For centuries, Nazaré was a traditional seaside town, where locals taught their children to avoid the huge waves that crashed against the nearby cliffs, and where many a fisherman have lost their lives to these turbulent swells.
That was until about 8 years ago when the ‘big wave’ surfers discovered Nazaré.
Tall as a 10-storey building, the 30 metre high waves are caused by an underwater canyon nearly 5 km deep and 200 km long that ends just at the town’s shoreline.
The biggest waves are so tall the surfers need to be towed out by Jet Ski’s, it’s amazing to watch the tow ski climb over the waves, whip their charge onto the wave, then ‘get the hell out of there’.
The surfers wear airbag life vests and specially padded wetsuits to survive these dangerous surfing conditions.
Surfing has bought new life to this small village of around 10,000 people, with tens of thousands visiting every year, most in the winter to see the big waves.
The mayor has even turned the old fort, once used for storing fishing net into a viewing post and shrine to the riders who have tamed Nazaré.
The upper town, on the cliff tops, is called Sitio, there are always women in traditional costume referred to as the “seven skirts of Nazaré” normally three or four layers of skirts, keeping the extra few layers until ‘special days’. They sell locally made items, souvenirs such as hand-carved fishing boats, food, and the woolen capes like ones they wear from their stalls.
I love the funicular that descends down the cliff face to the lower town, where the neat cobbled streets take you past cafes, bars, souvenir shops and usually a local or two sitting on crates chatting while peeling potatoes, with their clean washing hanging to dry suspended over the alleyways.
Feeling to need for fresh fish we dragged ourselves from the top of the cliff and the surfers to a restaurant down in the town for delicious grilled seabass, new potatoes, salad with a glass of wine, all for €10.
NAZARÉ WAVE TOW CHALLENGE
We timed our second visit to Nazaré perfectly to see first-hand the Inaugural Nazaré Tow Challenge, a surfing competition unlike any other.
The old fort and its stone walls give you the perfect vantage point, and apparently is the only place in the world where it’s possible to watch from up close. You are so close you get wet from the spray, and you can feel the vibration through the ground as the waves break right below you.
Because of the size of the waves and the speed at which the surfer must take off they are towed onto the wave by a Jet Ski which launches the surfer onto these massive moving walls of water.
For six hours straight ten teams of two surfers, eighteen men and two women, the elite of the Big Wave surfers each took turns towing and surfing the wild waves. There was even team Australia, Mick Corbett from Perth and Axi Muniain from the Basque area of Spain
During the day there were many near-perfect rides, but unlike most surfing contests this event isn’t scored in real-time. Instead, the day is filmed from multiple locations and angles, then at the end of the day, the surfers themselves get together to watch and choose the winners of the four categories.
Men’s and Women’s wave of the day was won by the young Kai Lenny from Hawaii and Justine Dupont from France won the women’s best wave. Team Champions went to Kai and his teammate from Brazil Lucas Chianca, and the Commitment Award deservedly went to the Water Safety Team. Being chosen by your peers, there couldn’t be a better way to win any contest.
Competitions like this wouldn’t be possible without the water safety teams on Jetskis, who seem to know just where to be to pluck the surfer out of the dangerous white-water and ferry them back out to do it all again.
I can’t imagine what mental and physical fortification must be required to ride a 50-foot wave that can weigh as much as 1,000 tons, and then have to outrun the mountains of white water that follows.
One of the surfers in the event, Alex Botelho from Team Portugal could have very easily lost his life after the Jetski that had just picked him up, went flying 3m into the air after being clobbered by a huge wave, then hit Alex on landing back in the water. He floated unconscious for a couple of minutes until he was rescued by the safety team and rushed to the hospital. He is now in a stable condition thankfully.
We were one of only four motorhomes that were allowed to remain on the top of the cliff while the competition was on, why we don’t know, but we are certainly thankful that the organizers didn’t move us off that perfect place to be for the competition, and the view these past four days.
It was hard to leave Nazare, but we are so thankful we had to opportunity to be there for the contest.
Sorry, my pics aren’t any better, I don’t have a big professional camera, and those surfers literally flew along those waves.