As a kid I always had a fascination with storms, during a lightning storm I would go outside and just sit and watch memorized by it all. At work lightning struck a high voltage power line pylon 30 seconds after I was on it, my ears were ringing from the instant crack as the lightning hit, while everyone else was freaking out I was thinking that was the most awesome thing I have seen and heard. When ever the ocean would get crazy at our holiday spot at Raumati beach I used to go down to the seawall and watch the swells smashing into it, one year the surf came over that wall and I thought it was the best holiday ever. When I first saw the movie “The perfect storm” in 2000 about a boat being caught in a storm so violent that a 101ft wave was recorded on a buoy off the coast of Nova Scotia I knew that I wanted to see that wave with my own eyes.
For years it was in the back of my mind until one day I witnessed not a particularly huge swell hit Aileens but a swell that created 70ft waves, I sat their for 6hrs in the cold wind hoping someone would turn up and surf it, but no one did and probably best they didn't! It reminded my how much I wanted to see that 100 footer, so when I saw the charts for the “Hercules” swell in January I looked at the places that might be surf-able and could get up to 100ft going on past conditions been surfed. Looking at Nazaré, in November 2011 Garrett McNamara had surfed a 78ft world record wave from a 6.5m@14sec swell, in January 2013 Andrew Cotton towed Garrett into maybe an even bigger wave from a 5.8m@16sec swell. So this was telling me the Hercules swell should be well over 100ft with the swell smashing the Portuguese coast at a whopping 9.8m@21sec. With me mind made up and with high hopes I decided to leave Mullaghmore behind for this one and head to Nazaré to chase my dream.
I'm comfortable in exploring new places by myself but sitting on the wrong side of the car driving on the wrong side of the road by myself was a bit daunting. Concentrating so hard on where I should be on the road in the dark I drove past toll ticket booths where apparently as I found out 50km's down the road I should've got a toll ticket. The lady at the toll booth said you have to have a ticket and I said no I haven't, then she said well that'll be €55!! Fuck me is this road made outta gold, didn't make that mistake again. Getting up in the morning and looking out from the balcony I could see the famous fort on top of that hill where all those photos are taken from saturating the net. Heading out for a look around the town you notice quickly there's pride in this town from how clean it is, sharp white edged walls and terracotta roofs, the footpaths hand paved with heart from small broken tiles. Women on the beach sorting and drying out fish caught by the men earlier in the morning. There's no McD's, KFC or other fast food chains here, all local little pastry and coffee cafés that give money directly back into their families, the way it should be. The fish here is amazing and caught fresh daily, on the menu where ever you dine and the dishes are to die for. So off I went, up to the hill to see the 100ft wave...
Sitting up on the hill watching the swell build going on what I've seen in the past in Ireland it just didn't look even close to big, it didn't feel huge. So I wandered down the steps on the front of the fort to watch it front on which is pretty darn spectacular to be that close to the surf smashing into the rocks directly below you. The mad thing is people from all walks of life are here to watch this spectacle, women with high street super high heels and €1,000 bags, guys in suits, hippies, families and shit load of photogs. It was so good to see this wave that my mate Cotty and his tow partner Garrett have put on the worlds radar has ignited the imagination in them. As dusk was approaching a flow of disappointment was passing through me, the waves were breaking a long way out but even with a set a lot bigger than anything else that come through just on dusk I can't say that I saw a 100ft wave. Cotty said to me beforehand that with the slight onshore wind it could take 20ft off the top of the wave, maybe in the morning with light offshores it might look different.
During the night the boom of the waves breaking were rattling the windows with ferocity. Hearing that during the night my hopes were high as I was sitting beside the fort waiting for the sun to rise. As the dawn broke my heart started to sink and I knew from that moment my dream of the 100ft wave wasn't going to happen. Don't get me wrong, it was big and maybe the biggest waves I've ever seen but it wasn't what I was hoping for. I have a huge amount of respect for Cotty, Garrett and the other crews taking on this wave, it's scary as hell out there. I'm not sure exactly what part they surf but there's rocks that are getting swamped by 20ft of white water then smashing the shit out of the cliffs, a place you don't want to be. Once a wave breaks out the back it's virtually white water all the way to the beach, how Maya survived is a miracle on it's own, and I'm sure she has a big pair for taking Nazaré on, respect. Even though my dream didn't come true this time I was stoked I'd made the call to come here and just watch the random madness of these waves breaking and experience the local culture and food.
One thing that's always been on my mind is how much do you take off the wave height from shooting so high up on a hill, that was something I wanted to figure out for myself. That angle definitely gives the photos a lot of deception of how big it really is, during the few days of my stay I went down to the beach on the south and the north side of the hill and took shots from sea level and 15-20m above to compare the shots from the hill. I kinda worked it out to be that you would may have to take between 25-30% off the height of the wave taken from on top of the hill, so if it looked like 90ft it would actually be 65-70ft but remember this is only what I have worked out and my own personal opinion, without being out in the water you don't know how much the bottom of the wave is below sea level. So personally the only place to figure out the undeniable true height is to photograph Nazaré from the water, this poses a huge problem with the shifting sand banks eating skis and people. You'll need a ballsy ski driver that really knows how to drive out of bad situations and keep calm as the adrenaline runs wild, as I said that'll be one scary place to shoot from.
|2 different angles within an hour of each photo, that rock is 15m high|
Nazaré is a spectacular place, beautiful and full of surprises. The wave is a freak of nature and I'm sure I never saw it anywhere near it's best, maybe this swell was too big to hit the right banks that warp the wave to great heights. Will I go back, yes, I love the place and next time I'm in Ireland I will be taking another trip down if it looks to be breaking and my dream now for Nazaré is to photograph Cotty and Garrett taking it on, maybe even photograph it from the water...