Madeira Crossing: The Story Behind Tomas Lacerda’s Documentary

In a poignant 10-minute film documenting his 81 km crossing completed as a tribute to his late father, 2023 European Sprint champion Tomas Lacerda takes us with him on a deeply personal odyssey, both physically and emotionally. In “Paddling for Life”, Tomas grapples with the profound loss of his father, and channels his grief and determination into a remarkable journey across the crystalline waters between the island of Porto Santo and his home island of Madeira. In this exclusive interview, Tomas shares with TotalSUP intimate reflections on the highs and lows of his transformative year in 2023, revealing the pivotal role his father played in shaping his passion for Stand Up Paddling, while celebrating the vibrant life and spirit of Madeira. Join us on this heartfelt journey of remembrance, resilience, and the enduring bond between a father and son.

But first, let’s watch Paddling for Life:

Hello Tomas, 2023 was a very emotional year for you with the highest highs and the lowest lows. The video of your crossing is the perfect conclusion to this roller coaster. Can you describe your state of mind right now?

Hello Mathieu and TotalSUP! Thank you for the opportunity. Yes, 2023 was a year full of challenges. I lost my father at the beginning of 2023 in his battle against cancer. My father was my life partner, accompanying me in all championships! It was a year in which I was forced to grow immensely, pouring all my focus, sadness, and longing into training to honor everything my father did for me. I achieved many dreams, but now I feel that I need to work on my mind again to stay strong, motivated, and with a good balance in life; ultimately, that is the most important thing for all of us to be happy.

Can you give all the details behind your 81 km crossing and why you decided to do such a long crossing attempt in the first place?

Since I was a child, the Island of Porto Santo has been special to me. It’s where I spent my family vacations and where my father started pushing me into the first waves. When I started paddling, my father and I always dreamed of being the first Stand Up Paddle athlete to complete the crossing between Madeira, where I grew up, and Porto Santo. It was something my father always encouraged immensely. With the passing of my father, I decided it was time to fulfill this dream. I sought help from one of his childhood friends, Frederico Rezende, the author of numerous jet ski crossings. From the beginning, he embraced this project just as my father would have. I chose to cover the 81km because I wanted to finish in the city where I was born and raised. I could have ended the crossing in Caniçal (the closest point of Madeira to Porto Santo), but it wouldn’t be the same challenge, the same overcoming, and it wouldn’t have the same flavor.

You had a very close relationship with your dad. Can you introduce your dad to the people who don’t know who he was and the special connection you had with him?

It’s true; I was fortunate to have a father who, in addition to being my best friend and life partner, also followed my dream with unique intensity. My father was part of the first generation of Portuguese surfers. He was always involved in water sports, such as surfing, windsurfing, and jet skiing. In recent years, he held an important position in Surf, Stand Up Paddle, and Bodyboard on the island of Madeira. He helped develop all these disciplines, create championships, and promote Madeira to the four corners of the world. All this, in addition to being an incredible father, willing to do possible and impossible things for my sister and me to live life with a smile and for him to be present in every moment of our lives. My father was a friendly, smiling, and fighting person!

The crossing was gnarly but a huge performance and personal success. Can you take us through that day, from start to finish? How was the feeling when you arrived and the following days?

It was a dream day. After several days working and organizing this event with the incredible team around me, the moment to embark for Porto Santo arrived (one day before). During this 2.5-hour journey, I analyzed the sea and imagined myself crossing all that crystalline sea. I arrived at Porto Santo, stored the board, and headed to the hotel to rest until the late afternoon.

In the late afternoon, I took the opportunity to go for a swim with my girlfriend and friends to relax from all that anxiety. Dinner time came; I devoured two pizzas and pasta to make sure I had enough carbohydrates for this adventure. As I fell asleep, my girlfriend felt a bit nervous, but surprisingly, I was calm and confident. I woke up, had breakfast, and headed to the Porto Santo Marina. My aunt, her partner, and my girlfriend asked me how I felt, and I just said, a little anxious but it will go well. I arrived at the Port of Refuge, prepared myself while some friends, idols, and close people were arriving.

