When Is the Best Time
Nazare, Praia do Norte became famous for the biggest waves ever surfed at the Big Wave Awards Contest, with world records between 80-100 feet/ 24-30 meters. The "Big Wave" season starts in October and lasts until March.
The best time with the highest chance of watching these waves occurs between late October and February. The surf contest date is published just two days in advance.
Have you always wanted to watch those massive waves, the biggest waves in the world? I will show you how you can make it happen. There is no guarantee, but we were successful during our wonderful vacation in Portugal in the winter. Escape the cold, enjoy the mild climate in Portugal and monitor the wave forecast.
People watching the Giant Wave Competition from the lighthouse area
Nazare is a fishing town with 10.000 residents. It’s the most popular place in Europe to watch Big Waves. The first big surfing event and competition were held in 2016, then twice in 2018. Surfers may be present in town, like Sebastian, who is living in Nazare, but usually, you can watch them surfing only when big waves are forecasted.
Accidents and wipeouts have happened yearly, but January 2023 had a gloomy start for the entire Big Wave surf community. Unfortunately, the first surfer died on January 5, Marcio Freire from Brazil. RIP
It wasn't a big wave but strong, and he lost consciousness.
I will continuously update this article and let you know if there is a chance to watch a contest.
Sebastian Steudtner will start a new journey across the ocean, going on the "Mission Wave Alpha" to surf a wave twice the size of his record of 118ft. However, Nazare is a fantastic place to watch Big Waves in Europe.
How is the Wave Height Measured?
It’s hard to say who exactly surfed the biggest wave because it’s impossible to measure the height exactly. Pictures are used to determine the exact wave height. There can be a difference of up to 3 meters. However, one thing is for sure; the Nazare Canyon creates the highest and most spectacular “Freak Waves” due to its unique topographic.
Where to Stay for a Perfect View?
There aren't any cliffs to watch the contest from a higher elevation, as some websites mentioned, only from the lighthouse and below the lighthouse. I visited this place personally several times. Another alternative, if it is crowded, is behind the north beach in the dunes to be on a higher elevation. A dirt road leads down to the beach and dunes but be careful during high tide and massive waves. If a contest takes place, a platform is built in front of the dunes.
Nazare's Beach is separated by a massive rock formation where the lighthouse is situated. The most dramatic-looking pictures are taken from far away with a zoom camera, but you can't see anything without binoculars or a zoom camera on a tripod. If you see the lighthouse in front of the waves, it's taken from far above. To watch this spectacle, you need to be much closer. The waves are best seen from Praia do Norte, close to the cliff-top ford and lighthouse.
It’s a unique experience to see surfers among these massive waves. It’s one of the most difficult places to predict the conditions. The annual surf event with the best surfers from around the world takes place between mid-October to late February. If “Giant Waves” are predicted, and the surfers arrive at Praia do Norte, it’s an exciting spectacle to watch the surfers getting towed with the jet ski into the next monster wave.
The surf contest's exact date is published two days in advance. Monitor the wave forecast here: Big Waves Surf Forecast - scroll down and look for the wave height in feet. Because of the deep underwater canyon, the wave height is usually amplified three times bigger, so a forecasted 5 m high wave can be 15 m due to the canyon. So it starts to be engaging with 5 m = 16 feet and exciting with at least 8 m = 26 feet and can become thrilling. This is something you never know days in advance. So an 8 m high wave can grow to 25 m with a little luck.
The tuned jet skis have 300 hp for this kind of sport, "Tow Surfing". These waves are so powerful and fast that paddling is impossible. To figure out how to increase the chance of catching a day where surfers ride those massive waves continue reading for details.
The southern part is a calm beach though the north is impacted by the deep canyon in the Atlantic.
You can swim in the summer at the south beach, but the beach is packed with tourists. The north beach has high winter waves that the surfers must be towed in by jet ski. It’s incredibly tough when bodyboarders encounter giant waves without any support.
Who Surfed the Biggest Wave Ever?
- Finally, since June 2022, it is officially the biggest Wave ever surfed by Sebastian Steudtner, 118 ft - 36,21 m high on October 29, 2020. Congrats on the New Guinness Record - It is unbelievable finally, Sebastian got the title he deserved for this Monster Wave. Sebastian moved from Hawaii to Nazare in 2012. I think he knows the waves of Nazare best.
- For 2022 "Chumbo" Lucas Chianca from Brazil and Nic von Rupp, born in Lisbon, captured titles.
