Step Aside Pipeline, Portugal Claims Record Breaker

May 11, 2012; 2:02 PM
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The towering breakers of Nazare, Portugal, have become officially recognized as the highest ever surfed.

In a ruling last Friday, experts from the Billabong XXL Global Big Waves Awards ruled that a wave ridden in November 2011 by Garrett McNamara was 78 feet high, the CBS News Los Angeles website said on Tuesday.

The feat has been acknowledged by Guinness World Records.

The previous record highest surfed wave was one 77 feet by Mike Parson at Cortes Bank, off Southern California, in 2001, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Back in November, the wave that McNamara rode was estimated at 90 feet in height, the Daily Mail website said.

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

The 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.

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

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