The departure was a unique moment; that support and emotion that my adventure was beginning were incredible. The first 3/4 hours were calm, and I was in control; the sea and the wind cooperated, and fatigue hadn’t set in yet. As I approached Madeira, I deviated from my plan, and the last 2/3 km before reaching the eastern tip of the island were extremely tough. Stopping to eat, I felt that those last 3 km had been a great strain; I still had 31 km to go. I had lunch, hydrated, and continued the journey with another 1.5 hours of very strong sidewind. As I overcame this difficult part, I knew the wind would shift, and the most enjoyable part was about to come: DOWNWIND! It was 5 km of Downwind, averaging 4:40min/5min per KM. I looked at Veronica and said, I’m feeling better now; if it stays like this, I’ll get there in no time. Little did I know that after those 5 km, 20 km of light upwind and flat awaited me! These last 20 km were painful; I suffered a lot, my body only knew how to paddle, and my mind couldn’t process anything! I remember that my team on the boat, people on the beaches and boats were cheering for me and supporting me, but I only realized because they told me when I reached the shore; I couldn’t hear anything. I was lucky to have some friends join me in Funchal; the last km was beautiful. I followed the route I usually take for training and saw the beaches full of people watching me pass.

When I arrived at Praia Formosa, my final destination, and saw a beach and a bar (On Water Academy) full of friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers, I couldn’t believe it. I arrived, and all my friends were cheering and whistling! That’s when I realized it was real, with tears in my eyes; I pointed to the sky and dedicated it to my guardian angels, my father and my paternal grandfather. I was carried in arms until I reached my family, where we all cried tears of joy! It was a day I will never forget!

Photo Credits Henrique Casinhas

Why was it important for you to work on a video of your crossing?

I couldn’t fulfill this dream without documenting and sharing it with everyone! I hope that one day, when I’m older, I can show my children and grandchildren what I managed to achieve. I want to make them proud!

The video is also a celebration of the Madeira ocean life, and the water family there. Why do you love Madeira so much?

Without a doubt, this video shows a bit of what this paradise is like! Madeira is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a unique island for its beauty, its mild temperature throughout the year, vertiginous mountains, and crystal-clear waters. Madeira has a unique quality for practicing water sports such as Surf and Stand Up Paddle. The crystal-clear waters and the ocean’s force bring similarities to Hawaii. I feel fortunate to have grown up here!

According to you, why is Madeira the ultimate destination for the Stand Up Paddle community? When is the best time to go, what to see and do?

For me, the island of Madeira is not only the best Stand Up Paddle destination in Europe but also in the world! Good temperatures throughout the year allow us to enjoy all the water plans that this island can offer, whether it’s downwind, upwind, choppy, flat, or waves, with just swim shorts. In addition to excellent oceanic conditions, Madeira offers incredible gastronomy. What I love most about Madeira is surfing, paddling, hiking along levadas (a remarkable network of irrigation channels), cycling, watching the sunset at Pico do Areeiro, and going to the beach! For me, the best time of the year is September, October, and November!

Last year, you also achieved your best performance to date: Sprint European champion in Peniche, at home in Portugal in October. A few seconds after crossing the line you were pointing at the sky. Tell us about this incredible day. Was your dad also behind this victory?

Yes, it’s true; I am the European sprint champion. After placing in the top 5 at the ICF World Sup Championship in Hungary in 2021 in sprints, I hadn’t had such a good result. I doubted my abilities many times. ç

In 2023, I decided to change my entire structure. I changed coaches and started training with Manolo Simoncelli. My father was organizing this European championship in Madeira, but unfortunately, he passed away. I remember him telling me that I was going to be the European champion, and I said I would do my best. The championship didn’t happen in Madeira, but my father’s great friend, Paulo from Peniche Surf Club, organized an excellent championship.

I finished the wave championship with a 6th place, and in the afternoon, it was the sprints. I was without much pressure, feeling calm and happy. I enjoyed every moment, from heat to heat. When I reached the final, I had a bad start; when I reached the buoy, I knew it would be difficult, but I felt that I still had a lot of energy. When I started sprinting, I saw that I had to accelerate to catch the wave; I caught the wave with Claudio and Christian (ed. Claudio Nika and Christian Andersen). I knew that running was one of my strengths, I saw Christian and started sprinting, where I ended up winning in the last 50cm. After celebrating with my national team colleagues, all my Spanish friends, and my coach, I pointed to the sky and started crying. A cry of happiness and sadness! I really wanted my father to be there to hug and celebrate. On the other hand, I know that he was in all my paddles, and on that October 16th, his lucky number, and the day he was born (16/06/1961), he sent me that bump. This victory was for my entire family, sponsors, friends, but especially for my father. He was always the person who motivated me and made me believe that one day I would conquer an international title!

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About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

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