Many a fisherman’s wife was made a widow by these unpredictable monsters tossing small fishing boats against the craggy cliffs.

Sítio da Nazaré, the 360-foot (110-metre) promontory where the fort (and now lighthouse) sits, separates two very different beaches. South of the lighthouse is a quieter beach, the main beach of Nazaré. But to the north of the lighthouse, the North Beach (Praia do Norte) has an angrier temperament due to the Nazaré North Canyon, one of the largest submarine canyons in Europe, a giant hole in the bottom of the sea 140 miles (230 kilometers) long with a maximum depth of 16,000 feet (5,000 meters).

Shrouded in mystery, the Canyon belongs to a complex geological area perhaps related to the Nazaré fault, a fracture zone with movements that can cause earthquakes. With a deceitful topography, this giant submarine valley is able to change the direction and speed of the waves as they travel through the Canyon. The exit of those waves is not a peaceful one, as if it were a conspiracy, the inconceivable happens—a powerful wall of water, sometimes as tall as a 10-story building.

Predicting Big Waves

With the combination of several elements of nature, the Canyon’s presence creates special conditions for the build up of big waves. It will split a wave into two, increase the speed of the wave that travels the Canyon, and reunite them. The opposite ocean current coming from the beach also adds a few more meters. The right conditions–a wave period greater than or equal to 14 seconds, the predicted wave size above four meters (to the Nazaré zone), the wind (ideally weak), and the direction of the wave (ideally from W/ NW)—can amplify the wave size forecasts by three times. North Atlantic storms occurring during the autumn and winter are another important factor, bringing considerable swells to the Canyon. An innocent wave, destined for Nazaré, can triple in height.

North Atlantic Kicks Off 2022 With Wild Day At Nazare | HIGHLIGHTS

Riding the Waves

In 2005, Narzaréan body boarder Dino Casimiro reached out to big wave surfing icon Garrett McNamara, famous for riding big waves worldwide and always searching for a bigger wave. 5 Years went by with no reply. It wasn’t until 2010 that McNamara and Casimiro met up in Nazaré. Awed and astonished, McNamara accepted the invitation to explore the infamous Nazaré waves, looking for big wave event potential. In 2011 McNamara rode a 78-foot (23.77m) wave, taking the world record and remaining the record holder until 2017. That’s when Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa surfed the biggest wave ever surfed at 80-feet (24.38m).

See For Yourself

It’s officially big wave season at Nazaré, running from October to March. As expected, eyes worldwide are focused on this big wave mecca.

Big waves are not always present; they depend upon storms on the high seas to bring big swells. Enthusiasts, top athletes, wave forecasters, and eager spectators are starting to scan the “wave radar” searching for weather bombs, very intense low-pressure systems that are able to produce large-scale swells towards the Portuguese West Coast. The resulting giant waves are both unique and uncertain. Surfers, however, will always be on the waves, surfing when any opportunity arises, big waves or basic breakers. You can subscribe to notifications on for updates on expected big waves and regularly follow the alerts on the main page.

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