NAZARE opens its doors for 2012, headed up by Garret McNamara and ably assisted by the likes of Andrew Cotton, this is the third year of the Canyon Project aiming to explore the possibilities of the area's waves.
During the down days from the World Tour at Supertubos it became de rigueur to head an hour north and peek under the skirts of this wild beachbreak. One-by-one they trooped up, first Kelly Slater and then Joel Parkinson, all drawn by the idea of a wild ride down the face of the shifting peaks of Praia do Norte, Nazare's northern beach.
Beachbreaks aren't big wave spots as a rule of thumb, but like all generalities there are exceptions: Nazare is one of them and Puerto Escondido another. Nazare is a geographical oddity, a freak of nature and a place of spectacular potential.
"For me it's like a mongo version of Straddie at home." Said Joel Parkinson "Garrett reckons it's a cross between Jaws and Puerto. It's a series of giant beachbreak peaks that come out of radically deep water. There's a huge chasm in the ocean floor that runs all the way down the coast and funnels all the swell straight at the headland. When I first saw it and saw the first set hit the place I thought it was the eighth wonder of the world. I just love watching the ocean when it's wild and powerful like that. We watched it for hours on the Wednesday and I was happy enough just doing that. It was like watching fire."
This is where the science of Nazare comes in, which is crucial in understanding the spot's characteristics.
In simple terms, as long period swell passes over the shallower edge of the deep water canyon out to sea from Nazare it slows and bends, travelling back into the path of oncoming waves further up the coast, as these waves (from the same swell) meet they produce significantly larger peaks with that typical A-frame shape.
Under normal circumstances the largest waves in any swell can be up to twice the significant height of the average set wave. At Nazare the bathymetry conspires to further exaggerate this magnification through interference. When these waves double-up, it's pretty much a case of one plus one equals two. The size ramps up and the wave transforms from a straight line of swell into a mutant peak capable of producing rides like this one in 2011.
"I'd heard quite a bit about it and obviously seen footage of G-Mac surfing it at about a thousand feet last year, but I never really saw myself surfing it at even a fraction of that size. But I'd also heard that the place gets really good when it's smaller too so I was pretty keen to check it out. said Parko."
How'd you get convinced to go out?
"I'd cruised up there on the Wednesday beforehand on the previous swell and had a look at it for the first time. It was big and onshore so we didn't surf, but the local guys have got an exhibition going in the fort there on the headland with photos of the wave and the local boys and Garrett surfing it.
"I step outside and sure enough, guess who was standing in the car park checking it? Garrett. I thought I was tripping. I thought I was seeing things. But he told me there was another swell coming Sunday and that the wind would be better and I knew the comp would be finished, so he said why not come up and surf it? I've been trying to mix up my surfing this year and do fun and interesting stuff between contests and this was too good an opportunity to pass up."
I was so excited heading up there, just bouncing around the car." Continued Parko "I expected it was going to be tricky to surf and Garrett had told me that and he was pretty well right. It just moves around so much that even a guy like Garrett says you can never really get it too wired out there. You've just got to really hunt the waves down.
Any memorable moments out there?
"It was really fun. Even though it was a little smaller than I thought it was going to be I was still a little wary heading out. I had two vests on, and Garrett was into me telling me to feel it out first before doing anything silly. But in the end I got a couple of nice rights from down on the second peak, as well as a couple of lefts on the main peak, and I didn't get taken out by anything. It looks like one of those places that could be really sketchy if you got caught in the wrong spot at the wrong time. I got to give props to the local guy Joel, he paddled into a couple which was pretty nuts.
"I had one double-up right, which I think was my second wave. I could've pulled up into it I think and come out but I kinda raced it because I had no idea of the pace of the wave. But it was such a cool scene cause there were hundreds of locals up on the cliff and my family were up there watching and everyone was just going off whenever we got a wave. It was such a cool scene."
For the previous two years the municipality here has invited Andrew Cotton over to chase the waves.
"I've been here 3 weeks now but heading home for a week then coming back in November. It's been epic as it always is. Said Cotty. "There's a really good team here and I feel really lucky just to be involved. It's a wave of many moods from 2 to 20ft and beyond but not to be taken lightly at any size.
You're a recently married man who brought his wife and kids on honeymoon to Nazare? How did that go down?
It was great, although it wasn't Katie's first choice for a honeymoon destination! she knew it was where I really wanted to be for the next few months. We all really had a great time and in the end they were gutted to leave. They want to come back at some point in November they liked it so much.
You surfed with Parko a couple of days back? What's this about you losing the surfboards?
Yeah Parko showed up with his family which was pretty epic to meet such a childhood hero of mine. The waves weren't great unfortunately but he made the most of it.
"There was a small scenario where I tied all our boards to a buoy as we often do but on our return they'd gone. I was gutted as it was my favourite gulfstream tow board and Joel's 6'4 which he'd got to finals at Chopes on, we were both gutted. Obviously I claimed theft which did seem slightly bizarre so far out to sea. I found them 20 mins later.. Wrong buoy."
The project aims to promote the town, how do you feel that's going?
"There doing an amazing job, with a lot of people and local businesses getting behind it and donating a lot of time and effort into making things happen and what they've achieved is very special. They now have a second documentary coming out which is brilliant and a world record under their belts. They must be stoked and very proud."
Also Kelly Slater came down, did you hook up with him?
Yeah myself and Garrett had been surfing all afternoon and as we were about to leave when they radioed us saying Slater was on the beach, I jumped onto the safety ski and Garrett went in to collect him. Obviously with in 5 mins he got the wave of the day! Stoked to be there really and witness it all.
Kelly was accompanied by Evan Geiselman and Beau Foster who also were towed into a few waves by McNamara.
Another surfer who loves it down here is Eric Rebiere the humble Brazilian/European crazy man.
How was it out there Eric?
Nazare is always a chalenging wave 'cause it is hard to find clean days and most of the time your have bumps to deal with. It's a high adrenaline place! For sure, when you eat it, you know that you'll need to be picked-up by jetski from the middle of a crazy shorebreak.
It was big and that makes it hard to read the wave at that size because it takes so long to surf down the face.
Who were you down there with?
Brazilian surfer Silvio Mancusi, Garrett and Cotty. Cotty got one sick double up - the waves are often double size of what the forecast says!