Surfers seek world records during St. Jude storm

A major storm that packed hurricane-force gusts lashed southern Britain, the Netherlands and parts of France on Monday. (Associated Press)

Thirteen people died in heavy rain and strong winds in western Europe and southern Britain on Monday in what some have called the St. Jude’s Day storm. At the same time, a group of adventuresome surfers on the Portuguese coast might have set a new world record for wave height. Trees were toppled across the region, and cars, ferries, planes, and trains were stranded by the weather:

London’s Heathrow Airport, Europe’s busiest, cancelled at least 130 flights and giant waves prompted the major English port of Dover to close, cutting off ferry services to France.

Nearly 1,100 passengers had to ride out the storm on a heaving ferry from Newcastle in Britain to the Dutch port of Ijmuiden after strong winds and heavy seas blocked it from docking in the morning. The ship returned to the North Sea to wait for the wind to die down rather than risk being smashed against the harbor’s walls, Teun-Wim Leene of DFDS Seaways told national broadcaster NOS.

In central London, a huge building crane near the prime minister’s office crumpled in the gusts. The city’s overburdened transit system faced major delays and cancellations and did not recover even once the weather swept to the east.

Trains were canceled in southern Sweden and Denmark. Winds blew off roofs, with debris reportedly breaking the legs of one man. Near the Danish capital of Copenhagen, the storm ripped down the scaffolding from a five-story apartment building.

Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport saw delays as strong gusts prevented passengers from using boarding bridges to disembark from planes to the terminals.

In Germany, the death toll hit six, with four people killed in three separate accidents Monday involving trees falling on cars, the dpa news agency reported. A sailor near Cologne was killed Sunday when his boat capsized and a fisherman drowned northeast of the city.

In addition to widespread rail disruptions, both Duesseldorf and Hamburg airports saw many flights cancelled, stranding more than 1,000 passengers.

Thousands of homes in northwestern France also lost electricity, while in the Netherlands several rail lines shut down and airports faced delays. Amsterdam’s central railway station was closed due to storm damage.

Associated Press

Meanwhile, daredevils took their surfboards to Praia do Norte near Nazaré, Portugal, where they might have ridden some of the largest waves ever surfed:

During the swell whipped up by Monday’s storm it seems the British surfer Andrew Cotton and the Brazilian Carlos Burle took on waves that may yet break the all-time record, which currently stands at 78ft (23.8m).

The pictures and video emerging from Monday show that surfing is not all about golden Hawaiian sand. The astonishing waves in Portugal emerged from a storm-tossed sea driven in from the Atlantic, as crowds watched wrapped up against the rain and bitter cold. . . .

Cotton, from Devon, and Brule are now waiting to see if either of them will be crowned champion, as experts measure the height of their respective waves. The first images suggest either one of them may have gone over the current record of 78ft, set in the same spot in November 2011 by Garrett McNamara. The record will be announced in May next year, at the Billabong XXL Awards.

The Guardian

Burle rode his wave only after rescuing one of his friends, who nearly drowned:

A day that ended with what might be a record barely avoided tragedy early on. Maya Gabeira, a good friend of Burle’s, wiped out and was knocked unconscious. Burle, manning the jet ski, came to her aid but was thwarted multiple times as he first attempted to load her onto the rescue sled, then get her to grab onto a tow rope. But Gabeira was weak and groggy and kept being forced under by the surf.

Finally Burle jumped off the jet ski and was able to drag Gabeira to shore. . . .

Gabeira was taken to the hospital, where she’s listed in stable condition with a broken ankle. She posted this photo to Facebook, with the partial caption, “My dear friends, a broken ankle. Nothing more... Some salt water, but you know! I just need some prayer for a speedy recovery!!! Love u all.”

Once it was clear that Gabeira would be all right, Burle somehow managed to get back in the lineup and, perhaps, make a bit of history.

Deadspin

The storm has been named for St. Jude’s feast day, which was Monday. As the Guardian notes, Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, was a disciple of Jesus.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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