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With big wave season in both the Atlantic and Pacific rolling, the waiting period for the Nazare Big Wave Challenge is underway. Europe’s premier big-wave venue, world records for the biggest wave ever ridden by both a male and female have been set in recent years, and with an El Niño winter brewing, it seems anything is possible this year. So, what makes Nazare so giant?

Anytime you’re talking giant swells, fluid dynamics and physics things get complicated fast, but the secret sauce that makes Nazare so special is primarily two things. First, it’s perfectly positioned to receive huge swells from the North Atlantic. Those swells freight train their way straight to the European coastline without any interference or decay, so by the time they arrive at Nazare they’re raw and extremely powerful.

The other factor, and this is the one that really makes the wave unique, is that the bathymetry, or contours of the bottom of the ocean, are such that those big North Atlantic swells are funneled straight to Nazare by a deep, underwater canyon. It’s this canyon that magnifies and intensifies the swell, creating the supersized peaks Nazare is famous for. Essentially, it’s those North Atlantic swells combined with exceptional bathymetry that makes the spot magic.

“The reward of riding a massive wave, it’s incredible,” explains Hawaii’s Kai Lenny, who’s topped the podium at big-wave events in Nazare. “It’s taxing, for sure. When it’s over you might feel alright, but your adrenal glands are drained. Your dopamine is gone. And your serotonin is zapped. But it’s all worth it.”

The waiting period for the Nazare Big Wave Challenge runs through March 31. Stay tuned as the winter progresses and we track those North Atlantic monsters.