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Big Wave Surfing in Portugal

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By Vera Schemainda

Well, it is the time of the year again when the swell starts to rise and the giant wave season is starting. Last year we went twice with a big group of guests, volunteers, friends and family to watch this breathtaking natural spectacle, ready to witness the next world record. You will hardly find a similar spot to watch the giant waves similar to Nazaré where you can spot them just next to you.

It was Luiz, one of our team members, always diligently following the world´s best surfers on Instagram, who figured out that there might be the chance to see the biggest wave of the year or even the century (?!) hitting the Portuguese coastline in October last year. It put a smile on everyone´s face when a guest who just arrived misunderstood us asking: Ah, so we are having the lesson in Nazaré tomorrow? clearly having no idea about it. If this could be you, here are some facts about it:

What is Nazaré?

The village of Nazaré was a secret spot for quite some time and became a surfers point on their bucket list after the mayor of the city sent a video of its giant waves to the surfer legend Garrett Macnamara. He came to Portugal and his popularity made Nazaré and the beach of Praia da Norte world famous. A massive underwater canyon (can you imagine that it is 227km long and 5000m deep?)  and certain winds, swells and currents can produce those giant waves up to 30 meters (up to 100ft!!!) which are considered as a so called 8th world wonder. The WSL (World Surf League) chose Praia da Norte as a venue for its big wave contest. The time for this event will only be announced 3 days (72 hours) before the actual event takes place!

A mysterious place?

Since a long time ago many fishermen feared the area around Nazaré and you can find several shipwrecks and a German submarine from the Second World War in the water. For a long time no one could explain this complex natural setting and people created many myths about the area and its monster wave.

When is the best time to go?

Well, as we already mentioned, the official season ranges from October until March. If you want to see this natural event you should plan at least 2 weeks in Portugal to enlarge your chances to see this happening. In December and January chances might increase since it is the time of the year with heavy winter storms messing around in the Atlantic. But in the end you could even get lucky on a day in September or April, you never know about the secret of Nazaré 😉

How to check for the best waves?

There are several options for you. You can start observing the forecast on several web pages at most one week before, the closer you are to the date the more reliable the forecast will be of course.  Alternatively you can follow big wave surfers such as Garrett Macnamara or the German/Austrian Sebastian Steudner (yes, for all the Germans and Austrians, you can become a big wave surfing star, too) on their Instagram and you will be informed when they expect big waves to come and you can watch how they prepare for their rides. Last but not least you can just ask us and we will tell the best time to go or even go on a Gota d´Àgua Family Surf Trip to Nazaré!

The minimum swell size to watch something should be at least more than 3 meters, with a period bigger than 14 seconds. For a perfect setting wind conditions should be more than moderate, offshore and the swell direction coming from W/NW.

Gota d´Àgua goes Nazaré

Deciding to go for the adventure we had to leave early before dawn to be able to see the first surfers entering the water (remember, that wind conditions are often better in the early morning). Leaving with three of our vans, and the best DJs on board, watching the sunrise, it felt like a proper surf trip! Luckily, since we are situated in the center of Portugal, it takes us only 1,5 hours to get there! If you go to watch the waves you are doing this from the famous lighthouse. Walking down from the top of the village you can already see and hear the massive giants rolling in. When you arrive at the spot, you will have different options to watch the waves, either from the lighthouse itself, then there is a path around it, with a really spectacular view (this is the closest you can get) or you can walk down to the beautiful, vast beach of Praia da Norte.

If you walk down, take care, that the massive white-water carpet will not catch you. When we go there we love to take some time, to see the waves from all these different angles. Just take care, on the days of the WSL contest and other potential record days the lighthouse will be closed for public and only open for the crew and VIPs. In fact every team has crew members on the lighthouse, giving them live information in order to catch the best waves. If you visit Nazaré you will see how the teams work and how they make this extreme way of surfing possible. On really big days surfers couldn’t take those waves just by paddling into them. That’s why they are working with jetski drivers who will pull their partners with a rope in the waves and rescue them in case of a wipeout. On smaller, unsurfable or even flat days you can visit the lighthouse for 1 € and you can check out a little big wave museum inside! 

So there we were enjoying this beautiful experience with the whole group. On that day we didn´t see the biggest wave of the century but this didn´t matter at all. We were driving back with unforgettable memories of beautiful and impressive waves.

When you go to Nazare, you will lose track of time watching all this power coming from the ocean. If you love to observe nature and you see yourself as an ocean lover this is the place to be. If you really want to get the chance to see this, come and visit us in Portugal soon! If you are lucky we can see the biggest wave ever surfed, together, this season.

Us in the lighthouse of Praia do Norte
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