Controversy-generating sand-bottomed big-wave spot located in the middle of Portugal’s swell-lashed Atlantic coast, 75 miles north of Lisbon; named for the adjacent fishing-resort town of Nazaré. As of mid-2014, the break was the site of what are thought to be the four largest waves ever ridden.
Winter swells aimed at Nazaré are turbocharged after sweeping through an offshore canyon that runs as deep as 16,000 feet. (For comparison, Arizona's Grand Canyon is about 6,000 feet deep at its lowest point.) This offshore topography focuses the energy of incoming waves onto nearshore sandbars, which in turn divide and bend each swell, often with spectacular results. “Mammoth waves break at right angles to each other,” wrote Outside’s Bill Gifford in a 2014 article. “Sending whitewater charging in every direction like the most savage avalanche you’ve ever seen.” Unlike most big-wave breaks, Nazaré also provides excellent surf during small- and medium-sized swells
Waves have been ridden at Nazaré since at least 1968, when surfers were filmed on playful three-footers as part of an Endless Summer-like travelogue called Follow Me. Local waveriders enjoyed the break up to about 10 feet for years, but the spot wasn’t on the surf world’s radar until November, 2011. That year, Hawaiian big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara was filmed riding a gigantic wave at Nazaré, later pegged by the Billabong XXL committee at 78 feet—a new world record. Overnight, McNamara and Nazaré became mainstream media darlings.
Over the next few years, the claim of “biggest wave ever ridden” would be attached to three more rides at Nazaré. McNamara repeated the feat in January, 2013, this time riding a wave that some called 100 feet; the actual size of that wave has never been adequately verified. In October 2013, Brazilian big-wave hero Carlos Burle navigated down the face of an enormous steel-grey peak before being consumed by whitewater; many media outlets declared Burle’s wave to be the largest in history. Then in February, 2014, a British plumber named Andrew Cotton was whipped into a ride that was almost identical to Burle's, except it appeared even taller. Once again, the "biggest ever" claims went flying.
Yet to many Nazaré remains the uninvited guest at surfing's big-wave party, due to the fact that the wave face can slope out in front of a rider to a point where it doesn't seem to be a "wave" so much as a fringing swell. Or as Surfing put it: “Nazaré. The wave that sometimes isn’t a wave because a wave has a crest and a trough, and Nazaré often lacks the latter.” Big-wave star Greg Long called it "A novelty wave. It stands up for half a second and then it’s over.”
Regardless, the surf at Nazaré is indisputably large, powerful, and very dangerous, especially the area along the beach and cliffs, which is perhaps the most horrifying shorebreak in the world. Brazilian big-wave charger Maya Gabeira nearly drowned at Nazaré in October 2013, after first breaking her ankle in a wipeout, then losing consciousness in the shorebreak. She was dragged to the beach by Burle and revived by a rescue crew.
Winter water and air temperatures in Nazaré average 60 degrees and 57 degrees, respectively. The surf at Nazaré has been featured in the video North Canyon: Nazaré Calling (2012), as well as dozens of webclips.