Nazare - the most dangerous wave in the world and the surfers who tackle it

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Nazare has seen some of the biggest waves ever recorded on the planet, and sees thousands of surfers flock to Portugal every year.

Nazare has become widely known around the world as the place for big wave surfers from around the world to catch the largest and most dangerous waves. It’s the place where you train for months to maybe get one wave, and one simple misstep could result in death.

Whether you’re spectating or surfing, Nazare is a beast and you’d struggle to find a surfer who doesn’t want to be in the presence of it. That’s why thousands of people are flocking to Portugal to watch mother nature produce the biggest waves the world has ever seen.

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The wave has been on the mainstage since 2011 when Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara rode a record breaking 23.8 metre wave. It was the largest swell ever ridden, and it put the small fishing town on the Oeste coast on the map.  McNamara spoke to Red Bull about the wave saying: "I’ve seen some big waves at Mavericks and Jaws, but I’ve never really seen bigger waves than I’ve seen here."

In its time on the map of surfing legend there have been a number of accidents with many surfers getting critically injured. On January 5, Marcio Freire, a big-wave pioneer and legend, sadly became the first surfer to die at the spot.

The Portugal’s National Maritime Authorities released a statement saying Freire was taken back to the beach; there, rescuers found him in cardio-respiratory arrest, but he was unable to be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Freire was known for travelling around the world and conquering the biggest waves. The Brazilian surfer featured in the 2016 documentary Mad Dogs which saw a crew of three Brazilian surfers ride the big wave Jaws, without a tow-in, something unthinkable at the time. They broke records, and changed surfing history becoming forever known as the Mad Dogs.

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Where is Nazare?

Nazare is located along the coastline of the Oeste Province in the midway area of Portugal, between the border with Galicia and the Algarve. The nearest main town is a place called Leiria. The surrounding area is known as ‘The Silver Coast’.

How does Nazare get so big?

Praia do Norte is the largest wave in Europe (and the world). This psycho wave is the product of a deep-sea canyon (the Nazare Canyon) that cuts through a seabed almost five kilometres deep in some places. The canyons help funnel and shape some of the strongest swells on the planet, thus creating the beast we see at the surface. The biggest swells come between October and March which is when the big wave surfers flock to the town for the season.

AFP via Getty Images

However, Nazare isn’t always big, when it comes to this wave it can be split into two. Praia do Nazare is the wide beach break that can work all year round with some powerful breaks, and of course the huge wedge that can hit 30 metres.

What is the biggest wave ever surfed at Nazare?

Nazare has frequently been the location for setting the world record for biggest wave ever surfed. Most recently in October 2020 German surfer Sebastian Steudtner set the world record with a bomb the size of 26.21m.

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Many people claim to have surfed a 100ft wave, but it has yet to be recorded, however many believe that it is just a matter of time with the likes of Justine Dupont, Kai Lenny, and the UK’s very own Andrew Cotton, pushing the boundaries every year. The race for the 100ft ride is still underway, with many believing it will happen at Nazare. "One day," Justine Dupont says. "There are no limits."

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