BIG vs SMALL follows Joana Andrade, a professional surfer, and the first Portuguese woman to surf the waves at Nazare, where the waves can reach up to 80ft tall. Andrade at 5ft 1″ cuts a small silhouette by comparison against these monstrous waves.
Andrade is frank about the fear she feels regarding tackling these giants. Many people have been injured surfing at Nazare and Andrade fears that she could break her back and end up paralysed, or even drown. But Andrade is not the kind of person to be ruled by her fear, so she sets off to train with Johanna Nordblad, a record breaking free diver.
Nordblad is a Finnish world champion, who once set the record by swimming under the ice in nothing but a bathing suit, no breathing apparatus, for over 160ft. She can hold her breath for over 6 minutes. She trains Andrade in her breathing techniques and takes her out to swim in a frozen lake, literally cutting open a square with a saw in the surface.
You do watch them climb into this makeshift swimming pool, and think, “Are you insane?!” It looks absolutely baltic. It looks like it would hurt. It looks like the kind of thing that would send you into shock. Why are you doing this for fun?!
But Andrade draws strength from the challenge. From the warm climes of Portugal, she is even less used to the cold, but she perseveres with the training, finding in Nordblad a kindred spirit, whose determination and positivity nourishes her. By the end of their session, Andrade is able to free dive under the ice, and feels like she has the confidence to return to the big waves of Naraze.
For facing her fear and moving forward towards it, Andrade makes an inspirational figure, and with Nordblad helping her, you see how the support of strong-willed women can make you do the impossible. But there is another aspect to Andrade’s story. Part of her difficulty tackling the big waves was that the panic response she would get from being knocked under a wave would trigger her, set off a physical and emotional chain-reaction reaching back to her trauma, when as a child she was groomed, plied with drugs, and sexually abused. It left her with psychological scars and addiction issues. And while she has worked hard to overcome them in her daily life, the panic of being submerged beneath a powerful wave would trigger those feelings of powerlessness and fear once more. Andrade’s story is not simply one of becoming a better surfer, it is about showing you are greater than your trauma, able to feel it and make room for it in your life without letting it control or limit you. Andrade can look at the giant waves of Nazare, that so dwarf her tiny size, and which seem so impossible to conquer, and feel the fear, and charge, confident in the knowledge that she has the tools to deal with them.