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Friday, April 10, 2009
Updated: June 15, 1:21 PM ET
Behind Belharra

Axi Muniain charging down the slope at Belharra and legitimizing Europe's place in the big-wave pantheon.

When talking of big-wave surfing, up until the last couple of years Europe never would have even entered the discussion. There was far too much chest-pounding going on at places like Jaws and Maverick's, but the Atlantic can be an angry bitch, and being the gluttons for punishment that they are, surfers are just now starting to take advantage of that fact. This year 27-year-old Axier Muniain from Zarautz, Spain, is nominated for the Billabong XXL Biggest Wave award, which as you can see by the photo above, is no small feat. This new breed of Euro waterman has been flying relatively low under the radar, so we thought we'd get Axier to offers up some insight:

Axi in an obviously more comfortable state of mind.
When did you start surfing?
I surfed for the first time when I was 13 years old, but took it serious a year after. So I've been surfing for the past 14 years. I started competing a year after I started, and then I became a free surfer four years ago, however I'm still competing in some local, or special events that I feel are important for my sponsors.

When did you start surfing big waves?
I always liked the world of big waves, so I started making bigger boards and giving it a go. I started surfing big waves in Karramarro. The curious thing is that I promised myself I would never surf Roca Puta, as it was a foolishness thing to do and I did not want to risk my life. And now, today, it has become a small wave for me [laughs].

You've been nominated for the Billabong XXL Awards before, how many times?
My waves have been entered into this event during the past three seasons. I got to the final nomination twice, the first time in 2006 for the paddle category, and twice this year for Paddle and Big wave, both at Belharra. I surfed the paddle one I have been nominated on the 16th of January and the Big Wave two days later.

What's the biggest wave you ever ridden?
Both were at Belharra this year. For me was a big sensation, but, I don't know how big there were, I never measure the waves, it doesn't matter for me. I don't like numbers.

Can you describe those days prior and during the Belharra swell?
I always wanted to surf Belharra, and I needed "the board" for those conditions, so I ordered a special board last winter just for that. We didn't know if Belharra was gonna break this year, however I had to be ready just in case in happened soon. We kept it secret, because I didn't want people to start talking about something they were not sure about or misunderstandings, especially because I didn't want a hear negative comments about if I would be able to do it or not.

Then, my new 12'6" was ready. By the time when it was just made, it was the biggest one in Europe. It was made by Jonny Cabianca. It was so big that he had to struggle and create new forms of shaping and get the right foam. We had foam for big paddle boards, but they were too flat, so we had to create something new. Now a friend of mine from the Landes just made a 14-foot board. I'm not sure if its finished yet, so now there is one board around bigger than mine.

When the board was ready tried it in Playa Gris the day before Belharra (15th of Jan) and we realized that I needed some more weight on the board. That same day in the evening I bought a curtain rod and put in on the stringer of the board, then added some 800-gram weights. That way I was able to move the weight up and down the board depending the size of the wave...a very homemade solution that worked out.

On the 16th of January we arrived early in the morning, and as I never surfed Belharra before we called all of the locals for their permission, and then once we got the OK we went for it. I got two paddle waves that day.

Did you think about the Billabong XXL awards prior the day?
Well, riding big waves is a passion for me, so I don't ride big waves just for fame or to win a contest. I understand that big waves create a lot of media attention, and also its good for my sponsors, however I admit that when a big swell is about to arrive I always remember the Billabong XXL Awards, maybe because I have already been there and it brings me memories. I would lie if I say the opposite.