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Garret McNamara - From famous big wave surfer to living in Nazaré Portugal

Now and then, the universe conspires for something extraordinary to happen. In the case of the giant waves of Nazaré, something extraordinary has been happening for as long as the locals can remember. However, outside the borders of this ancient fishing village, nobody knew about it.

Today, the incredible force of Nazaré's North Canyon no longer belongs only to the people of Nazaré, but to the world!

Image credits: Luis Ascenso from Lisbon, Portugal, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image credits: Luis Ascenso from Lisbon, Portugal, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The World Record that changed everything

It all began with the first email sent from the Municipality of Nazaré to a famous surfer across the world. Maybe it was an inspired vision of a dreamer, or maybe it was just sheer luck or the perfect alignment of stars... but that email was the beginning of something that would transform not only the life of that surfer, but an entire village, and possibly even a country.

That man is Garrett McNamara, an American who had long been known in the surfing world. As a professional big-wave surfer and extreme waterman, he was famous for chasing storms and tracking swells around the world. His feats include successfully surfing a monstrous barrel at the Jaws surf break, in Hawaii, or riding a tsunami from calving glaciers in Alaska. But it was in Nazaré, Portugal, that he broke the World Record for the largest wave ever surfed.

Image credits: Luis Ascenso from Lisbon, Portugal, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image credits: Luis Ascenso from Lisbon, Portugal, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In November 2011, he caught a 78 foot (24 m) wave in Praia do Norte, Nazaré — an accomplishment that was possible not only because he was towed into the wave from a jet ski, but because he dared to believe it. And continued to believe it was possible to surf an even bigger wave.

In January 2013, McNamara did it again, breaking his own world record by surfing a 100-foot (30 m) wave, also off the coast of Nazaré. From this moment on, not only would his life change forever, but the recognition of Nazaré and Portugal in the world would never be the same again.

Image credits: Rob Bye robertbye, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Image credits: Rob Bye robertbye, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This amazing experience in Nazaré not only redefined McNamara professionally, but it also holds a special place for the American surfer at a personal level. McNamara married his wife Nicole McNamara at the lighthouse that overlooks Praia do Norte. The name of the couple’s second child, Theia Love Nazaré Celeste Rose, born in 2018, also pays homage to this magical land, linking her identity to the bond the family has with “Nazaré” and “Celeste” (a local restaurant owner who believed in McNamara’s team since the beginning). Their third child is due in December and will be born in Nazaré, where the couple is currently living with their family.

Garret McNamara and wife Nicole ai restaurant Celeste in Nazare Portugal
McNamara and wife Nicole at restaurant Celeste, in Nazaré. Image credits:

Documentary ‘100 Foot Wave’ on HBO

You can watch McNamara’s amazing story on HBO’s hit documentary ‘100 Foot Wave’, which has already been renewed for two new seasons.

Watch the trailer:

The series intimately captures the American surfer’s decade-long odyssey after visiting Nazaré for the first time in 2010, in hopes of conquering a 100-foot wave. Throughout the six episodes of the first season, we have an insider’s look at how McNamara pushed the sport to ever-greater heights and alongside locals helped transform the small fishing village into the world’s most famous big-wave surfing destination.

The docuseries is directed by award-winning filmmaker Chris Smith

“McNamara’s biggest wave”: Special episode on Portugal The Simple Life Podcast

Recently, McNamara also shared his incredible journey with Portugal The Simple Life Podcast. In this special 80th episode, the surfer recalls how he ended up in Nazaré, his love affair with Portugal and why he chooses to live here permanently with his family.

My first trip was going to be to France when I came to Europe, and then go maybe to Ireland or to Scotland. I never thought of coming to Portugal, along with all of my friends, and along with most Americans. You would go to Italy or France or Spain, but Portugal was not the desired destination”, says McNamara during the podcast interview, remembering that when he finally did come to Portugal, “it was love at first sight”.

As I walked up to the lighthouse the first day and saw the giant waves, I was instantly captivated”, he recalls, sharing several moments over the 10 years that culminated in breaking the world record and falling in love with Nazaré. “It’s where all of my goals and dreams were finalized. It’s where I got married. The special thing about Portugal and I is that it’s like a love affair, like a fairy tale…”, guarantees the surfer.

I have a love affair with Portugal and the Portuguese”, says McNamara, “once you become part of the community, everyone is so warm, and you’re like family". Adding “it’s super special for the children just because I know it’s safe here. (...) Everything here is about family, and everybody is watching over everybody”.

All European countries have their towers, and bridges, and buildings, and they are all pretty similar. One might be red, one might be stone, one might be brick... They all have so much history and are so iconic, so beautiful, and they’ve been here forever. They all have it! The thing that separates Portugal from all other countries in the world is that it has the biggest wave in the world. Nowhere else comes close! And now the Internet has the photos and videos of all the surfers that we invited, circulating worldwide, with millions and millions of views every single day. The whole world is coming!”, believes the professional surfer.

About living in Portugal, McNamara also shares his appreciation of the landscape, the food and the Portuguese people: “We have these pristine rolling hills to the beautiful beaches, and that will never change. We have this warm, welcoming people that cook this amazing food. We are mostly on the coastline, so it’s mostly seafood, but then they make everything good! Such good produce, such good wine. Every region of Portugal is so different, with special nooks and corners, ways of being and of cooking, and little markets on the street. Most towns have a big market where you can buy your produce, fish and meat. It’s really amazing!”.

As for living in Portugal with children? “I’d say it’s one of the best, if not the best place in the world to raise a child right now. I can’t think of anywhere better, safer and more stable”.

If you'd like to know more about Garrett McNamara, you can follow his website, social media pages and also check out his new book:


Discover the giant waves of Nazaré’s North Canyon

Every year, between October and March, thousands of visitors come to Nazaré to see big wave surfers ride the world’s biggest swells



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