* McNamara holds record for biggest wave ever surfed
* Hoping to find one nearly double the size in Portugal
* Nazare's coast, underwater canyon produce "monsters"
By Axel Bugge
NAZARE, Portugal, April 9 World-renowned
American surfer Garrett McNamara holds a record for riding a
78-foot (24-m) wave - the largest ever surfed. Now he wants to
find one almost twice as big.
"You know every wave is so different," McNamara said,
looking out at the Atlantic Ocean from the village of Nazare in
"It just depends on the ride, like when you come down and
you don't make the wave and you get blown up and you just feel
like so small, but also so alive, because you're at the mercy of
this monster and its gotten hold of you and shaking you and
rattling you," he told Reuters.
McNamara, 46, from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, has had
countless experiences like that scouring the world for the
He set his first record on what he calls the "Holy Grail of
huge waves" in Nazare (Portuguese for Nazareth) in 2011. Ever
since, he has been scouring the horizon for the next one.
"It would be nice to ride a 100-foot wave next. Well,
actually I'd probably go for a 120-footer," he said.
McNamara has achieved what few athletes have managed - to
follow his passion all his life. He started surfing aged 11 and
At 35 - a mature age in many demanding sports - he sat down
and sketched a plan on how to keep going as a professional.
"I was about to retire, start working 9-to-5, and I wrote my
goal - surfing," he said. "What do I do? Win this, win this
(competition). How do I do it? Train, focus, and it worked."
Just as importantly, he got all sponsorships he needed.
THE "PERFECT BOARD"
McNamara has begun to design what he calls the "perfect
board" with the help of engineers from Mercedes-Benz, which
began sponsoring him two years ago.
Inside his warehouse on the dock in Nazare, the first
prototypes are on display - sleek and silver-coloured. Their
in-built weights and flexible tops help absorb the chop as he
rides down waves.
"I rode it for the second time today and it feels so much
better than all the boards I ever rode," he said.
McNamara has lived most of his life in Hawaii. But he has
chosen Nazare over other surfing hotspots as the place where he
is most likely to find his monster.
"These are the biggest that I have come across," he said,
looking out at the sea from a hotel balcony.
"There's giant waves in numerous occasions around the world,
it's a matter of the wind being offshore. Here, you have so many
giant swells every year, more than anywhere I have encountered."
The Atlantic pounds Portugal's western coast unimpeded by
islands or other barriers. But Nazare is unique in having an
underwater canyon that runs right to the beach, compressing the
water and making the waves burst higher.
"It starts pretty wide, a few miles wide, then it comes down
so it just compresses everything," McNamara said. "And when it
finally reaches a shallow enough point, it breaks and you have
sideways waves, so it creates even bigger waves."
The effect is breathtaking, pushing waves nearly as high as
the lighthouse sitting at the tip of a headland in Nazare, where
McNamara often sits watching the water.
McNamara was first invited there in 2010 by the local city
hall. "They wanted to know if their waves were any good, if it
was good enough for an event," he said.
McNamara went on to put the village on the global surfing
map and boosted local tourism. In 2012, he married his wife
"I'm here to have fun," he said. "I'm here to show the best
kept secret in Europe - Portugal - and the 'Holy Grail' of huge
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Andrew Heavens)