Garrett McNamara of Hawaii rode a giant wave in Nazaré, Portugal yesterday.
It was claimed to be 100 feet high, although the Guinness Book of World Records has not yet confirmed the measurement (the official measurement is usually smaller than initial estimates).
Nazaré has unusual conditions for making huge waves … an undersea trench narrows right before the shore, shooting the sea up to the sky at the last minute.
As U.S. News and World Report explains:
“It’s a complex region with a submarine canyon—when waves propagate over the canyon at different speeds, they start to converge near the shore,” he says. “This increases the height of waves in the area.”
The canyon is particularly special because it occurs just a few hundred feet off shore. Though the canyon can reach depths of a mile further offshore, it is closer to 500 feet deep near the coast. As additional waves start closer to shore, Vitorino says there is a “second amplification” of the wave, which can double its size.
“They’re capable of promoting some conditions which lead to very big waves there,” he says.
After McNamara set his prior world record at Nazaré in 2011, he explained:
“There is an underwater canyon 1,000ft deep that runs from the ocean right up to the cliffs. It’s like a funnel. At its ocean end it’s three miles wide but narrows as it gets closer to the shore and when there is a big swell it acts like an amplifier.”
Big wave surfing requires special equipment and a different approach to riding ordinary waves. On 1 November McNamara was equipped with a buoyancy aid and knee braces to protect his joints from the battering a surfer’s legs suffer bouncing down the huge wave faces.
“It looks smooth but it’s not. It’s like bouncing down moguls [on a ski slope]. You hit every ripple in the water.” It is for precisely this reason that in the huge sets, the second wave is often preferable. “The first wave grooms the sea bottom and can make the second smoother,” McNamara explains.
On 1 November McNamara was not equipped with an emergency air supply to improve his chances of survival if he were to be held down by the surging water after coming off his board. His 6ft board is equipped with feet straps, like a snowboard, to prevent him being thrown off, and loaded with 10lbs (5kg) of extra weight to increase momentum at the beginning of the ride. Even catching big waves is different to ordinary surfing. The speed of big waves makes it difficult to paddle fast enough ahead of the wave to catch them, so jetskis are used to tow the surfer at speed on to the breaking crest and to recover the surfer at the end of his ride – a dangerous business in its own right.
Here is a trailer for a coming movie on McNamara’s world record ride yesterday:
And here are some of the original big wave surfers (native Hawaiians invented surfing, but no one knows what size waves they rode):