Dave Langer has dedicated his life to chasing waves. Born and raised in raised in Fullerton, California, Langer spent his teenage years ditching school in hopes of scoring when there was a big swell. Although he admits it was an irresponsible choice, surfing would ultimately go on to save his life.
By the time he was eighteen, Langer developed a drug problem that he attributed to the lack of waves and action in his inland community. Around the same time, he began taking annual trips to Oahu’s North Shore, where’d he’d spend three weeks surfing some of the biggest and best waves of his life.
“Living on the North Shore afforded me the opportunity to get away from my drug problem,” says Langer. “Each time I came back, I swore I wouldn’t do it again, but then I’d fall back into it.”
When he was twenty, Langer officially made the move to the North Shore and decided it was time to turn his life around. He started eating healthy, worked out regularly, surfed frequently, and eventually quit drugs. As he spent more time in the Aloha State, everything about his life started changing for the better.
In 2004, the southern California native took a trip to Maui and got a huge barrel at Jaws. By 2005, Langer had relocated to Maui and began regularly surfing big waves, pursuing surfing as both a profession and a passion.
Fast forward to 2013 and Langer became captivated by images of Nazare. He was drawn to Portugal by the promise of big, beautiful waves with no one on them. In 2014, he made the move official and quickly became a regular in the lineup at Nazare.
“We drove over the hill and I saw this amazing, perfect wave that blew my mind,” Langer says of the first time he laid eyes on Nazare. “It’s the eighth wonder of the world—it’s something you can’t even imagine until you see it in person.”
Nazare is equal parts mesmerizing and dangerous. According to Langer, in order to surf the wave you are required by law to have two skis in the water and someone on the cliff with a radio. In addition to surfing, Langer regularly drives a ski and runs safety. He’s one of the most trusted drivers out there—partially because he’s good at what he does and partially because there are few willing to risk their lives and do what it takes to go in and rescue someone when they fall.
“As a surfer, I can tell you when I’m with someone who really knows what they’re doing coupled with one or two running safety who also know what they’re doing, everything feels right,” says Langer. “Anything short of that and it starts to feel a little sketchy.”
As with most things, big wave surfing comes with a lot of politics. The surfers, jet ski drivers/safety crew, and WSL are often at heads, trying to agree on the best approach to keeping the athletes safe. Langer acknowledges that running safety is a huge responsibility but when a team works together well and everything lines up, the results can be amazing.
The season for Nazare usually runs about six months and on a good day, there will 30,000 people lining the cliffs eager to witness the power of Portugal’s most famous wave. On days like that, there are 10-20 skis in the water, with 5-10 surfers on rope, hunting for waves at one of the many peaks.
Langer is blown away by the talent he sees in big wave surfing and Kai Lenny’s work at riding switch stance on massive waves. Langer says being frontside on a wave like Nazare is essential for safety, so being able to comfortably switch up you stance can be a game changer.
Additionally, Langer is eager to see more big wave events happen regularly. During the winter, Nazare consistenlty has waves on tap and he’s working to start up big wave major and minor surf leagues, with multiple teams, similar to other mainstream sports.
“[Nazare] is the wave I’ve dedicated my life to,” says Langer. “This is the wave I left my children in Hawaii for. It’s more consistent that any other big wave spot—it’s bigger and more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. There’s nothing else like it.”
Dave Langer seen here with his COR Surf Dry Backpack. Essential for his days on the Ski at Nazare.