A Spectacular Collapse or the Greatest Victory Ever

The Challenge

On the 12th of June 2018 the waves were small but fun at Carcavelos, and we were the only ones in the water, with the idea always in our minds that the best surfer is the one who enjoys himself the most. And we were always the best surfers. During a break between sets, or rather between the little waves, I asked my surf students if they thought it was a good idea for us to apply to take part in the 3rd Red Bull Grand Prix, a sort of thematic soap-box race that was coming to Portugal for the third time. It was a good opportunity for us to start a project from scratch. It also had a pedagogic aspect in that it would demonstrate that we are capable of anything as long as we are prepared to go beyond ourselves and to give up our free time.

The surfers in the water thought that it was a good idea. When I think about it now, I believe that none of us fully understood the challenge that we were getting ourselves into. After our surf I began to investigate how we could apply, and I asked Red Bull to send us a participant’s pack.

The following Sunday we met up in the offices of the Surf Social Wave Association and began to think about what we could present as our idea. As far as I was concerned, it had to be connected to the sea. But the project wasn’t mine, it was ours, and therefore we worked together to come up with an idea. That idea was brilliantly conceived of by Ana, and thanks to her talent and our incentives she presented us with Moby.

1st Victory — Challenge Accepted

On the 28th of June we received an email informing us that we had been accepted to take our place on the starting grid on the 9th of September. Yes, it was true! Our project had been accepted! When we next met it was in a classroom for training in entrepreneurship and we began to work out how we could meet the challenge, which had seemed so distant when the Surf Social Wave project, whose main objective is to empower people through surfing, was born in October 2017. We sat down at the table in the training room, made the required measurements for our Moby, and discussed how it could be built and what materials we could use. We overcomplicated things, and then simplified them again. We presented ideas, and then deconstructed them. We built up a project, planning each stage that we had to go through, and we decided there and then that we had to have the chassis ready by the end of July. And where oh where were we going to find the money to do all this? I told myself, as I always do, that that was not the problem, although I also know that it always is.

2nd Victory — Helping costs nothing and is worth a lot

You could call it Karma, God, or anything else that makes you feel good, but in the end we were able to get together all of the materials that we needed for the chassis. As it turned out, through the admirable help of Paula, Jorge (one of our team)’s wife, who provided all of the steel that we needed, as well as the wood for the base and also two luxury seats for our driver, Bruno, and co-driver, Tânia.

The next step was to build the frame, or more specifically, to weld it. The hot weather at the end of July meant that we didn’t manage to get it done, above all because my “Zebrinha” (“Little Zebra”), a 1991 Renault Traffic van, quickly overheats and therefore driving when the temperature is over 23 degrees is out of the question. We therefore had no trouble missing our first deadline, which was to have the chassis ready by the end of July. It is always good to plan and fail, because it makes us plan better the next time.

And then August began, that marvellous month in which the Portuguese world is on holidays. So we stopped. We went on holiday with the peace of mind of those who know that everything is under control and that two weeks is more than enough time to get everything done.

In the middle of August I received news that the person who was going to help us weld the chassis was no longer available and in spite of that I let time slip by without worrying too much about the ticking of the clock and always confident that the solution was right at hand.

3rd Victory — The Chassis at Last

When we finally got back it was already the 27th of August and the 9th of September was just around the corner. After a few attempts I fell back on social media to ‘ask for recommendations’ for welding a ‘piece’ … and in less than two hours two of my friends — of the kind that we really do know — offered their help. “Massive” Michael is the best Portuguese slackliner/trickliner, and one of the top ten in the world, and we had been jointly responsible for slackline taking off in Portugal. It turned out that he was also a most capable welder, was at that time on his way back from Europe looking for work, and had a window of two days to lend us a hand. But he had no materials, only know-how and availability. And then Ricardo, who I’d had many soap-box races with when we were children, as well as innumerable games of football and many bicycle prangs, brought along João Paulo, who has a factory — yes, that’s right — a factory, and he immediately provided us with a space, along with all the welding material that we might need.

