Ninety-Foot Breakers along Portugal Coast

By Jim Andrews,
11/11/2011 9:35:45 AM

Towering waves, some of the highest waves ever surfed, regularly hammer the Portugal coast during stormy weather, thanks to exceptional seafloor conditions.

It was here, at Nazare, that a wave reportedly standing 90 feet high was successfully ridden by an extreme surfer, according to multiple news outlets. The surfer, Garrett McNamara, is "set to earn a place in the record books," the Daily Mail said on Thursday.

The apparent record-setting ride took place during an event called the "ZON North Canyon Project" at Praia do Norte (North Beach), Nazare, Portugal.

The project's website attributes Praia do Norte's exceptionally high breakers to an offshore undersea canyon. The "Canhao da Nazare" (Nazare Canyon), said to be the deepest around the European continent, starts right off the bay at Nazare.

Undersea canyon off Nazare, Portugal, is clearly shown on this map of ocean depth (image credit: Hidrografico Marinha, Portugal)

Waves interacting with the seafloor, along the north rim of the underwater canyon, are refracted and focused--in other words, substantially amplified--as they rear up to break at Praia do Norte.

The shape of the seafloor is a key factor in many of the famous big-wave surfing sites, such as the "Banzai Pipeline" at Pupukea, on Oahu's North Shore, Hawaii. Sharp breaks from shallow to deep water can set up conditions whereby large breakers are ridable for relatively long distances.

The highest registered instance of a wave being surfed was one of 77 feet in Cortes Bank, off Southern California, 2001, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Unofficially, an 85-footer was ridden at Waimea Bay, Oahu North Shore, Hawaii, in 1998, the Daily Mail said.