This Town Once Feared the 10-Story Waves. Then the Extreme Surfers Showed Up.

The residents of Nazaré used to think the immense waves that broke against town’s cliffs were deadly to any who braved them. Today, those same waves have made the town a surfers’ mecca.

Comments: 17

  1. I got to go to see these waves. I am no surfer - but a curious tourist. Simply amazing. The article could have used more photos of big waves with surfers in them. Or for that matter, a photo of the fort that tourists flock to. An interesting one nevertheless. Thanks.

  2. @Neil Part of the top of the fort is in the foreground of the photo of McNamara surfing the largest wave. It's hard to recognize as a fort, though. But there are lots of amazing photos online now of waves, surfers and the fort. Definitely go to Nazare to see the waves, but spend time exploring the town and the fascinating fishing culture there, too. Many of the old customs are still practiced, but they no longer pull their colorful fishing boats out of the sea with oxen as they did when I was first there in 1978. I was disappointed when they started using tractors, but some things do need to change. But Jet Skis? It's sad to see so much change in this beautiful town and country, but I'm happy they are getting more business and so many people are discovering charming Portugal.

  3. @Neil you can find many videos on the web to satisfy your Nazare lust for excitement!

  4. I was in Nazarre three weeks ago. The waves were an amicable 5-8 feet. Still on the hill above the viewing point, you had a carnival of eating stands and a crowd of cars positioning themselves so that visitors could walk down to the old fort for a look. I chose to drive down to see if there were any parking places available; all full. So I turned around by putting by rear tires pretty near the edge of a cliff. My passengers were not thrilled with that maneuver. Accompanying this article should have been a photo of the Legend of Nazarre; a gigantic sculpture sporting the head of a deer and clutching a surfboard. A strange tribute to the 12th Century nobleman who was hunting early one morning.The knight was in pursuit of a deer when a heavy fog suddenly descended. "The deer, blinded by the fog, ran over the edge of the cliff. Dom Roupinho, realizing that he was very close to the grotto where the icon still remained, prayed to Our Lady to save him from certain death. His horse, though blinded by the fog, miraculously stopped at the edge of the cliff, saving the knight from death." There was no mist there the day that we visited. Perhaps if there had, I would have needed the help of Our Lady as well. Nazarre is a beautiful spot in Portugal. The idea of any seaside villages remaining intact for much longer is doubtful. I can't even imagine this town when the surf is high or any seaside village in Portugal during the high season. That is why we are here now!

  5. We were there 4 years ago and actually planned to stay 3 days. After the first day we left, not even bothering to get refunded. Little is left of the original village, and I start thinking the mist is as legendary as the waves. Even as a surfer I expect more from a place than just its waves. Luckily Portugal has much more to offer.

  6. A few weeks ago, I was at Praia Grande ; 100 kms south of Nazare, according to our guide and the waves were equally impressive. Portugal is a beautiful country altogether.

  7. Thanks to the World Surf League, for the last few years contests at Nazare have been live streamed, with excellent commentary from Peter Mel, a professional big wave surfer and champion himself. As the article alludes to, while surfers to some are laid back stoners like Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the surfers who challenge Nazare and other jaw dropping big wave venues like Todos Santos, Mavericks and Jaws are intelligent, and articulate world class athletes. Ditto for the surfers on the regular WSL Championship tour, like John John Florence who, at 25, can do things on waves, big and small, that have never been accomplished before, all with a refreshing self effacing humility oftentimes not evinced by the best in other professional sports.

  8. That photo of Garrett McNamara catching the largest wave ever surfed is one for the ages. Holy mackerel!!!

  9. Guy Debord's _The Society of the Spectacle_ is a little more relevant every year. Big-wave surfing, free-solo climbing, extreme skiing, big water kayaking, B.A.S.E. jumping, and wingsuit diving have been turned into fungible forms of actuarial suicide. Nobody intends to die; far too many do. But they'll sell merchandise first. I'm old enough to remember the bad old days of open-cockpit, open-wheel car racing, the kind of spectacles that regularly ended in fiery crashes and death. The sound of the crowds then is echoed at Mavericks and El Cap Meadow. I'm glad to see the NYT going with the flow.

  10. @JET III Oh come on — are you really shaking your fist at Neil Armstrong, Lewis and Clark, James Cook, et al?

  11. Great article but for the rest of us mortal surfers, the town of Ericeira PORTUGAL has, after surfing in many areas of the world, the most variety of surf spots I’ve ever experienced - I didn’t know such variety existed in such a small area. It’s a fishing village only a half hour from Lisbon I visited in July for a surf & skate film festival. Bring a 5mil wetsuit and GO! Shhhh.

  12. Almost forty years ago, we discovered the great surfing in a number of areas in Portugal. We lived just east of Milfontes, south of Lisboa. I remember telling friends back in the states (mostly California) about the great surfing and getting responses that ranged from incredulity to blatant accusations of lying. It's great to hear others have now heard of the fabulous surf along most of the Portuguese coast. We found the whole country to be one of the greatest places we had ever travelled. (That includes four continents and over three dozen countries.) The people are warm and welcoming, the food is delicious, the scenery is gorgeous both on the coast and inland where we lived. Hard to believe it has changed so much. Back in the seventies we were generally the only outsiders almost everywhere we went, from tiny cafes in the hinterland to the mercados and fieras in the farming villages. I still remember our months there with fondness. I only hope that it doesn't change it all too much.

  13. William Finnegan’s wonderful surfing novel “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” has a compelling section on his days surfing the monster waves at Nazare beginning well before the days of the spot’s universal discovery. It’s a great read for fans of surfing as well as an engaging view of the world’s cultural evolution (devolution?) since the middle of last century.

  14. Wonderful article, and a wonderful country. Inspired me to visit the town early next year.

  15. I have climbed a few mountains, and a few rock routes in my time; but generally they stand still while one is climbing. The photo of surfer McNamara on the wave is truly awesome.

  16. My boyfriend and I watched a segment on 60 minutes featuring Nazare on October 28th and we were impressed.

  17. Beautiful, win-win story!