Hard-sell big-wave daredevil from the North Shore of Oahu; two-time Billabong XXL Performer of the Year; called "one of the most extreme high-sensation seekers on the planet," by fellow big wave rider Greg Long.
McNamara was born (1967) in Massachusetts, moved with his family to Hawaii at age 12, began surfing shortly thereafter, and was riding the North Shore's heavyweight breaks by 16. After an uneventful competitive career ran out of gas out in the mid-1990s, the anvil-jawed regularfoot launched his professional second act by becoming one of the sport's most fearless—and cocksure—tow surfers. Along with tow partner Rodrigo Risende, McNamara won the inaugural Tow Surfing World Cup at Jaws in 2002; he then became a regular nominee at Billabong XXL Awards, winning Best Overall Performance in 2003 and in 2007, and the Monster Paddle Award for largest paddle-in wave of the year, also in 2007.
Meanwhile, for better and worse, McNamara broke new ground in surf media, making sure every noteworthy ride was documented and packaged, and turning his pursuit into a kind of big-wave sideshow—towing into huge North Shore waves behind a helicopter, for example, or riding the exploding swells from calving glaciers in Alaska. Many in the surf world thought it was overkill. "He's as much a cowboy as a legitimate big wave surfer," claimed Surfing magazine in 2011, after McNamara made international news headlines for riding a giant wave at Praia do Norte beach in Nazare, Portugal, that was trumpeted by his personal website—though not corroborated by the big wave community—as a world record 90 footer. McNamara won the 2012 Billabong XXL Biggest Wave Award for his Portuguese monster, and though the Billabong XXL big-wave judging panel officially pegged the wave height at 78 feet— rather than the 90 that McNamara reported—it was nevertheless considered a new world record.
A few weeks earlier, McNamara, riding a controversial jet-powered surfboard, made news in the surf world when he dropped in on California big-wave charger Greg Long at Cortes Bank. Long wiped out, was held under for three waves, and nearly died—both surfers were gracious afterward, but many believed that McNamara's less-than-controlled drop-in had directly led to Long's wipeout.
In early 2013, McNamara returned to Nazare and rode an even bigger wave than the one he caught in 2011. Photos of the ride were printed and broadcast around the world, and earned McNamara a segment on 60 Minutes.
Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom, McNamara's memoir, was published in 2016.