Around this time of year, there's a big shift in the little fishing town of Nazare, home of the biggest wave ever surfed. Its cobbled, beachfront streets, that lie under the shadow of the protruding Sítio headland to the north, are becoming busier with tourists. Local people are excited and businesses are in tune with the fact that the monster wave season is starting – already, an eclectic mix of surfers have started to make their annual pilgrimage to one of surfing's most formidable waves.
Yes, Nazare is ready. The year-round, 15,000-strong population are ready. That old town's fort, located at the point of that Sítio headland, where spectators can watch some of the tallest waves on earth, is ready for visitors. And yesterday, we saw an X-medium warm up session for those few surfers now on the ground.
Watch Live! Nazare cam
Nazare, October 16 2022, not the biggest, not the meanest but the first glimpse we've had of it waking up this season. Which begs the question; when will everyone be here?
Nothing big, they say, one of those sessions where people are getting their feet in the wax, trying equipment, feeling things through. Reminding themselves of life in this buzzy yet oddly calming place.
“Waited a bit in the morning for the tide and the swell popped up with it,” said Tony Laureano, who has just arrived at Nazare following a stint in Chile. “Then it got big, good winds. Good to feel the tow boards out there. A lot of the time in Chile, we were on paddle boards, so good to feel it. It got bigger and bigger and bigger, then the wind changed, but then at the end of the day, the swell filled in, proper Nazare size.”
Sebastian Steudtner, current world record holder for the world's biggest wave, is getting his warm ups in.
“Think I stood there for like three hours and watched it, didn't go back in because the wind was bad,” Tony continued. “Saw some big sets. Been a while since I saw Nazare like that, you know. We've got a few people here now and they're starting to arrive, not full yet but it's getting busier.”
"It got bigger and cleaner than I was expecting," said photographer Helio Antonio. "The morning started slow as predicted but throughout the day it got bigger and there were some big aframes breaking on the third peak. There were also some powerful barrels on the inside and close to the rocks, but both are places that are super tricky to surf. Was also expecting a lot more surfers but guess not a lot of people have arrived. The ones that got there got the place pretty much empty."
The town of Nazare is essentially divided in two. There's the headland, where you can watch those XXL brutes steam to shore about Praia do Norte (North Beach), which is almost like a separate town from the main commerce and residential hub. From there you can take a stroll about half-a-mile south, walk the length of the neighbouring beach (aka the Silver Coast or South Beach) until you get to the harbour at the end, where most of the big wave crew launch skis from. Well, those who don't attempt to paddle from the beach, that is. It's quite the stark juxtaposition between the north and south, yet it all has a distinctly 'old world' feel about it. The two worlds of Nazare.
With the changing from summer to autumn, the population of Nazare balloons, with spectators all wanting to witness those big waves hit that gigantic offshore canyon, which helps creates those mountainous tee-pees about 500 metres to 1km offshore. But what do the locals think of their home as a hotbed of surfing activity?
Maria da Conceição, pictured above, runs a stall out at Nazare selling nuts and dried bananas. “Bless the surfers," she said. "Before they got here we only did business between March and October and it was slow, except for the summer months. Now it’s summer all year. Lots of people every time. All thanks to Garrett McNamara. He was the one responsible for all this. I know there’s a lot of them now but Garrett will always be my favourite.”
Helio, a lifelong Nazare resident, added: "Nazare still gets the biggest share of tourism in the summer months. Of course nowadays, people come here all year-round, even if there's no huge swells to watch because they have no idea how it works.
"Obviously the ever growing community of big wave surfers and their crew is starting to show up and the town is getting busier by the day. All local businesses that depends on tourism gets a big boost on the big wave hype, so for them, what would be the time to rest and have a vacation has now turned into a really busy period. I've never seen so many people at North Beach. It was usually empty, even in summer. Nowadays the huge parking lot gets packed easily because people want to see the waves. It's crazy."
"Generally, people seem really stoked around town," said Cotty, who has just posted up for the season in an apartment close to North Beach. "It's been pretty mellow on the surf front, a couple of teams got out yesterday."