anuary was a good month for anyone who likes to scare themselves on waves the size of tall buildings. Massive swells pounded Europe (among other places), and the forecast for Portugal’s famed big-wave spot was, to any normal human-being, terrifying. For people like Axi Munian, Maya Gabeira, Benjamin Sanchis, Ross Clarke Jones, Hugo Vau, Sebastian Steudtner and Eric Rebiere, however, it was the best late Christmas present they could have asked for. “While Wednesday, the first day of the swell, was really windy and hard to surf,” wrote Sebastian Steudtner on Youtube, “Thursday was a day to remember.”

Do you remember, years and years ago, when people scoffed at Nazaré? “That’s not a real wave,” they scoffed from their armchairs. “It doesn’t break top to bottom!” Those armchair scoffers weren’t alone, either. Hell, even some of the best big wave surfers on earth dismissed it as a novelty wave. “It has a crest but no trough,” they collectively exclaimed. “Can it really be called a real wave?”
Meanwhile, for years, a handful of surfers who didn’t care what the rest of the world thought quietly towed into the largest waves in the world for nothing more than the love of towing into the largest waves in the world. Slowly, the doubting Thomases came around, rubbed their eyes as if seeing something they hadn’t noticed before, and decided that yes, watching men and women throw themselves down speeding mountains of water was indeed entertaining. And now look! Oh, how the tides have changed!

Nazaré has well and truly become a proving grounds. Ask anyone who’s surfed there, even on smaller days, and they’ll tell you that the power in the ocean there is unlike the power anywhere else. Of course, at its biggest, it is primarily a tow wave—like big wave champion Makua Rothman said from the commentators’ booth on the final day of the Backdoor Shootout, “That wave—I don’t think you can paddle it when it’s as big as it gets. I just think that wave is a tow wave, and I don’t think we’re doing it justice by surfing it on a smaller scale.”

That is a valid point. Nazaré is unlike anywhere else in the world. The waves there are bigger and fatter and meaner. The currents there are faster and stronger. While those initial naysayers were right about the lack of a trough, here’s the brass tacks: the biggest waves ever surfed are surfed at Nazaré. In the end, the whole tow versus paddle argument doesn’t really matter.  Surfing is surfing, whether you’re towing, paddling, sponging, or standup paddling.

If, however, you’re one of those people who still scoffs at the notion of towing, here are some words of wisdom, courtesy of Makua Rothman: “I’m an ocean man. I’m a waterman…I’ll do anything in the ocean. I’ll boogie board. I don’t care. I’m just saying, ‘enjoy the ocean.’ You don’t have to feel bad about being a standup paddler or this or that. You’re in the ocean, you’re enjoying yourself? [If] you’re loving what God is giving us…why not?”