What it’s like to surf the world’s largest waves

Winter storms and a massive underwater canyon in Nazaré, Portugal, form some of the wildest waves on Earth. To ride them is to be awed by them.

João de Macedo is towed into a monster winter wave by Jet Ski driver António Silva in Nazaré, on January 8, 2022.
Above Media Creators

Mystical. Unruly. The feeling of endless water. Big-wave surfer Maya Gabeira has no small words for the giant swells of Nazaré, Portugal. It’s hard to find a single wave’s peak, where it will break. “It just comes from everywhere,” she says. One bone-breaking, breath-stealing wave nearly killed her. Another wave landed the Brazilian the women’s world record for the largest wave ever surfed—and a third broke that record, setting a new one.

“It was just so much water,” she recalls, “and would shift so much, even when you were in it—that it just felt like you were going down forever, like a mountain.” 

The waves roiling atop Europe’s largest underwater canyon—some three miles deep and 120 miles long—have long mesmerized and terrorized the small coastal community of Nazaré.

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