"When the big-wave star was pulled from the water, he had no pulse. It took more than a minute for medical personnel to revive him."
On February 9, 2022, the noted Portuguese big wave surfer and 2019 Big Wave Tour top-six finisher, Alexandre Antonio Keja Botelho sued the World Surf League in California state court.
Bill Sharp, the General Manager of the Big Wave World Tour, and Scott Eggers, the Safety Director of the Big Wave World Tour, were also named as defendants.
The suit stems from the 2020 Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge, held on February 11, 2020. During the event, Botelho was involved in a jet ski crash that made international headlines, where he and his partner, Hugo Vau, were thrown more than 20 feet in the air. The chaos of the accident led Albee Layer to state, “Our lives are clickbait.”
During the event, Botelho and Vau were launched into the air after trying to drive out of the impact zone following one of Botelho’s rides.
Botelho landed on the ski, striking both his head and chest, rendering him unconscious.
According to Botelho, he was unconscious in the water for up to six minutes before he was pulled from the sea not breathing. Earlier rescue attempts were made by his tow partner Alemao Edilson Luis da Assuncio, but Botelho was not saved until he drifted close enough to the shore to be reached by rescue personnel.
When Botelho was pulled from the water, he had no pulse. It took more than a minute for medical personnel to revive him. He also suffered a perforated lung and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition after vomiting water on the beach.
After arriving at the hospital, Botelho had to be intubated (a medical procedure where a tube is inserted into the trachea) for “machine-assisted breathing.” According to the complaint, Botelho “required his lungs to be drained and further suffered a bacterial infection in his lungs from the sea water.” He remained in intensive care for a week and had to be hospitalized for fifteen days.
Further, Botelho alleged psychological injuries from the accident, including “nightmares of the drowning, sleep and mood disturbance, and a gradually dissipating fear of entering ocean water again.”
He also lost various sponsorships and income as a result of his inability to compete.
Botelho alleged claims of: (1) negligence/gross negligence; (2) fraudulent concealment; (3) intentional misrepresentation; and (4) negligent misrepresentation. He seeks damages for past and future expenses and loss of revenue, as well as punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
According to Botelho, the WSL greatly exaggerated the event’s safety measures and then coerced competitors into signing waivers of liability after competitors realized the promised safety measures were not present.
In the months before the event, Botelho and other surfers became concerned about the adequacy of the safety measures proposed by the WSL, prompting the surfers to propose “that each team be provided with a budget to assemble their own, hand-picked safety team.”
According to the complaint, the WSL agreed to the proposal that “each team [would] have a dedicated water safety jet ski and driver shadowing them while in the water and three radios and a dedicated channel per team for communication.”
The WSL, through Bill Sharp, also communicated a three-layer safety plan: the first being the team member on the ski to make pickups; the second a “dedicated Safety Support pilot and jet ski to pick up a surfer in the event the team member is unable to do so;” and the third being medical personnel position on the shore.
According to the complaint, this plan “was deemed by virtually every surfer invited to participate in the Nazaré event as unsatisfactory” and the WSL was allegedly made aware of the discontent via a group email.
The surfers, including Botelho, were concerned about the lack of an additional safety layer. They insisted on the presence of an additional jet ski carrying a rescue swimmer “dedicated to the rescue and pickup of any hurt, unconscious, or in distress surfer.”
To comply, the WSL allegedly agreed to hire Kalani Lattanzi to be the rescue swimmer; according to the complaint he was listed in this role in the WSL Information Kit provided to the competitors.
The complaint alleges that the WSL failed to take any steps to implement the safety measures promised to the surfers. Further, it alleges the WSL “willfully and fraudulently” concealed this failure.
The WSL also allegedly never contacted Lattanzi, the agreed upon rescue swimmer.
The complaint alleges further failures on behalf of the WSL: (1) failure to provide a dedicated Safety Support jet ski driver to shadow each team; (2) failure to provide working radios to each team’s spotter; (3) failure to provide three promised radios to each team, resulting in Botelho’s spotter’s inability to communicate with safety personnel; (4) failure to provide any rescue swimmer; (5) failure to provide “the minimum number of experienced water safety individuals anticipated by the competitors;” (6) failure to implement “a clear structure” and to assign responsibilities to water safety personnel; (7) failure to place a strategy to address emergencies; and (8) failure to train and equip lifeguards on the beach with the necessary lifesaving equipment.
The competitors did not become aware of the WSL’s alleged misrepresentations until the eve of the event. When competitors did become aware of the inadequate safety measures, some refused to sign the required agreement between the individual and WSL. The agreement included a waiver of liability.
In response, the WSL allegedly told surfers they would not be permitted to compete if they did not sign the agreement. According to the complaint, many competitors felt pressured to sign the agreement due in part to costs associated with traveling and training for Nazaré and perceived obligations to sponsors.
When Botelho signed the agreement, he was still not fully aware of the extent of the WSL’s alleged misrepresentations.
According to the complaint, after signing, he still was under the impression that Lattanzi would be acting as a rescue swimmer.
The complaint alleges that the confluence of these factors, notably the lack of an independent rescue swimmer, resulted in Botelho’s injuries.
Last year, HBO unveiled “100 Foot Wave,” a docuseries profiling the big wave community at Nazaré. Episode five of the docuseries detailed the 2020 tow event.
The series has been widely advertised by the WSL.
In August of 2021, HBO announced the series had been renewed for a second season.
The 2022 Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge took place on February 10, a day after Botelho’s suit was filed.