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Maui big-wave surfing pioneer dies while surfing Nazaré in Portugal

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Photo Credit: Marcio Freire Instagram

A Maui pioneer of paddle-in surfing at Peʻahi and longtime Hawaiian Canoe Club paddler Marcio Freire died Thursday while riding big waves in Nazaré on the central coast of Portugal, officials confirmed.

Freire, 47, was among three Brazilian surfers known as “Mad Dogs” in the 2016 documentary that featured tow-in and paddle-in surfing legends at Pe’ahi, also known as Jaws, which is one of the heaviest waves in the world.

Hāʻiku resident and family spokesman Yuri Soledade said Freire was on vacation with his family in Portugal when he went out at Nazaré this week to surf 40- to 50-foot faces.

Marcio Freire is pictured Thursday on his final wave in Portugal. Photo Credit: Bred Oliveira Instagram

Freire caught his second wave a little too deep and the wave swallowed him, Soledade said. The surfer disappeared for about 30 minutes. By the time jet-skis found his body and brought him to the beach, attempts to revive Freire were unsuccessful, officials said.


“Over the years we surfed much bigger waves,” Soledade told Maui Now on Friday. “Unfortunately it is one of those things you can’t explain what happened. The only thing that comforts me is knowing he passed away doing what he loved.”

The news of Freire’s death sent shockwaves through Maui’s surfing and paddling communities Friday.

“It’s tragic we lost such an amazing human,” accomplished big-wave surfer and Maui native, Shaun Walsh said. “It’s affecting a lot of people in the community. He had so many friends everywhere. It’s definitely hitting home very hard.”

Walsh said Freire is one of the pioneers of paddle-in surfing at Peʻahi who helped shape much of what local big-wave surfing has become today.

DK and Ian Walsh watch as Marcio Freire drops in at Peʻahi on Maui’s north shore. Photo Credit: Fred Pompermayer

Longtime Hawaiian Canoe Club paddling coach Paul “Kauhane” Luʻuwai, who’s known Freire for two decades, said Freire was a good athlete and an even better human being.

“It’s just his whole aloha-ness,” he said. “He had that aloha in his heart. He was just one braddah with aloha. Always positive, happy, never down.”

Soledade, an owner of Paia Fish Market and Nuka restaurants, said he and Freire grew up in the same Brazilian town of Salvador, Bahia, and have known one another since age 12 or 13.

Even as kids, the two had a passion for surfing big waves and would often compete. Soledade won a ticket to Hawaiʻi from a Brazilian surfing competition and ended up on Maui in the mid-1990s. A few years later in 1998, Freire moved to Maui as well.


“Especially because we had this bond for so long and the passion for surfing big waves, we always called ourselves brothers of the ocean,” Soledade said. “Just because our passion connected us in a bond that went beyond real blood. It’s definitely been very, very hard the last couple days.”

Over the years, Freire worked at Paia Fish Market, then at boating, construction and landscaping jobs.

The waterman would become an avid paddler with Hawaiian Canoe Club. He was well-loved for his smile, positivity and ukulele playing, paddlers said. Luʻuwai said Freire would play the same three to four songs on his ukulele, sometimes singing off-key through a strong Portuguese accent.

“He was trying to do it so good; he was so authentic,” Lu’uwai said. “He was such a happy guy.”

Soledade, who is the same age as Freire, said his friend taught him how to live day to day and focus on what’s important. Freire would often clean up at the beach any time he surfed and find ways to leave the environment better than the way he found it.

“He was such a light in this crazy world that we live in — he brought so much happiness to everyone around him,” Soledade said. “He was one of those guys that really brought joy everywhere he went. And besides that, he cared deeply about this island, the environment he lived in.”

Freire is survived by his father, Hagamenon Freire, his mother, Dione Freire, sister Itana Freire, brother-in-law Jefferson Santo, and twin nieces, Moana and Taina.

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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