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On It : Nic Von Rupp

NIC VON RUPP STRUGGLES WITH HIS GARDEN. THE BIG OPEN SPACE BEHIND HIS HOUSE IN LISBON, WITH SWEEPING VIEWS OF THE DISTANT OCEAN AND ROLLING GREEN HILLS, IT GOES WILD EVERY TIME HE LEAVES. AND THEN HE COMES HOME AND FIXES IT UP, KNOWING FULL WELL THE CYCLE WILL REPEAT ITSELF.
Photo: Paul Baker

Right now, he wants to eat something he’s grown. Walking amongst the trees and bushes, he can tell you a story for every plant: “This one was a gift from a neighbor, and this was planted just before I bought the place…”

He knows their struggles: “This one has stayed the same size for three years now,” and “The weeds take this area over every time I leave…”

Nic likes the idea of gardening. And maybe someday that will go well for him. But these days, Nic is a hunter.

As much as he loves being home, the call of the ocean is always stronger.

Back in the kitchen, he points to a swell map on his laptop. “In Europe,” he says, “it’s not just about the purple blobs. We have 20-foot swells every second day. For us, it’s all about the wind. Good wind is rare.”

Nic runs a tight ship. It’s just his nature. Organized. Motivated. Humble and well-spoken. With piercing blue eyes and a peaceful man-bun, you just want to take him home to your parents. He has many friends. But when it comes to chasing waves, it’s no tea party. Nic is a lone wolf.

He’s clever, too. Not just by the way he slips easily in and out of four languages. It’s like he always doing some physics equation in his mind. One that involves multiple airplanes, dozens of emails, painful baggage fees and winds on the far side of the world. The result is predictable. Nic gets shacked.

Portugal is his playground. He flies the flag proud. “This is only capital city in the world surrounded by waves,” he says. “You can be in the big city shopping or eating, then within 30 minutes you can find beaches, pointbreaks, reef breaks, and big waves.”

Nic’s father is German. His mother is Swiss. They were living in California when his older brother was born, then moved to Portugal to have him. Hence the four languages. But his Portuguese heritage is not to be questioned. It’s in his eyes when he speaks. He loves this country. And he’s not wrong to: surfers are moving to Portugal in droves these days. It’s the new Bali.

He remembers being in the Philippines for a qualifying prime event while his friends chased a swell to the Mentawais. While the 1-foot surf was blown out in Balita, Nic saw photos and video of everyone else scoring the best Kandui ever. His dream wave. The FOMO nearly killed him. “That was the breaking point for me,” he says. “I quit the tour right then and never looked back. Best decision of my life.”

Quitting was easy. Forging a new career as a Portuguese freesurfer was not. Nic’s not in a band. He’s not a painter, a DJ or a Malloy brother. He’s built his freesurfing valuation on his carefully curated video series’. My Road. Reef Road. The secret sauce is invariably Nic being in the right place at the right time. Over and over and over…he's always in the spot.

Nic chuckles when people say that. Yes… he knows. It’s his full-time focus. He’s got friends everywhere. Phone numbers. Emails. A little black book of swell tipsters all over Europe.

“Portugal really loves surfing these days,” he says. “It’s like the second biggest sport here.”

It wasn’t always this way. When young Nic told his friends and family his dreams of being a pro surfer, they had no idea what that even meant. They thought he planned to teach lessons. Professional surfing did not exist in Portugal.

Over the last decade, a few pioneers – Tiago Pires, most notably – forged a trail for their country on the world tour. Young Nic was determined to in their footsteps. It was always his plan. He was a strong competitor. And he enjoyed the travel.

What he didn’t enjoy, was the schedule.

And when he gets there, he charges. Nic says he’s not a big wave surfer, but he rides plenty of big waves. He’s not an air guy, but he can certainly huck some up there. Turns, yes. Tubes, oh yes. Nic’s just a charger. A slab-hunter. Stoked for everything. Chasing it all at once. Head down and paddling hard. In a fluorescent green wetsuit.

If Portugal’s got waves, he’s home. He’s on them. Driving all day. Checking spot after spot after spot. He’ll surf everything. He’ll surf himself into exhaustion. “It’s like a madness takes over me,” he says.


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