By any measure, Nazaré, home of Saturday's Nazaré Challenge, is a beast of a wave. It exacts punishment from even the most skilled surfers and is a place into which, in its early days as a surf destination, wasn't thought possible to paddle.
"Nazaré is one of the craziest big-wave beachbreaks that I've seen in my entire life," said Jamie Mitchell. The Australian, now based on Oahu, won the inaugural WSL event there in 2016.
And he's not alone in having healthy respect. "You can feel the power behind this place," said Billy Kemper, who's also headed there to compete. "The wave -- obviously, a couple nice channels and an ideal peak would be a lot more comfortable and appealing! But it is what it is and looks really challenging. And the opportunity is there to catch the biggest waves in the world, if you want it."
In the canon of premier big-wave breaks, Nazaré stands alone in its sheer ferocity and unpredictable nature, often trapping surfers on the inside -- the spot where the wave breaks -- for multiple-wave hold-downs. That distinction is the result of its unique bathymetry; its features on the sea floor below. A 130-mile long canyon funnels swell directly into Nazaré, which creates ideal conditions for the waves. At its deepest point, the canyon is more than 16,000 feet (5000 meters) deep -- it's the longest submarine canyon in Europe. Finally, Nazaré's also a sand-bottom beachbreak, which means it needs drastic, rapid change in ocean depth to amplify swell.
"Due to the unique layout and location of the large offshore canyon that sits just off the coast of Nazaré, much of the incoming swell is refracted and focused into the point and adjacent beach to the north," said Surfline's Jonathan Warren. "The converging swells in this zone will often amplify breaking surf heights up to several times larger than the swell itself."
Which is all to say, wiping out at Nazaré can be life or death. Waves there can reach heights of up to 70 feet on the face, at which point they weigh 1,000 tons. It's a place where breath-hold training, aerobic stamina and safety systems are essential for survival. But all of that also adds up to something else: a place where some of surfing's most incredible achievements can unfold.
Watch Mitchell, Kemper, and the rest of the competitors in the Nazaré Challenge live on the WSL and Facebook Saturday, February 10 at 8 am WET (12 am PST, 6 am BRST, 8 am GMT, 7 pm AEDT)