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Surfing the 100-Foot Wave in Nazaré, Portugal

Surfing the 100-Foot Wave in Nazaré, Portugal

children surfing nazare portugal children teenagers wetsuits surf boards

children surfing nazare portugal children teenagers wetsuits surf boards

There is only one place on Earth where all the various natural variables and scientific coefficients come together to create the one precise spot where a 100-foot wave is possible. And that place is Nazaré, an otherwise sleepy seaside village on the West Coast of Portugal.

Recently celebrated on an award-winning HBO series called, appropriately enough, “The 100 Foot Wave”, the Atlantic Coast town of Nazaré offers a freakish confluence of a vast, 140-mile long underwater canyon, unmitigated waves rolling hundreds of uninterrupted miles towards the coast, and then a sudden three-mile drop-off — three times the depth of the Grand Canyon — right where land meets the sea at Nazaré’s Praia do Norte.

Surfing’s Mount Olympus

The biggest waves are formed when water goes from very deep to very shallow over a relatively short distance. This describes surfing meccas like Hawaii’s North Shore, coastal Tahiti, and even parts of the coast off of Mexico’s Baha Penninsula. But there’s nothing in the world like Praia do Norte.

Here observers can watch skyscraper-sized waves come crashing down on rockpiles eroded by millions of years of crushing water. Nobody in their right mind would be fool enough to actually try and surf these behemoths, would they? Normally, no. But try telling that to Garrett McNamara, the 53-year-old surfer who is profiled in the HBO series.

Monster Waves

The world-record holder for riding the biggest wave in history (in Nazaré, naturally), McNamara set his sights on riding one of the biggest waves ever formed on the planet’s surface. Since then, the normally quiet, moderately-sized Portuguese town (population 15,000) is besieged by surfers from all over the world from October until March, when the monster waves hit the shore at this one-of-a-kind destination.

The incredible surfing at Praia do Norte may have put Nazaré on the map and made this little corner of Portugal a global phenomenon, but it’s the area’s natural charm, the friendliness of its residents, and the rich culture and history of the coastal region that will keep them coming back.

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