Nazare has erupted over the past few years. And it doesn't look like that meteoric rise is ever going to slow down. Despite some voicing their scepticism about Portugal's behemoth as a legit big wave spot in the early days, it's now become so iconic a wave, so synonymous with big wave surfing that you just can't ignore it.
After all, only two-years-ago, the biggest wave ever ridden was at Nazare; Rodrigo Koxa with the honours. The biggest wave ever ridden by a woman was at Nazare, only last year, thanks to Maya Gabeira. The biggest wave that no one ever submitted for measuring may have also been ridden – perhaps a legit 100 footer, but more on that later.
Given that Nazare was thrust into the spotlight at such a galactic pace, it was only a matter of time before things needed to change. And it has, in more ways that you'd think. The infrastructure around Nazare has grown, more restaurants, more hotels, more people, more traffic, more...everything. The sleepy little fishing village that was so quintessentially European (and still is, in a way) has become a AAA stomping ground for surf royalty.
And as much as the town around the wave has morphed to adapt to a sudden influx of curiosity, so to has the way people ride the waves of Nazare, an evolution that spawned from a few tow-centric surfers in the water, to paddle, back to tow and an armada of skis with the intention of surfing the biggest wave of all time.
But even then, the focus and reasons why people surf there are shifting too. Sure, the theory is to surf the biggest wave ever, but there's also those hellmen and women who want to go deeper, take more critical lines (look at how Sebastian Steudtner's surfing), get tubed... Chumbo's throwing airs for fun on 50ft waves, like they're playthings, like it's a normal day at your local beachie.
Over the past six years everything has changed at Nazare. Everything. And photographer slash videographer Pedro Miranda has been at every XXL session over that time (except one in 2013, where Maya Gabeira nearly drowned). The metamorphosis, the way people are surfing, who sends it harder, the shift from paddle to tow, the vibe – Pedro's stored all those memories while training the lens on those hellish tee-pees.
And perhaps most astonishingly, Pedro has the only image of what he claims to be the biggest wave ever surfed, as ridden by GMac in 2014, that no one sent off for verification at the time. The photo is in the interview below.
We caught up with Pedro to talk through the changing face of Portugal's big wave surf scene, the present, future and why we're not done with Nazare yet. Oh and don't forget, you can watch our live Nazare cam, HERE.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into shooting surf video and photo?
I’m 42-years-old, Portuguese, proudly born in Porto but living in Cascais since I was a little kid. I spent my childhood always very connected to the ocean, I start sailing when I was just seven.
My father is a sailor and I guess it was his influence that got me connected to the ocean, I loved to hear his crazy stories about when he and his friends crossed the North Atlantic facing storms and huge oceanic waves in a tiny 30ft sailing boat.
My father also introduced me to photography, he had a little black room in our garage where he developed black and white film, it was magic. Later when I was a teenager I quit sailing and got into bodyboarding, it was the early nineties and all my friends were also surfing or bodyboarding, Cascais back then was all about surfing (still is) and we lived all around Guincho Beach, it was fun times, kinda like California [laughs].
Cascais back then was all about surfing (still is) and we lived all around Guincho Beach, it was fun times, kinda like California
Back then I had a little Video8 Camcorder, and I loved to shoot videos of our surf trips when we drove down south.
I started working when I was 19, it was the early days of the internet and I was into the stocks and markets (I was studying economics in college), and I built one of the first financial websites here in Portugal, one thing led to another and I started managing a private equity portfolio and living the yuppie lifestyle. Then the 'dotcom bubble' came and I sold that project to a big company, but stayed involved in financial markets for about 15-years… got completely disconnected with the ocean during all that time, but never lost interest.
When Nazaré started to blow up , I decided to go there one day and just watch. It got me completely hooked what was going on there with Garrett and his gang. I bought a camera and lens and started taking a few shots, by that time, I was in a position where I could quit my full time commitment with the stock market, and so I decided to dedicate myself to other areas, photography and video was just one of those choices.
Gradually, I’ve become more involved in shooting waves and, in 2013, my old time friend from high school Daniel Neves talked me into buying a drone with him just for fun, so we did and we called our little project Máquina Voadora, Flying Machine in Portuguese, with Daniel piloting the drone and me acting as a spotter while shooting the long-lens.
Since I was already into surf photography, we started chasing some surf action in Guincho, Ericeira and Supertubos but the real goal was getting that drone into Nazaré on the right day, and in 2014 we got it, we were the first drone team to ever shoot a surfer riding a giant wave with a drone in Praia do Norte, that was an insta-viral. This little drone project between friends gradually became a bit more serious and Máquina Voadora – Produções has now captured footage for clients like National Geographic, BBC, CBS/60 Minutes, CNN, WSL and even for a Super Bowl commercial.
And it’s safe to say that over the past six years, you’ve been at every major Nazare swell – how has that place changed from the beginnings to now?
Yes, since that time I think I missed only one big swell, where Maya got injured back in 2013, I was there in all other major swells.
A lot has changed since the early days...Nazaré has really changed a lot. There used to be days where we were almost alone at the cliff shooting perfect 60ft waves, just a few surfers out there charging, mostly Garrett, Cotty and Vau, and an empty cliff.
Now it’s like 20 jet skis in the water, heavy car traffic down the cliff, thousands of people watching, dozens of production teams fighting for the best spots, and the drone air-traffic is now worst than the Lisbon Airport. But I can't complain, I kind of like the chaos and I guess that's gonna be cyclical anyway, even last year one of the best paddle days ever with a lot of action, and we were almost alone at the cliff, those days still happen.
