News & Opinion | July 2, 2018 5:00 am

The Mount Everest of Surfing Is Off the Coast of Portugal

The world's biggest wave often tops 100 feet in the winter.

Hawaiian big wave surfer Garrett McNamara drops a wave in Praia do Norte in Nazare, Portugal, on November 1, 2015. (FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

Under the sea off Nazaré in Portugal, there is a canyon more than three miles deep, extending from near the shore, widening west for about 140 miles. It is about three times deeper than the Grand Canyon and has a tremendous impact on the ocean: A swell from far offshore rolls over this submarine canyon and creates a monster wave, perhaps the biggest wave in the world, and maybe also the widest, thickest and highest. The wave often tops 100 feet in the winter, which is the height of a nine-story building. The wave has killed a lot of people over the years, and its reputation spread. Nazaré endured hard times because of the decline in the fishing industry and became a poor Portuguese town.

But then a man named Dino Casimiro had an idea. He knew surfer Garrett McNamara had ridden big waves all over the world in places like Tahiti, Alaska, Japan, some of which rose to 80 feet. Dino thought McNamara might be interested in visiting Nazaré and trying to ride the wave. If successful, Nazaré could become a tourist town. Eventually, Garrett saw the email and traveled to Portugal.

“Oh, my God, I found the holy grail,” Garrett remembers thinking, as he saw the succession of waves, according to Smithsonian Magazine. “They were 80 feet, minimum—some could have been 100. But they were so battered by the wind they had no defined shape.”

Garrett spent some time getting pounded by the massive waves, but eventually, in 2011, he rode a 78-footer, which was the biggest wave ever surfed.