I wasn’t the only one watching helplessly, either. Alongside me at the fort at Nazaré, the infamous Portuguese big wave surfing spot, and lined up along the cliffs, were thousands of surf fans and tourists. Meanwhile, the WSL, surfing’s governing body, were broadcasting the session to a worldwide audience. Two days prior, the ‘Nazaré Challenge’ big-wave surfing competition had been held here, and with even more giant surf forecast, the broadcast team had been kept in place to capture a potentially historic “free surfing” (ie. non-competitive) session on the Sunday.
“There was no time to dive or swim away. It felt like I had been hit by a train”
McNamara turned up in 2011, and immediately saw the potential. Unlike some of the other premier big wave spots, like Jaws in Maui, or Mavericks in California, Nazaré is a beachbreak. “The difference here is that the swells travel down a deep underwater canyon, and then are met from the side by waves coming off the sand shelf,” McNamara explains. “They create these giant wedges and when everything comes together, magic happens.”
“When locals saw McNamara first paddling out to surf waves that were almost as high as the towering cliffs they crashed into, they were certain he had a death wish”