- In 2018 it was said that Rodrigo Koxa got the world record with 80 feet/ 24.38 meters high wave, but the ride of Sebastian Steudtner went viral with a hundred million clicks on social media.
- Maya Gabeira from Brazil surfed the highest wave in the female contest of 73.5 ft - 22,4 m
Garrett Mc Namara Put Nazare on the Map
Garrett McNamara made Nazare popular when he surfed 78 feet / 23.78 meters high wave. The mayor of Nazare sent e-mails with pictures and videos to several famous Big Wave Surfers in 2009. Garrett was the one who came to Nazare and made it famous. The first surf competition took place in 2016, and it continues.
Big Wave Award Winner 29. October 2020 - New Record Holder Since June 2022
This surf contest in Nazare took part on the 29. October 2020. The winner of the Big Wave Award surfed a new world record, and he is my favourite surfer:
- Sebastian Steudtner from Germany living in Nazare. It is his third award already. He also won in 2010 and 2015. The exact height was not clear for two years. Pictures and videos were analyzed for it. In an interview, Sebastian mentioned it might be a new world record. He never was that fast on his board. He is right; Congrats, Sebastian. The Big Wave Season 2021/22 took part without Sebastian. He had a serious accident.
When Do These Waves Occur?
The Big and Giant Waves appear between October and March but are most likely to happen from November to February. These waves are not predictable far in advance on short notice only with the current technology for forecasting conditions, and predictions are accurate for three days only. To experience the big waves, you must monitor the forecast. Either you are flexible, or you spend your vacation in Portugal as we did.
We spent some time in Porto and north of Spain in Galicia to visit the popular Cathedral Beach. We monitored the waves forecast each day, and when we figured out there was a high chance for giant waves, we drove the entire way from Galicia to Nazare back. Such a big event does not often happen, so we took the chance. When we arrived in the Zulla Nazaré`s Surf Village (Highly recommended, as it's outside the crowded area! IMPORTANT: Book in advance!), popular among surfers within walking distance to Praia do Norte, we got told that several surfers from Brazil arrived the day before.
At this moment, we knew it was the right decision to come here. Another opportunity; spend your vacation in Lisbon, Sintra and the surroundings and monitor the forecast. Visit one of the longest footbridges in the world, Arouca 516, which is less busy in the winter. Follow the link to figure out the estimated wave height and daytime: Big Waves Surf Forecast It’s just 1.5 hour drive north of Lisbon. Even if all accommodations are fully booked, it doesn’t take long to come to Nazare from the Lisbon surroundings.
What Causes and Indicates These Huge Waves?
The north, deep water canyon of Nazare reaches a depth of 5000 m and is 230 km long. This canyon generates and amplifies such waves up to 100 feet / 30 meters. Four key factors, in particular, indicate these enormous waves:
- The deep underwater canyon showed in the picture above.
- Wave size > 3 meters or 10 feet
- Wave period > 13 seconds
- North Atlantic storms during autumn and winter bring swells to the canyon
- The incoming tide makes the conditions even better
The Hunt for the 100-Foot High Wave
Billabong, the Australian company for lifestyle and surfing, initiated the Odyssey Project already in 2001 to search for the 100-footer wave around the globe, but this was too early. Nazare wasn't on the map of any surfer. One thing is for sure the first surfer who rides a 100-Footer will be rewarded with unimaginable fame.
Nazare in Summer
During summer, Nazare is a great place to walk for hours along the north beach, take a bath at the south beach, eat excellent seafood, and with a bit of luck on a windy day, watch surfers practising. Some live here the entire year, like the new Big Wave record holder Sebastian Steudtner.
The exhibition in the Nazare lighthouse is a fantastic place to learn how these waves built up and which famous surfers already came to Nazare. We spent here almost two hours reading and having a closer look to the canyon details.
My Personal Tips
Portugal is my second home country due to my family living around Lisbon and Estoril. If you’ve never been to Portugal before, here are our recommendations on how to get the most out of your stay. First of all, travelling in Portugal is more convenient by car. Rental cars are much cheaper in the winter season.
Stay in the Lisbon area for the entire vacation to explore the fantastic country. Monitor the forecast for giant waves and, in the meantime, visit Praia da Ursa, Montserrat Palace, Cabo da Roca, Praia da Adraga. and Torre de Belem, to mention just a view of the many outstanding locations nearby.
The other option is to stay in Lisbon city and book a guided tour where Nazare is included.
