Nazaré, Portugal is a world-renowned destination for big wave surfers seeking to ride some of the largest waves on the planet. The town’s unique geographical features, combined with powerful Atlantic swells, create waves that can tower over 100 feet (30 meters) high. However, the size and power of these waves also make surfing Nazaré one of the most challenging and dangerous pursuits in the surfing world.
History of Nazare
The Nazaré surf break gained international recognition in 2011 when Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara rode a wave estimated to be 78 feet (23.8 meters) tall, setting a new world record for the largest wave ever surfed. Since then, Nazaré has become a hotspot for big wave surfers from around the world, drawn by the potential to ride waves of similar or even greater size.
The history of Nazaré as a fishing village dates back to the 12th century, and fishing remains an important industry for the town today. In the 19th century, Nazaré became a popular destination for Portuguese aristocrats seeking seaside vacations, and the town’s historic hotels and villas reflect this history. Nazaré’s surf culture began to develop in the 1970s, when local surfers started exploring the town’s unique waves.
Why are the Waves so Big Here?
The unique geography of Nazaré plays a key role in the formation of its massive waves. The town is situated on a deep underwater canyon that funnels and amplifies incoming swells, creating large, powerful waves that break near the shoreline. Additionally, the prevailing winds and currents in the region further contribute to the formation of Nazaré’s massive waves.
The Nazaré Canyon is one of the deepest undersea canyons in the world, reaching depths of up to 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). As swells enter the canyon, they are compressed and forced upward, creating waves that can reach staggering heights. The canyon also creates a unique wave shape, with a steep face that can reach over 90 degrees in some places.
Dangers of Surfing Nazare
Surfing Nazaré is not for the faint of heart, as it presents a variety of significant dangers for even the most experienced surfers. The size and power of the waves can cause severe injury or even death, and surfers must contend with strong currents, shifting sandbars, and the risk of being held underwater for extended periods of time. It’s crucial for surfers to have extensive training and experience in big wave surfing, as well as a deep understanding of the risks and potential hazards.
In addition to the physical dangers, surfing Nazaré can also take a toll on a surfer’s mental health. The pressure to perform and the fear of injury or death can lead to intense stress and anxiety. Many surfers rely on meditation, visualization, and other mental preparation techniques to help them stay calm and focused in the face of such intense challenges.
How to Prepare to Surf Nazare
Preparation is key when it comes to surfing Nazaré. Surfers should have extensive experience and training in big wave surfing, and they should also be in excellent physical condition. In addition, they should have a team of experienced support personnel, including spotters, jet ski drivers, and medical professionals, to assist them in case of an emergency. Finally, surfers should carefully monitor weather and ocean conditions, and be prepared to cancel or postpone a surf session if conditions are too dangerous.
Before attempting to surf Nazaré, it’s also important for surfers to spend time studying the wave and its unique characteristics. This can include watching videos and studying photos of previous surf sessions, as well as physically observing the wave and its behavior. This information can help surfers anticipate the wave’s movements and better prepare for the experience.
Best Surf Conditions
The best time to surf Nazaré is during the winter months, when powerful Atlantic swells are most common. However, even during the winter, the waves at Nazaré can be unpredictable and dangerous, so it’s important for surfers to carefully monitor weather and ocean conditions before attempting a surf session. The ideal wind direction for surfing Nazaré is from the East or Southeast, which helps to shape the wave and create a smooth face for surfers to ride.
In addition to weather and ocean conditions, surfers should also consider the crowds when planning a surf session at Nazaré. As the surf break has gained in popularity in recent years, it’s not uncommon for dozens of surfers to be in the water at once, creating a potentially dangerous and chaotic environment. Surfing Nazaré during less popular times, such as early in the morning or on weekdays, can help reduce the risk of crowded conditions.
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Nazare: The Town
While Nazaré is known primarily as a big wave surfing destination, it also has much to offer visitors who aren’t interested in surfing. The town’s rich history, picturesque streets, and beautiful beaches make it a popular tourist destination year-round.
Visitors to Nazaré can explore the town’s many historic sites, including the 17th-century Nossa Senhora da Nazaré Church and the São Miguel Arcanjo Fort. The town’s streets are lined with charming shops and cafes, and the beachfront promenade offers stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Check out our Portugal Travel Guide here!
In conclusion, surfing Nazaré is not for the faint of heart, but for experienced big wave surfers seeking the ultimate challenge, it offers the opportunity to ride some of the largest waves in the world. However, it’s important for surfers to approach Nazaré with the utmost caution and preparation, and to be mindful of the significant dangers involved. For those who aren’t interested in surfing, Nazaré’s rich history and stunning natural beauty make it a must-visit destination on any trip to Portugal.