In 2020, nowhere in surfing rose to the heights that Nazaré did. Thanks to the rocket fuel that was Hurricane Epsilon, the Atlantic lit up at the end of October, and thanks to unusually clean conditions, the Portuguese big-wave break roared into the "biggest ever" conversation.
The swell started to kick into overdrive during the afternoon on Wednesday, October 28, and continued to build through the night. Thursday morning dawned with surf that can only be described as all-time.
But it wasn't just this singular swell event that kept all eyes glued to Nazaré, the spot served up hits all year, and after 365 days of hard charging, it's these six rides that stand out the most:
Kai Lenny's Heavy Rotation
Kai Lenny claimed the men's cbdMD XXL Biggest Wave Award for a gigantic right ridden during the Nazaré Tow Challenge. Yet it was a left before that wave that might have blown more internal gaskets. On a wave that could be conservatively called 50-foot, Lenny launch into one of his trademark 360 spins at the top, which led to a massive airdrop that quickly spiraled into him cartwheeling down the face. Now, sure, he didn't make it, but to even think about it required ridiculous amounts of imagination and ambition. To attempt it, under the pressure of competition, was incredible.
Maya Gabeira Makes More History
Maya Gabeira has history at Nazaré. She famously came close to drowning there in 2014. Then in January 2018, she won the inaugural Women's XXL Biggest Wave Award and set a new world record for the largest wave ever surfed that measured at 68-feet. And at the Nazaré 2019 Tow Challenge she yet again made history riding a wave that was subsequently (and rigorously) measured at 73.5 feet.
"When I let go of the rope, I had a feeling it could be the one but wasn't sure," Gabeira said. "The speed was very high but the noise that the wave made when it broke made me realize that this was probably the biggest wave I'd ever ridden."
Justine Dupont's Giant Left
On the same day Gabeira was making history, Justine Dupont was also serving up a performance that will live long in the memory. Her biggest wave, a giant left that was measured only a few feet smaller than Gabeira's, was just one of a series of waves ridden with style, composure, and instinct. It helped her win the Red Bull Big Wave Ride of the Year and Performance of the Year Awards and cemented her status as one of the elite big wave surfers on the planet.
Lucas Chianca's Frothy Monster
Brazil's Lucas Chianca made a name, and a career, for himself at Nazaré, under the mentorship of Carlos Burle. His partnership with Kai Lenny has made one of the most electric double-acts in big wave surfing. So, when he claimed a wave in the last massive Nazaré swell in November as the biggest of his career, you just know that this was seismic. There haven't been any official measurements of the size as yet, but this frothy beast surely will be in the running for the biggest wave of the 2020/21 winter season.
Kai Lenny's Late Whip*
"I didn't go out there expecting to catch the biggest wave of my life. It felt big, but when you are riding waves out here, you don't look behind you."
That was Kai Lenny, on the ride in Nazaré Tow Challenge that won him the men's cbdMD XXL Biggest Wave Award. The surfer from Maui kicked off the year with an incredible performance at the Tow Challenge that set the platform for his incredible 2020. And it was this wave that iced the cake on a perfect day. Whipped in late by his partner Lucas Chianca, it had the spontaneity, style and sheer size that has set Lenny apart in the big wave world.
Sebastian Steudtner Pays The Tax Man
Whenever Nazaré goes XXL we can expect to see German Sebastian Steudtner screaming across the biggest lefts of the day. Known for his incredible professional set-up and big-wave technical chops, he also makes very few mistakes when Nazaré gets critical. However, this wave's sheer size and volume meant that even Stuedtner couldn't escape its clutches. He called it one of the biggest waves, and heaviest wipeouts, of his life. Given his decade-long dedication to the wave, that's no small call.