The Biggest Waves In, Oh, Forever, Maybe, Are Pounding Portugal’s Coast

Hurricane Epsilon has been churning the North Atlantic into a maelstrom of very, very angry seas for days now. As the raw energy of the swell spaces itself out and organizes itself into a proper swell train, it has steamed straight into Europe’s Atlantic coast. This is a bit early for big winter storms to generate this kind of swell, which also means unusually clean conditions and light autumn winds. Big-wave surfers around the world have taken note, with those able to travel heading straight for Nazaré, Portugal, a charming fishing village in the middle of the country that fronts some of the biggest waves on the planet. Ireland’s Mullaghmore is also cracking right now, with what are probably the best and meanest waves breaking anywhere in the world.

But it’s Nazaré that really captures the world’s attention. The bathymetry just offshore pushes swell there to ludicrous heights, massive 70-80-foot teepees of water, so big that the speed of the lip hurtling toward the trough generate powerful roostertails of spray even on windless days.

Today saw surfers tackle some of the biggest waves humans have ever ridden.

Look at Kai Lenny here, possibly the most talented big-wave surfer alive, streaking down the face of a wave that sure looks every bit of 85 feet or so. It’s impossible to actually measure the height of a wave, of course, despite world records measured to the foot. Waves lurch and grow above a shifting trough that doesn’t have a stable floor to measure from. Surfers have long whispered about riding a 100-foot wave, something that if ever done will happen at Nazaré, but frankly, this very well could be 100 feet.

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