Nazare – The Greatest Show On Earth

Posted 11-11-17

As surfing has become more popular and equipment more advanced, the boundaries of what kind of waves are considered surfable have changed dramatically.

The eternal surfer hunt for the biggest wave (matched only by the internet’s insatiable lust for anything extreme) has over the past couple of years turned the world’s eye to a small seaside town along Portugal’s Costa de Prata (Silver Coast), 75 miles north of the capital Lisbon. Its name is Nazare (pronounced Naz-a-ray).

At first glance, the town itself is a typical sleepy seaside retreat set along a lovely crescent-shaped golden sand beach. An elegant boulevard with shops and cafes speaks of lazy sunny days lounging by the beach, but mentions nothing of the monsters lurking somewhere offshore.

Because under the sea pointing directly at Nazare like an arrow from the horizon is the unique Nazare Canyon, a trench that plunges to an awesome 5,000m or 16,400 feet in depth – to give you some contrast, the Grand Canyon is around 6,000 feet deep at its lowest point.

With huge storm swells generated in the Atlantic marching towards this unique topographical feature unimpeded and with no shallowing seabed to slow them down, they retain vast amounts of energy. All of this energy is concentrated into the canyon and then thrown up into vast, towering waves as the canyon narrows and comes to an abrupt and steep end breaking right in front of a cliff face.

 And while there are other similar places around the world generating almost as crazy waves – Maverick’s in north California, Peahi (aka Jaws) in Hawaii, Cortes Bank 100 miles offshore from LA – none has Nazare’s big advantage: a perfect viewing gallery from which to watch them explode and the men and women who try to tame them.

North of the town beach is the Praia do Norte (North beach) and separating the two is the Sitio, a 318-metre (1,000 feet) sheer cliff face on top of which is perched the town’s lighthouse. In itself a photo-worthy attraction, the lighthouse is but a distraction from the real business happening behind it out to sea, and if the surf is up it’ll be hard to miss. The elevation and sheer face of the Sitio conspire to make it the perfect viewing platform from which to watch the surf from above, where the waves feel so close you can almost feel the spray on your face.

(C) 2017