concentrate 100 per cent.”

“I don’t think about the past, the present and the future.

“I’m in the flow. I don’t have time to think ‘wow, this wave is beautiful’.”

Technological innovations could take the sport “to a higher level”, he said.

To truly let surfers harness and master the force of the ocean, surfboards need not only to be faster, but also more stable and manoeuvrable at extreme speeds.

Porsche engineers helped develop a new board with an adapted nose, tail and edges to improve the hydrodynamics.

Schaeffler developed a friction-reducing coating which helps the board glide through the water.

Through tests in a wind-tunnel simulator, Steudtner was able to see how he should position himself on the board as it handles monster waves.

With the power of science and design in tow, the German may be only days away from testing the board on the biggest stage of all.

“I’ll have to give my best”.