big wave

Surf's up!: Riding the world's largest waves in Portugal's Nazaré

Daredevil surfers hurtle down the face of waves as tall as 6-story apartment buildings.

The World

Justine Dupont, from France, rides a wave before being engulfed by it and breaking her ankle during a big wave surfing session at Praia do Norte, or North Beach, in Nazaré, Portugal, Jan. 8, 2022.

Armando Franca/AP

The seaside town of Nazaré, Portugal, is home to some of the world’s biggest, gnarliest waves. 

Maybe you’ve seen the iconic videos from Nazaré online — daredevil surfers hurtling down the face of waves as tall as 6-story apartment buildings. 

One reason that Nazaré has such big waves has to do with the fact that Europe’s largest and deepest underwater canyon can be found right off of its coast.

big wave

A Jet Ski steers away from a crashing wave during a big wave surfing session at Praia do Norte, or North Beach, in Nazaré, Portugal, Feb. 25, 2022.

Credit:

Armando Franca/AP

Although the big waves in Nazaré go back millions of years, surfing here has only caught on internationally in recent history, transforming a once-sleepy town into a tourist destination.

But “big wave” surfing — when the waves are at least 20 feet high — is not for the faint of heart — those waves can crash down at speeds of 50 miles per hour.

lighthouse

People atop a lighthouse watch a surfer drop down a wave during a big wave surfing session at Praia do Norte, or North Beach, in Nazaré, Portugal, Feb. 25, 2022.

Credit:

Armando Franca/AP

Surviving those big waves, experts say, comes down to extraordinarily tight teamwork, skill and lots of guts.

water

The big waves can be seen from a lighthouse in Nazaré, Portugal.

Credit:

Barbara Belt/The World 

This week, weather conditions are sending massive rollers crashing onto the beach and the surf's up.

Andrew Cotton, the Jet Ski tow partner for American surfer Garrett McNamara, has been instrumental in starting the big wave surfing here, along with locals Dino Casimiro, Sergio Cosme and Pedro Pisco.

surfer on a big wave

A surfer rides a big wave in Nazaré, Portugal.

Credit:

Barbara Belt/The World

"Just being in the water is a full workout physically, mentally. It's a real sense of teamwork. Nazaré has become the place to be. It's definitely the biggest and most-consistent wave on the planet." 

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