It’s back, like a cold sore. Nazaré Canyon. The wave that sometimes isn’t a wave because a wave has a crest and a trough, and Nazaré often lacks the latter. The hype that comes with it is back too. “Biggest wave ever ridden?” “The 100-foot wave?” “I’m Ron Burgandy?” Those question marks express doubt, and rightfully so. It’s like a surfers version of a cheap philosophical question: If a wave breaks without a bottom, does it break a world record?
It stirs up a bigger question of how we measure waves, and the inevitable pitfalls flaws we run into in the process. A wave is measured as the vertical distance between the crest and the trough. Find the bottom. Find the top. Measure the distance. Should be easy. But when you’re looking at a wave straight on, especially from elevation, things can get tricky.
Nazaré Canyon is a caricature of this phenomena . At steep waves like Jaws or Maverick’s you can see that the lip is almost directly above the trough (or at least is in the frame). But at Nazaré, because the wave is so flat, the distance between the lip and the bottom of the wave might be a 100 feet long, while the wave height is actually more around 60 feet. See the above example of Carlos Burle’s wave at Nazaré on October 28. At first glance it’s the biggest wave ever ridden (or at least as big as either of Garrett’s from the same wave and same camera angle). The wave looks 100 feet because we’re seeing about 100 feet of face in the image, but that face isn’t vertical. Far from it.
When looking at waves from the side, like Alain Rioui’s wave at Belharra below, you can easily draw a vertical line from the bottom of the wave to meet a horizontal line drawn from the crest of the wave and measure the height that way. But that becomes impossible when you’re looking at a wave photographed from the front, because even if you found the bottom of the wave (a subjective location in most photographs), you can’t draw the horizontal line from the crest of the wave toward the bottom because you’d be entering a third dimension that a 2D photograph doesn’t allow.
Super tubes on the Silver Coast
The Silver Coast is widely acknowledged as being the best and most consistent spot for surfing in Portugal. The surfing action is centred on the stretch of Silver Coast between Ericeira and Peniche, where the irregular shape of Portugal's coastline offers great surfing almost every day of the year regardless of the swell and wind direction.
The twists and turns of the Peniche coastline mean it has beaches facing in most directions so there is almost always somewhere where the wind is offshore and creating good waves.Surfer carving the top of a wave.Rusty bike with surf stickerSurfers at Rio Cortica on the Silver CoastStar AttractionEvery year the Silver Coast attracts some of the best surfers on the planet to take part in the pro surfing championships that are held there. The pro tour was in Supertubos in 2010 for the Rip Curl Pro Portugal and will be back for a repeat performance next year. Further south in Ericeira the World Qualifying Surf Championships at Riberia d'llhas are a regular annual event, and there many other top surfing events like the Ocean Spirit festival that bring the stars of the sport to the Silver Coast during the year.There are more than 20 surf spots along just 15 kilometres of this coastline, offering great surfing conditions for all levels of surfer, from beginner to pro. It is not surprising that a number of surf schools have based themselves on the Silver Coast - the conditions here are great for learning.
Mild weather, wild rides
The climate is very mild although the sea is cold and wetsuits are a year-round necessity. Offshore morning breezes are extremely common, pushing up regular six foot waves in the winter, some rising to 15 foot; and three to five foot waves in the summer months. The Silver Coast picks up northerly, westerly and southerly swells creating a variety of surfing conditions that have made places like Ericeira and Supertubos some of the most famous surf-spots in Portugal.
All the beaches are easily accessible. Ericeira is an easy one hour drive from Portugal's capital Lisbon and offers a wide range of accommodation, bars and restaurants for relaxing after the surfing is done. Peniche is another 30 kilometres north, with some great surfing beaches along the way.
The coastline further north is also worth exploring for its exciting surfing. Beaches like Feral and Foz do Arelho offer excellent year-
round surfing, while the coast up to Porto has others that will make great stopping-off points on a Portugal surfing safari - Nazare, São Pedro de Muel and Figueira do Foz being among the best of them.