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A guide to Nazaré, Portugal: Home to the biggest wave in the world

Now I am absolutely no expert when it comes to surfing but I know a big wave when I see one…

Witnessing the XXL swell come into Praia do Norte from the famous Nazaré lighthouse last week, was truly a once in a lifetime front seat at the best show on earth. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the energy that ran through me as the crowds gathered and we sat together to witness these incredible (borderline crazy) humans walking the fine line between life and death.

In case you have no idea about Nazaré, Nazaré is a small town on the coast of Portugal just 120km north of Lisbon.

Nazaré is home to the biggest wave ever surfed back in 2017 measuring 24.38 metres (80ft) and surfed by Brazilian, Rodrigo Koxa. Basically, Nazaré is the place big-wave surfers come to try their luck and to tackle the liquid mountains that detonate as a result of the underwater canyon sitting just off the coast.

But rumour has it, a wave surfed on Thursday 29th October 2020 could have broken the world record.

'These were some of the largest, cleanest waves ever recorded at Nazare. This swell was all-time.'

I cannot tell you how insane this event was to watch unfold before my eyes.

If you haven’t got watching Nazaré big-wave surfing on your bucket list already, I highly suggest you get it on there.

The best things to do and see in Portugal

When can you see the big-wave surfing?

After spending 6 weeks travelling around Portugal this summer and writing travel guides for Lagos, Lisbon and researching the best things to do and see in Portugal, there was no doubt about it, I was so praying to witness that huge swell that Nazaré is famous for.

Only, you can’t plan for this show. No amount of wishing will make the swell come in. I’d read online previously that the XXL waves usually fall between November and January but, of course, nature will do it’s thing when it’s ready to.

And so I surrendered, as we must to nature (and life). I figured that if it was meant to be, it would be. I would remain flexible and should there be a chance of seeing it, I’d drive there. Guess what happened?

A swell generated in the North Atlantic by Hurricane Epsilon merging with another potent low-pressure system off of Greenland formed the perfect storm-swell that made a beeline for Europe.

As the potentially record-breaking swell predictions for Praia do Norte (Nazaré’s north beach) w/c 26th October 2020 begun flooding social media and surf platforms, I aborted my Algarve adventures (obviously) and drove immediately north to witness the madness…

The best things to do and see in Portugal

I arrived to Nazaré by early evening on Wednesday 28th October and parked desperately in the first spot I could find after an hour of crawling through and searching the tiny roads that run through this otherwise ghost town. As the sun went down on Wednesday evening I witnessed what they called ‘warm-up waves’ from the cliffs, fuelling the anticipation for the peak swell on Thursday.

The peak swell was due by evening on the 28th, with predictions of over 40ft monsters and was set to run through most of the 29th daylight. We squeezed our vans onto the cliffs by the lighthouse, tucked into some dinner and tried our best to get some sleep…

It felt like Christmas.

Show time...

All I could hear in the crowds was that Nazaré hadn’t seen a swell this big and this clean in a long time, if ever. The big names were flying in and the surfing world was preparing for potentially the biggest swell since 2017.

There was no messing around. By sighting of first light, with coffee in hand, I watched 50, 60, 70ft waves surging in from the deepwater canyon.

Kai LennyLucas ChiancaNic von RuppSebastian Steudtner and a handful of other big names were bombing their way down these faces, as ever, making it look effortless. The waves were monstrous. The perspective of just how big they were, only really came when you saw the surfers as dots beneath them.

Big-wave legends Kai Lenny and Sebastian Stuednter reportedly got the killer waves of the day, but there’s no confirmation on just how big those waves were yet.

Take a look at the video below to see the show in action:

Though my camera lens may have nothing on the beasts I witnessed photographers using on the day, the images I took at Nazaré last Wednesday are some of my favourite I’ve ever shot.

The power of the ocean and of nature on that Wednesday was like nothing I have ever witnessed. I do hope my images can communicate even a fraction of the power that we felt surging towards us as we clung to the cliffs and watched history unfold at Praia do Norte.

I’ll say it again. If Nazare waves weren’t already on your bucket list, it’s time they were added.

Stay tuned. I’m going to be making some prints available for purchase and download.

A guide to Nazaré, Portugal: Home to the biggest wave in the world

Have you been to Nazaré?

Where are your favourite things to do in Nazare? Did you catch the big swell?

Love as always and happy adventuring,

Mollie.

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