These are my recommended tours via GetYourGuide with 24 hours advance cancellation policy. Thx for booking via my website! With your support, I am able to provide all information first-hand. Tour prices are at no extra cost
Best Months to Visit
Location and Tips
Nazare is for sure the most thrilling location to watch the highest waves in the world. If you watch such a contest, you may bump into some of the most famous surfers, as I did. More below 😉
Dramatic Stories During the Contests
Accidents and wipeouts have happened each year for over ten years already. Unfortunately, the first surfer died on January 5, Marcio Freire from Brazil. RIP - it was a shock for the entire surf community. It wasn't such a big wave but powerful, and he lost consciousness.
It’s a hellman's job to conquer the biggest waves at speeds up to 80 km/h, risking their lives, but this is what many surfers make alive. Severe injuries are part of surfing giant waves.
January 10, 2022: Bigger waves were expected for Saturday, January 8 and almost 20 m/ 65 feet high waves were built up by the underwater canyon. All famous surfers like Scooby, who I met once, Cotty, Rodrigo Koxa, Nic Von Rupp, Maya, Chumbo and many more were there at Nazare waiting to catch on of the XXXL-Waves. It was crazy out there in the waves full of power, although there wasn't any wind, and again it was a day with wipeouts. Three wipeouts and one dangerous happened, but no one got seriously injured, thanks to God. It was another epic day, although not a day for new records.
December 9, 2021: 20 feet/ 6 m high waves were expected for Wednesday, December 8. Due to the unique canyon, these waves could grow to those peaks of +15 m, but the strong wind may blow the waves down, and the wind did. But the sea was rough and wild, and Alemao, one of the jet ski drivers, got whipped out. At the same time, Andrew Cotton "Cotty" was on the sled. He climbed from the sled to the driving seat and got washed away with the next massive wave into the "dead zone" the worst spot possible. Alemao could get to the beach while Cotty was trapped between the rocks until he escaped and got rescued. Again such a thriller with a happy end. I hope it will always end like that.
February 11, 2020: During the tow surfing challenge in Nazare, a severe accident happened to the Portuguese surfer Alex Botelho. After a wipeout, he got rescued with a jet ski, but the next massive wave let him and Hugo Vau fly off the jet ski. Crisscross waves occurred, crashed together, and pushed both high up into the air. He got rescued unconscious. Alex was without breathing for 10 minutes and survived without any brain damage. Luckily, he is fully recovered now.
November 9, 2017: The British big wave surfer Andrew Cotton had a horrific wipeout and broke his back. Luckily, he recovered completely. Needless to say, he’d been back to Nazare already.
It’s tough intensive training for surfers; they need to be mentally fit and have the right sponsor in place. Their safety equipment is their insurance to survive.
February 2017: The professional surfer Pedro Vianna called “Scooby” from Brazil, came to Nazare for the biggest predicted swell instead of celebrating the carnival in Rio. But the swell was not perfect due to onshore winds dangerous choppy whitewater was created. NatGeo called the large but hazardous waves “Big Ugly”. Scooby lost control and fell from the board in the dangerous zone.
He got picked up by his friend Lucas, but the jet ski capsized in the choppy water when the next monster wave built up. They were captured in the white sea waves. It was a dramatic rescue in the death zone close to the rocks in front of the lighthouse. It’s truly epic here in Nazare, and coming so close to the most experienced surfers during an event is just unforgettable.
Nazare Lighthouse and Museum
You pay one Euro entrance fee for a closer look into the clifftop ford and its museum. The exhibition explains the topographic exception of the Nazare canyon and how these monster waves get amplified. Many boards of the most famous big wave surfers can also be seen.
You have a spectacular view from the top of the lighthouse to the north and south beaches. Well-made shirts of Nazare; Praia do Norte are sold at the entrance. We couldn't resist and bought one for a friend and us as well. It's a fantastic memory of this breathtaking place.
You may spend hours waiting and watching the big wave surfers; you must be prepared. There is a strong and chilly wind.
- water and a snack, there isn't anything available
- wind- and rainproof jacket, you may wait for hours
- zoom camera, it is more in the distance than it looks in pictures
- patience, you may wait for hours until they start surfing
My Restaurant Tip
Afterwards, we were starving and went to A Celeste for fresh seafood. We couldn't believe who also had lunch there; the three Brazilian surfers and their families.
My husband Markus and I took all pictures during the contest and a week before. If you wish to use any, please, contact me, but I will take action against picture theft!!