"A few years ago, this wave wasn't even taken seriously," laughs the UK's Andrew Cotton, a Nazaré pioneer and invitee to the Nazaré Challenge. "Now both the break and the town is a big wave hub. There's the Red Bull Warehouse at the port, where everyone can leave all their equipment, a big wave museum at the top of the hill and the town support is like no other in the world. It's meant that Nazaré now provides a professional environment for big wave training and that has attracted more and more big wave surfers."
With the Nazaré Challenge waiting period already underway Cotton has relocated to Nazaré for a few months to set up camp. When the WSL talked to him he'd just finished a week long surf fitness retreat, run by himself and his trainer Andrew Blake.
"The town has an incredible government run sports facility right on the beach at Nazaré," Cotton continued. "It has accommodation, a kitchen, gym, a great outdoor area and a swimming pool close by and all within walking distance of the North Beach or Praia do Norte. It's the best place for surf training I could ever imagine."
Seeing the potential Cotton and Blake set up a week long retreat called Surf Fit, with surfers of varying standards from all over Europe and the USA coming for a program that takes in breathing, nutrition and surf specific fitness, with the overall goal of building water confidence. Having a wave out the front that breaks from two to 100 ft. is also a pretty good place to put theory into practice.
"I think a lot of the big wave surfers do so much training and understand so much about their body, but it's rarely written down or laid out as a process," Cotton says. "We don't realize the true extent of all our knowledge. I've been fortunate to train and surf with some of my heroes and in Nazaré that exchange of ideas and information is now commonplace. It's a rare spot where all the aspects of big wave surfing are progressing in and out of the water."
Cotton enlisted the help of pioneer Garrett McNamara and new Nazaré convert Jamie Mitchell in a couple of stretching, yoga and beach fitness sessions, tapping into a regular roster of big wave surfers that now make an annual winter pilgrimage to Nazaré.
With the retreat finished, and the training done, Cotton is now firmly focusing on the Nazaré Challenge. "There are swells lining up already and although it's tough to predict, it does feel like the Atlantic has really come alive," he said. "It's wild, Nazaré is the only place on the Big Wave Tour where it can get too big. The organizers are looking for those days when its manageable. You need a set of magic numbers; a three meter swell, from the right direction, with light east winds. That's when we can hopefully see Nazaré at its paddle best. Clean, 25-foot Hawaiian-sized barrels, that's the dream."
If that happens for that day Nazaré will be at the very epicenter of the big wave surfing world. But even if it doesn't, Nazaré will continue to build its reputation as not only one of the heaviest waves on the planet, but as a unique environment that is helping to push big wave surfing all over the world.