Did Garrett McNamara break the record for riding that world’s tallest wave? That’s the claim coming out of Portugal’s Praia do Norte, where the Hawaiian charger has been exploring the big-wave possibilities for the last couple of years. The spot is located near Nazaré Canyon, a gap in the continental plate up to three miles deep that helps focus open-ocean energy into massive freight trains. This week’s swell brought 60-footers to the break halfway between Lisbon and Porto, then surprised with a wave of the day that was much, much bigger.
McNamara was slingshotted into the beast by Irishman Al Mennie, who said, “Everything seemed to be perfect, the weather, the waves. Both Cotty and I rode two big ones in the 60-foot-plus range and then, when Garrett got on the rope a wave, maybe 30 feet. bigger came out of the canyon, it was meant to be. I had the best seat in the house as I was doing water safety on the ski as he dropped down the face of the biggest wave I’ve ever seen. It was incredible. Most people would look scared but Garrett looked in control as he went down the most critical part of the wave. It was an inspirational ride by an inspirational surfer. After the ride it was as if the sea calmed down. We sat out there and just absorbed both what had just happened and the surroundings.”
Wave height is notoriously difficult to judge, and, while massive, whether this is the biggest wave ever ridden will be sorted out by surfing’s notoriously boisterous community. It doesn’t diminish GMac’s accomplishment to question it — that thing is huge — cause that’s what you do with world records. Does it look 90 feet to you?
According to Chris Dixon, author of recently released Ghost Wave, the story of big-wave surfing at California’s Cortes Bank, “The wave was clearly a macker – almost certainly one of the biggest ever ridden. I was, however, surprised at the claim that it was 90 feet high and thus a world record. It’s generally been accepted – and it’s accepted by the folks at Guinness — that the XXL panel has decided whether a wave deserved world record status. I’ve been a judge for the XXLs and the judging for something like this is always fraught with peril and controversy but I can tell you that the crew I had the honor of judging with took the whole endeavor quite seriously.
“Currently, the XXL judges and Guinness view Mike Parsons’ 2008 wave at Cortes Bank as the biggest ever documented. The wave’s actual height has been reckoned at somewhere around 80 feet, but you can’t quite tell because there’s a wave in front of it that obscures its trough. Shane Dorian’s wave from last year at Jaws as the biggest ever caught without the aid of a machine – and I felt quite comfortable being among the XXL judges who called it a world record paddle wave.
“Garrett’s wave is a tow wave and is a fricking giant, and Garrett in my mind deserves way more props as a big wave surfer than he typically gets – the guy is an absolute madman who does it all. As for the height of his wave, you could call me biased because of my book on Cortes Bank, but to me Garrett’s wave doesn’t look bigger than Parsons’ wave. I think, therefore, that it’s a little early to call Gmac’s wave either 90 feet or a world record.”
For comparison, here’s McNamara’s wave, followed by Mike Parsons’ at Cortes.