And so the next day I went with Michael and Leonor to Venda do Pinheiro in my “Zebrinha”, which was huffing and puffing from the heat. We arrived after a pit stop at the first petrol station on the A8 motorway. We began welding with enthusiasm, and I felt confident at that moment that we would be there on the 9th of September with Moby. It was the 29th of August and we had a chassis.

Hard Work — Intensive Construction

The following Saturday we met up in my office to begin building Moby. There were four of us on that day, and 35 kilos of welded steel. We thought it over again, exchanged ideas, spent the day putting things together, and by the end of the day we had mounted the back axle, fitted the wood and about 15 plastic water bottles stuck on to old fishing rods with cheap Sellotape (to form Moby’s skeleton). Yes siree, you could already see that it was a blue whale spouting water!

The week after that we spent the afternoons and part of the nights gluing, assembling, painting, taking things apart and putting them back together again. On Sunday the 2nd of September we had already placed the foam on top of the bottles and fishing rods, and the only thing left to do was to fit the old rash vests (which would form Moby’s skin). As it turned out this was a much more difficult task than we could have imagined. Lycra is elastic. Yes, I know we’re all aware of that, but in reality we really don’t appreciate it. As far as what I personally still had to do, the only things missing were the steering system, brake, seats, horn and the water spout. In other words, practically nothing!

And so the final week began, and the 18 hours of training that still had to be done turned into on-the-job training. And in reality it took maybe 36 hours of intense work beyond our schedule, carried out at all times with dedication, willingness, and a lot of creativity.

Almost there

On Thursday the 6th of September I went back to João Paulo’s factory with Ricardo to produce the final version of the steering system, which was to be like a soap-box on steroids! But we couldn’t get it finished. It was only on the following day, Friday the 7th of September — less than 24 hours before check-in — that the steering system was sorted out. And the brake, and the seats. The only things still missing were the horn and the water spout. During those days all I could think about was a poster I’d once seen while running a marathon, which said ‘Back in June it seemed like a good idea’. But all of us were being tenacious, once more paddling out beyond the break, getting waves on the head and always confident that the perfect wave was heading our way. No fear and no hesitation.

5th Victory — Ready to Rock and Roll

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon of the 8th of September we checked-in at Eduardo VII Park and, and far as we were concerned, won the 3rd Red Bull Grand Prix soap-box race. Our Moby had everything that was required for the race, it was the most original, with the best back-story, built in the fashion that our planet ought to be, in an inclusive way, with people who hadn’t met helping each other, joining forces on a common project, using recycled materials, and with a powerful message for everyone fortunate enough to see it on television or at first hand. Moby is one of the most spectacular projects that I have been involved in, and it was an honour to be able to work on it with ANA, BRUNO, CLÁUDIA, LEONOR, JOÃO, JORGE, RUBEN and TÂNIA. And it would not have been possible without the help of João Paulo, Paula, Michael, Ricardo,Devo, Beatriz, Filipe and Rita.

6th Victory and a Spectacular Collapse

The 9th of September was a day full of nerves, confusion, and exposure. Moby was the 35th soap-box to race..

At around 4 p.m. we headed off to the starting grid feeling confident but nervous. Our Moby was singing her whale song, and with butterflies in our stomachs we went up onto the platform where we would get our race under way. We gave our interview, and our presentation, which scored 36 points out of a possible 40. Moby spouted water and hit the track, only to buckle beneath us right in front of the VIP section, where she remained until the end of the race, much to the delight of all of Red Bull’s guests. We jumped out of Moby and ran all the way down to the checked flag. We had won our race, covered in sweat and with legs a-tremble. We got a 24th place overall.

Thank you is the only word I have left to say in this chronicle, from the spectacular collapse with the greatest taste the victory that I have given.

Portuguese version here

António Pedro de Sá Leal was born in 1971 in Lisbon, graduated in Philosophy at Universidade Nova de Lisboa.