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Nazare - Big Waves

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Nazare - Big Waves

When Is the Best Time 

Nazare, Praia do Norte became famous for the biggest waves ever surfed at the Big Wave Awards Contest with world records between 80-100 feet. Usually, the highest chance for watching these waves occurs between November to January. The waves can be seen from Praia do Norte close to the clifftop ford and lighthouse.

Nazare clifftop ford and lighthouse

It’s a unique experience to see surfers among the waves. It’s one of the most difficult places to predict the conditions. The annual surf event with the best surfers from all over the world takes part between mid-October to late February. If “Giant Waves” are predicted, and the surfers arrive at Praia do Norte it’s an exciting spectacle to watch the surfers getting towed with the jet ski into the next monster wave.

A surfer get towed-in at Nazare

The tuned jet skis have 300 hp for this kind of sport "Tow Surfing". These waves are so powerful and fast that paddling is impossible. To figure out how to increase the chance to catch a day where surfers riding those massive waves continue reading for details. You’d like to know the real story about the world record in January 2018 and the 100 million times clicked video? Continue reading in our description.

When Do These Waves Occur 

When giant waves are build up jet skis and surfers appear

The Big and Giant Waves appear between October and March but are most likely to happen from November to January. These waves are not predictable far in advance on short notice only with the current technology for forecasting conditions. Predictions are accurate for three days only. To experience the big waves, you have to monitor the forecast. Either you are flexible, or you spend your vacation in Portugal as we did. We spent some time in Porto and north of Spain in Galicia to visit the popular Cathedral Beach. We monitored the waves forecast each day, and when we figured out there is a high chance for giant waves, we drove the entire way from Galicia to Nazare back. Such a big event does not often happen, so we took the chance. When we arrived in the Zulla Nazaré`s Surf Village (highly recommended, as it's outside the crowded area! Bookmark the link/make a reservation in advance) popular among surfers in walking distance to Praia do Norte, we got told that several surfers from Brazil arrived the day before.

The Zulla Surf Village in Nazare

At this moment we’d known it was the right decision to come here. Another opportunity spend your vacation in Lisbon, Sintra and the surroundings and monitor the forecast.  Big Waves Surf Forecast It’s just 1.5 hours drive north of Lisbon. Even if all accommodations are fully booked, it doesn’t take so long to come to Nazare from the Lisbon surroundings.

What Causes and Indicates These Huge Waves

The north, deep water canyon of Nazare reaches a depth of 5000 m and is 230 km long. This canyon generates and amplifies such waves up to 100 feet / 30 meters height. There are 4 key factors in particular which indicate these enormous waves:

  1. Wave size > 3 meters 
  2. Wave period > 13 seconds 
  3. North Atlantic storms during autumn and winter bring swells to the canyon 
  4. Incoming tide makes the conditions even better


Portugal, Lisbon, Nazare
Review and Tips 

Nazare is a fishing town with 10.000 residents. It’s the most popular place in Europe to watch Big Waves. The first big surfing event and competition was held in 2016, then twice in 2018. Surfers may be present in town but surfing only when big waves are forecasted.

Many people watching the Giant Wave Competition in January 2019
People watching the Giant Wave Competition in Jan 19

Who Surfed the Biggest Wave Ever

Garrett Mc Namara put Nazare on the map when he surfed 78 feet / 23.78 meters high wave. The mayor of Nazare sent e-mails with pictures and videos to several famous Big Wave Surfers in 2009. Garrett was the one who came to Nazare and made it famous. The first surf competition took place in 2016 and continues. In 2018 it was said that Rodrigo Koxa got the world record with 80 feet / 24.38 meters high wave, but it was the ride of Sebastian Steudtner which went viral with hundred million of clicks on social media. It’s hard to say who exactly surfed the biggest wave because it’s impossible to measure the height exactly. Just pictures are used to determine the exact wave height. There can be a difference of up to 3 meters. However, one thing is for sure; the Nazare Canyon creates the highest and most spectacular “Freak Waves” due to the unique topographic.

Surfer in a giant wave in Nazare

It’s tough intensive training for the surfers; they need to be mentally fit and having the right sponsor in place. Their safety equipment is their insurance to survive. Sebastian moved from Hawaii to Nazare in 2012. I think he knows the waves of Nazare best and one day he will break the record. That’s for sure. He is nominated again for surfing the biggest wave in 2019. Check out the Video of the nominated wave of his exceptionel ride in February 7th.

The massive wave which was ridden by Sebastian Steudtner January 2018

It’s a hellman job to conquer the biggest waves with speed up to 80 km/h; risking their life but this is what many surfers make alive. Serious injuries are part of surfing giant waves. Luckily, no one died in Nazare yet. The British big wave surfer Andrew Cotton had a horrific wipeout in 2017 and broke his back. Luckily, he recovered completely. Of course, he’d been back to Nazare already.

Pedro Vianna; Scooby at Nazare popular surfer from Brazil
Scooby; Pedro Vianna in January 19

In February 2017 the professional surfer Pedro Vianna called “Scooby” from Brazil came to Nazare for the biggest predicted swell instead of celebrating carnival in Rio. But the swell was not perfect due to onshore winds dangerous choppy whitewater was created. NatGeo called the large but hazardous waves “Big Ugly”. What happened Scooby lost the control and felt from the board in the dangerous zone. He got picked up by his friend Lucas, but the jet ski capsized in the choppy water when the next monster wave built up. They were captured in the white sea waves. It was a dramatic rescue in the death zone close to the rocks in front of the lighthouse. It’s truly epic here in Nazare and coming so close to the most experienced surfers during an event is just unforgettable.

Where to Stay for a Perfect View 

Nazare clifftop ford and lighthouse view from the dunes

Stay either below the lighthouse or behind the north beach in the dunes to be on a higher elevation. A dirt road leads down to the beach and dunes but be careful during high tide and massive waves. If a contest takes place a platform is built in front of the dunes.  Nazares Beach is separated by a massive rock formation where the lighthouse is situated. The southern part is a calm beach though the north impacted by the deep canyon in the Atlantic.

Nazare, the calm south beach

At the south beach, you can swim in the summer, and the beach is packed with tourists. The north beach has high waves during winter that the surfers have to be towed in by jet ski. It’s incredibly tough when bodyboarders encounter the giant waves without any support.

Nazare Lighthouse and Museum

Nazare museum and exhibition of the most popular big wave surfers

You pay one Euro entrance fee for a closer look into the clifftop ford and its museum. The exhibition explains the topographic exception of the Nazare canyon and how these monster waves get amplified. Lot's of boards of the most famous big wave surfers can be seen as well. You have a spectacular view from the top of the lighthouse to the north and south beach. Well made shirts of Nazare; Praia do Norte are sold at the entrance. We couldn't resist and bought one for us and for a friend. It's a beautiful memory for this breathtaking place.

What to Bring

You may spend hours waiting and then watching the big wave surfers. There is a strong and cold wind. 

  • water and a snack
  • wind- and rainproof jacket
  • zoom camera
  • patience