How a sleepy fishing village located 120 kilometers north of Lisbon, Portugal (not far from Peniche, where the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour visits every year for the MEO Rip Curl Pro) became the center of the surfing world's collective gaze is an interesting story full of twists and turns. Arguably, the spot hit its pinnacle of fame Tuesday, Dec. 20, when the WSL Big Wave Tour ran the Nazaré Challenge, the first-ever paddle-in contest there.
But the bigger question may be this: Why did it take so long to capture the surfing zeitgeist? As is often the case in terms of uncharted slabs and sketchy big wave spots along unknown coasts, it may be a story of hiding in plain sight.
Nazaré was first conquered by a band of bodyboarders, followed by a crew of chargers led by Hugo Vau, a local fisherman and legend. Enter Garrett McNamara and his Hawaiian tow-in squad years later, toss in a Guinness World Record, mix in massive amounts of media coverage and you've grabbed our attention. Now we have the latest -- well-deserved -- addition to the WSL Big Wave Tour: the Nazaré Challenge.
North Shore icon and big wave surfing pioneer Buzzy Trent once quipped in an interview in the 1960s that "big waves aren't measured in feet, but in increments of fear." Hyperbole aside, a wave with this kind of power and intensity makes even the bravest surfers take a gut check and ask themselves how badly they really want it.
The Nazaré Challenge
After riding a huge left to kick off the Final, Jamie Mitchell waited a painfully long time to find the back-up wave he needed for a win. Late in the heat, after finding a solid second wave, he paddled out the back as the clocked ticked down. After the horn, not knowing the situation, he looked at the camera crew on a PWC next him with a puzzled glance. They told him he had won and he fell back onto his board in celebration.
Jamie Mitchell was not always a hardcore surfer, but his rise to the top of the big wave scene has been swift and perhaps unprecedented. After dominating the competitive paddling scene for a decade (he has 10 Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard Championships), he shifted to stand-up paddle racing and became one of that sport's top competitors. It's hard to overlook the competitive advantage of world-class paddling power in a big wave surfing contest. In the end, the big Aussie may go down in the books as one of the greatest watermen ever.
As a Portuguese surfer now transplanted to San Francisco and surfing Ocean Beach on a regular basis, Joao De Macedo sees his fair share of frigid, thundering beach break peaks.
Standing on the podium after the Final, Nic Lamb admitted he wasn't feeling 100% and that he might have a concussion from the two bad wipeouts he took during the final. Getting rolled by huge sneaker sets like this couldn't have helped that situation.
With an unrivaled swell exposure to anywhere else on the European continent, the Iberian Peninsula is constantly pounded by a barrage of Atlantic winter storms detonating along its coast. Tom Butler, on a bomb.
The wave science behind Nazaré consists of unique bathymetry (underwater topography), a deep submarine canyon (think Blacks Beach in San Diego, Calif.), wave refraction and littoral drift. All combined, a wave of giant proportions and challenges emerges. Alex Botelho, out of the lab and into the fray.
What compelled Nic Lamb to push over the ledge of this giant building is mystifying, but the guts to give it a go are admirable.
Young Hawaiian charger Koa Rothman, a surfer who cut his teeth in the North Shore's massive cloudbreaks, had such a shocking experience at Nazaré he said he might not ever return to surf the wave.
After a well-deserved 2nd place finish, an emotional Carlos Burlé stood on podium and spoke to the fans in Portuguese, thanking the crowd and his family for their love and support. The master of consistency, Burlé's positioning is impeccable.
With its cold water, rocky reefs and point breaks, Portugal is Europe's answer to northern California or Australia's south coast. Brazilian Pedro Calado showed composure in the chaos.
Conditions were so treacherous that Damien Hobgood never even made it out into the lineup to surf his Semifinal heat. On the way out through the shore break, Hobgood and PWC driver Garrett McNamara were caught by a set and rolled their ski. In the process Hobgood injured his knee and was unable to compete. Above: Hobgood, wildly kicking out earlier in the day.
Local fisherman and Nazaré legend Hugo Vau has been surfing this stretch of coast his entire life. Vau, hanging on through a violently churned up inside section.