Has the focus shifted too? Was it paddle, then tow, then back to paddle and now tow again?
The focus started as 100 per cent tow, then in 2015 there was a lot of paddle action and with the WSL Nazaré Challenge in 2016, paddle became the main attraction.
There was one defining moment that changed everything, it was a bomb by Lucas Chumbo where Porcella dropped in, those guys made history that day, but also Alex Botelho, Twiggy, Tom Lowe, João Macedo and Nic Von Rupp, they all pushed the boundaries of what was thought possible at Nazaré.
And yes, the focus shifted once again this season, there's been some paddle action, but the boys are all training hard for the new tow format of the WSL Nazaré Challenge, so most of the action has been tow, tow, tow.
What’s the vibe like at Nazare right now – is it people pushing for only the biggest waves? Or is there more to it than that...
The big wave? Not exactly, you know, in this sport big matters, and big sells for sure. Records are made to be broken, so everyone in there wants to beat Rodrigo Koxa’s 80ft record, some as a personal goal others just, because, why not?
And now we also have the woman’s record so we have Justine clearly focused on beating Maya’s record wave of 68ft and Maya herself wanting to beat her own record.
But I’d say that the main focus now is not so much on the biggest wave, but the way they ride the wave, more and more we see everyone trying to charge behind the peak, going deeper, doing turns and airs and overall, riding way more aggressively.
But I’d say that the main focus now is not so much on the biggest wave, but the way they ride the wave
We can all feel the evolution going on and it’s exciting, and riding better leads them to have the right mindset to charge bigger as a result, so expect records to be broken as soon as the ocean provides a chance.
And how has the town changed to deal with the influx of spectators? How is it dealing with crowds and is the infrastructure different?
Yes, there’s more and better infrastructure and logistics, the Mayor, Walter Chicharro has been doing a great job and helping the dynamic grow. There’s more restaurants, and better offerings, there's more Airb'n'bs and places to stay, more everything, and at the same time Nazaré keeps its spirit untouched, for now.
What’s some of the gnarliest situations you’ve seen?
For sure the day when Kalani Lattanzi decided to swim and bodysurf Naza during a really big day, he told us he would do it, but no one was really expecting it to happen… that beats everything else.
But there were a few specific moments that I will never forget: the rescue of Pedro Scooby by Lucas Chumbo during the Big Ugly that ended up on a double rescue by Everaldo Pato;
The Wipeout and extreme beating of Thiago Jacaré last season; a “double trouble” episode with Hugo Vau and Alex Botelho a few years ago; Ramon Laureano's extreme rescue last season was also hardcore and for sure the rescue of Chumbo by Ian Cosenza that happened just last week.
In your opinion, what looked like the biggest wave ever ridden from where you've been standing?
I’d say the biggest wave ever surfed in Nazaré, was by Garrett McNamara and I’m not talking about his 2011 world record… It was during the Big Thursday swell event in December 2014, the same day Benjamin Sanchis had that nasty wipeout, Rodrigo Koxa almost died and when Sebastian rode that big monster that won him he XXL for the season.
Earlier on that same day, there was one really gigantic set of 5-6 waves, the biggest set of the day… that shit was ridiculous, the ground was literally shaking, and Garret got the bomb on the third of the set if I’m not mistaken. The mist from the previous waves was so high and thick, that nobody, literally no-one shooting from the cliff was able to get that shot because it was simply not visible because of the mist.
I was fortunate enough to be shooting on the top of the lighthouse because on that day we were there operating the drone instead of our usual spot on the cliff, and from there I was able to find a small window between the mist to grab the shot, the only shot known of of that wave, still with a lot of mist but enough to at least get a small capture of it - after some heavy grading [laughs].
I decided not to post if to the WSL Big Wave Awards and so, that wave was never officially measured. From my experience, the shots from the top of the lighthouse make most of the waves look smaller, and this one still looks ridiculously big. Garrett still thinks that ride was his biggest wave ever, and I agree, his biggest wave and the biggest ever ridden, still not the mythical 100 footer he wanted but probably the biggest ever ridden until now.
Who is most consistent out there?
Tow wise, it’s gotta be Sebastian Steudtner, he is the master of the tow, rides with aggressive lines and has the most years of experience when it’s maxing out, Lucas Chumbo is a natural talent and will probably redefine what is possible there in the near future, just needs to spent more time there.
Paddle is Lucas Chumbo, Alex Botelho, Twiggy, Tom Lowe and Nic Von Rupp, they’re all breaking the boundaries on that front and it’s difficult to pick one.
Are there bigger waves that can be ridden?
Yes, for sure, in any given giant day, the biggest ones of the day end up unridden. Everyone's charging better, heavier and smarter, while the jet skis are getting more horsepower and the safety devices keep improving, so it’s a matter of time before an official 100 footer is ridden, photographed and officially measured.
How do you think Nazare stays relevant with the likes of Jaws and Mully as options for people to go to?
When Nazaré first appeared on the map eight or nine years ago, the reactions from the surf world were very sceptic, 'the wave that is not a wave', 'the wave that doesn’t break', the 'giant burger', and of course Laird Hamilton... those opinions all came from people who have not been there, and the ones that went there afterwards all changed their minds pretty sharp.
Now that the dust is settled, and Nazaré is legit, you may not like it, but you can’t ignore it, especially if you want to be someone in the big wave scene, Nazaré is the ultimate judgement ground, tow or paddle.
If you are able to make it there, you will probably made it anywhere. It will remain relevant against any other big wave spot, the same way the Everest remains relevant for mountain climbing.