For years, one of the world’s largest waves wasn’t really even acknowledged as a real wave. People surfed monsters, and the collective surf world scoffed. That’s all changed, though, with the Big Wave Tour’s Nazaré addition to their roster of events in 2016.
For years, surf media, and many surfers in general, wrote Nazaré off. Greg Long once called it a “novelty wave.” Surfing Magazine spent pages telling readers that Portugal’s canyon-driven powerhouse didn’t really count. “It’s back, like a cold sore. Nazaré Canyon,” Taylor Paul wrote in 2013. “The wave that sometimes isn’t a wave because a wave has a crest and a trough, and Nazaré often lacks the latter. The hype that comes with it is back too. ‘Biggest wave ever ridden?’ ‘The 100-foot wave?’ ‘I’m Ron Burgandy [sic]?’ Those question marks express doubt, and rightfully so. It’s like a surfer’s version of a cheap philosophical question: If a wave breaks without a bottom, does it break a world record?”
Over the last few years, though, Portugal’s most famous wave seems to have been let into the party. Of course, to mainstream media, it was always invited. Photos from the cliff top whipped through the non-surfing world’s internet connections like wildfire. The term “biggest wave ever” was thrown around haphazardly every winter. Carlos Burle, Garrett McNamara, Andrew Cotton, and Maya Gabeira (among others) became almost household names for surfing waves of unimaginable proportions. The surf world, though, remained scornful for a long time–probably because, on its most impressive days, it was generally too big to paddle, and surfing under anything other than your own power has fallen way out of vogue.
Truth be told, Nazaré is a slopey wave. It’s not steep like Jaws or Maverick’s, there aren’t giant, throaty barrels, and it isn’t (most of the time) a top-to-bottom wave. What it is, though, is fucking massive and insanely powerful. Despite the years of trash talking, as surfers will do, they started to come around. A handful of the world’s best decided that they would give the place a go, and under their own steam–no jetskis allowed. Shane Dorian, Nic Lamb, Jamie Mitchell, Kealii Mamalla, Eric Rebiere, and Benjamin Sanchis, just to name a few, proved to the world that Nazaré is indeed a very large, very scary, and very paddleable wave.
Still, although I have never doubted that Nazaré is a “real” wave, when I heard the news that it was being added to the BWT’s event schedule, I thought it a slightly odd addition. I wrote Greg Long a quick email asking him about his thoughts on it, thinking that he’d surely write back telling me that it was a dumb addition. He did not.
“This last year, a handful of respected big wave surfers paddled into some giant waves proving that given the right conditions, Nazaré can be paddled into at significant size,” he responded. Of the few people I’ve spoken to about the place, everyone shared a similar sentiment: Nazaré is incredibly powerful. Greg, it appears, had the same experience. “After hearing first hand accounts from a few of the surfers, they all claimed it to be one of the most terrifying and challenging waves they have ever surfed,” he continued. “That fits right in line with what we are trying to accomplish with the BWT: putting the best big wave surfers in the world’s biggest and heaviest waves. I haven’t been to Nazaré myself, but from what I hear, we are going to be in for a truly entertaining and exhilarating day of surfing when the event goes off. ”
The Big Wave Tour has been around for almost a decade now, but it has only really gained momentum in the last few years. Big wave events are a difficult task, to be sure. They can be notoriously slow to watch: long lulls and difficult locations for webcasts don’t make the entire experience all that compatible for the casual observer. But the addition of new spots–especially ones of global renown like Nazaré, might just be the kick in the pants the BWT viewership needs. “Nazaré has been long considered a spot unaccessible to paddle-in-surfing, but those barriers have been broken and it is time for the true test, a Big Wave Event,” said Gary Linden, founder of the BWT. “The Big Wave culture is alive and well.”