Chasing the biggest waves in the world
Andrew Cotton is man on a mission - to surf the world's biggest, most challenging and dangerous waves. His journey has taken him to the four corners of the earth, placing him in terrifying situations, leaving him breathing many a sigh of relief at near misses survived.
But 2014 could be the year the 34-year-old enters the record books, as he waits for official confirmation that a 80ft monster wave he surfed off the coast of Portugal this October is the biggest conquered to date.
As the St Jude storm rolled across the Atlantic in October, the force of nature whipped up mammoth swells out at sea. And rather than batten down the hatches, pro surfers from across the world congregated on the beaches of Portugal's Praia do Norte. Among them and eager to get on his board was part-time pro surfer, plumber and lifeguard, father-of-two Mr Cotton.
Facing such gigantic waves requires surfers to enlist a little extra help to line themselves up to ride the huge expanse of water. And so Mr Cotton was towed by jet ski to catch the wave, he and others hope could be set to break the world record.
Mr Cotton said: 'People have been saying the wave I caught in October in Portugal is around 80ft.' The current world record for the world's largest wave ever surfed stands at 78ft. And it is a record Mr Cotton is not unfamiliar with. The surfer currently in possession of the title record breaker is Cotton's close friend and surfing partner in crime, Mr McNamara. When the Hawaii-born pro surfer gained his title it was Mr Cotton who towed him in to catch his record-breaking wave. And the favour was returned when Mr McNamara jumped on the jet ski in October, lining Cotton up to take on the wave, which is tipped to steal the record from under his board. Officials are currently in the process of verifying the height of the wave Mr Cotton rode, but the 34-year-old will have to wait until May next year for confirmation.
But he says while a world record to his name would be nice, it is not what motivates him to get on his board and travel across the world, often at short notice, chasing gigantic waves. 'I love to push myself,' he told MailOnline in an exclusive interview. 'I love being in the water and my dream is to become a full-time professional big wave surfer. 'By pushing myself to catch and ride bigger and bigger waves I will hopefully achieve that dream. A world record can't hurt though, it's the kind of thing that can really open doors.' 'It is cool to think I could have a world record, but it is just as cool to say I helped Garrett get his. It would be awesome to think he helped me get mine too,' he added. 'The ideal would be for me to get the record and the pair of us to keep beating each other by going bigger and bigger, pushing ourselves further.'
Describing how it feels to ride a near 80ft wave, the father-of-two, said: 'This is something I have always wanted to do. It is what I have been pushing myself towards. 'It is scary, but at the same time it feels like the most natural thing for me to do. 'You do get an adrenalin rush, but it depends on the type of the wave as to when the rush hits home. Sometimes it will be while you are riding the wave but other times it is when you are safe and back on dry land.'
Reaching speeds of up to 40mph, Mr Cotton said every bump in the water feels 'hugely magnified'. 'It feels like you are going really fast, but I felt at times like I was watching the ride in slow motion, feeling every bump in the wave. 'At such fast speeds you really have to think about everything that you are doing, every movement. 'Just staying on the board is half the battle, it can be really hard. 'While the waves look really clean from the shore, when you are up there and riding it, any bump at 40mph feels hugely magnified.'
Mr Cotton hails from the village of Croyde near Braunton in north Devon. And it is on the shores of the Devonshire coast that he rode his first wave at the age of seven, encouraged by his parents former classroom assistant Christine and retired policeman Bob.