Nazaré, Portugal, 75 miles north of Lisbon. A wave that went from relative obscurity a mere 10 years ago to center stage for big-wave surfing any time a winter storm sends massive swell rolling across the Atlantic. If Maui’s Jaws is big-wave heaven, Nazaré might be big-wave hell — dark, cold and intimidating, it’s given many surfers a beat-down they won’t soon forget.
All of which made it incredibly enticing to big-wave chaser Jason Polakow. “Nazaré is unique. I’ve surfed all the big waves, and this is the most challenging,” he says. "Waves come in from different angles. There’s not one spot where you can take off.”
See him catch one of those waves in the video below:
Flanked by an imposing cliff with a lighthouse, Nazaré sits at the apex of a deep canyon that funnels huge North Atlantic swells into a single spot close to the shore. Those swells wedge together to form giant liquid mountains up to 100 feet tall, and attract a few big wave surfers from all around the world during the winter months.
It was most famously tackled by big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara in 2011, and has been on the radar ever since. But Polakow is the first windsurfer to ride at what many would consider the world’s most intimidating break.
“The first time I saw the video of Garrett, I knew there was potential to windsurf it,” says Polakow. “I could see the wind on the outside. But it took a few years to get here and get the conditions lined up right.”
Despite the slim chances, Polakow was training hard to handle not only the ride, but the wipeout. “It’s been a great winter on Maui, with lots of big swells,” he says. “I wouldn’t wipe out on purpose, but when I did, I’d really focus on relaxing and keeping my heart rate down."
While Polakow's confidence in the waves is key, so is a competent safety team. He relied on locals with expert knowledge of the break to provide the safety needed during the six-hour session on Wednesday, Feb. 3. During the sesh, he only caught “a few good waves,” in his words.
“This isn't Maui,” he says. “You don’t come out here for 20 fun waves. You come out and you feel good if you get one or two unbelievable rides.”
Now that he’s proved it’s possible, he wants more. Nazaré is regarded as being able to hold the biggest waves in the world, and Polakow knows a bigger day is out there. Nevertheless, he’s pretty happy about what he’s got. "It’s definitely like a dream come true to ride huge Nazaré.” he says.