Garrett McNamara rode what members of his group implied was the largest wave ever successfully negotiated during a tow-surfing session Tuesday off the coast of Nazare, a small fishing town 70 miles north of Lisbon, Portugal. The wave face measured "around 90 feet," according to a news release announcing the feat.
McNamara, a big-wave surfing icon from Hawaii, was riding large waves with Andrew Cotton and Al Mennie when three gigantic waves appeared on the outside. Cotton used a personal watercraft to tow McNamara onto the massive shoulder of one of those rogue waves.
Mennie was siting in the channel on another vessel, acting as lifeguard, and described the event: "Everything seemed to be perfect, the weather, the waves. Both Cotty and I rode two big ones in the 60-foot-plus range and then when Garrett got on the rope a wave, maybe 30 feet bigger, came out of the canyon.
"I had the best seat in the house as he dropped down the face of the biggest wave I've ever seen. It was incredible. Most people would look scared but Garrett looked in control as he went down the most critical part of the wave.
"It was an inspirational ride by an inspirational surfer. After the ride it was as if the sea calmed down. We sat out there and just absorbed both what had just happened and the surroundings."
Guinness World Records lists a 77-foot wave ridden at Cortes Bank in 2008, by Mike Parsons, as the current record. Cortes Bank is a shallow reef that sits 100 miles off the coast of Southern California, and is considered one of the most feared nautical hazard for mariners. Ken Bradshaw, another surfer from Hawaii, rode what was described as an 85-foot wave at an outer Hawaiian reef in 1998. (Wave heights always seem to fall under dispute.)
McNamara's ride will be entered in the Billabong XXL Global Big-Wave Awards, a year-long competition that announces winners in several categories, for the world's top big-wave surfers, each spring. Bill Sharp, director of the competition, said XXL "makes no size estimations until we get down to the finalists."
McNamara had been in Portugal to work with the Portuguese Hydrographic Institute in a study to learn more about how the waves in the deep-water canyon off Nazare reach such unusual heights.
Said McNamara: "I feel so blessed and honored to have been invited to explore this canyon and its special town. The waves here are such a mystery."