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The Port of Nazaré, Portugal: Home of the monster waves

PortandTerminal.com, January 29, 2020

NAZARÉ, PORTUGAL – The port in Nazaré, Portugal isn’t much to look. Even calling it a port is generous. These days it would classify as more of a very quaint marina. But what this town of 10,000 people does have are some of the biggest waves in the world.

For centuries, Nazaré was a traditional Portuguese seaside town. Local fishermen fished for sardines, tuna and mackerel that their wives and children would help dry out on the beach after the catch was brought in. They still do. Things in Nazaré move along at their own slow pace. One thing though that every fisherman’s child in Nazaré learns from an early age, then and now, is to avoid the huge, deadly waves that crash against the nearby cliffs.

Pulling in fishing nets (1950’s)
Drying fish on the beach in Nazaré

While there are still signs of the old fishing village in Nazaré, these days it’s not the main attraction. What brings in the tourists now are the massive waves that the fishermen rightly warn their children about.

People on an outcrop watching a massive wave

Tall as a 10-story building, the waves are caused by a submarine canyon — three miles deep, and 125 miles long — that abruptly ends just before the town’s shoreline. Unimaginable amounts of water barrel deep down in the canyon towards the shore and then suddenly have nowhere to go but up as it gets shallow near the shore. And up it goes indeed. Waves measuring 100 feet are not uncommon.

Model of the submarine canyon that causes the massive waves at Nazaré Photo: Hydrographic Institute

Over the past decade, the monster waves at Nazaré have become popular with extreme surfers, their fans, photographers and sponsors. At least 20 professional surfers now stay in Nazaré during any given week over the winter which is peak wave season.

100-foot waves at Nazaré are not uncommon.

There’s an important extreme surfing competition held in Nazaré each winter now. This year’s event is called the Nazare Tow Challenge. It’s called the Tow Challenge for the first time this year because the rules have been changed up. Instead of paddling out, surfers will now be towed out by jet-ski. The purpose of this change is to try to beat big wave surf records during the event, as the biggest waves are not possible to catch without using the jet-ski.

So what’s it like surfing waves this size? For one, it’s obviously dangerous. Waves that reach heights of up to 70 feet on the face weigh 1,000 tons. There have been deaths and serious injuries. “It’s unlike any other wave at big-wave spots,” says Andrew Cotton, who broke his back at Nazaré in 2017.

Check out the Nazaré live webcam by clicking anywhere here.

Nazaré is a place where breath-hold training, aerobic stamina and safety systems are essential for survival. But all of that also adds up to something else: a place where some of surfing’s most incredible achievements can unfold.

Check some footage of extreme surfers surfing the Nazaré waves:

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