|Story by Kevin Whitton
Photos by Dana Edmunds
(except where noted)
“Andrew, a huge wave just broke! And there’s another out the back, the peak just to the south from your current position,” Nicole Macias shouts into her waterproof two-way radio. “It’s massive!” From her vantage on a cliff in the town of Nazaré, Portugal, she has been tracking the sixty- to eighty-foot waves breaking off the point. These two waves are by far the biggest she’s seen after four hours on the cliff—if not the biggest waves she’s ever seen.
Andrew Cotton, a big-wave surfer from the United Kingdom, guns the Sea-Doo and pulls Hawai‘i waterman Garrett McNamara to his feet, which are strapped into a brick-red tow board. Cotton manhandles the ski into a quick, swooping arc over the back of the wave and whips McNamara onto the open face.
At sixty mph, Garrett’s more like a skipping stone than a surfer. Most other surfers would be racing for the shoulder of the wave — and hence the exit—but not G-Mac. He leans hard against the rope in the opposite direction, toward the apex of the giant peak. With the concentration of a Shaolin monk, he lets go at the precise moment to get the steepest drop, the longest ride and just maybe the biggest barrel of his life.
His board chatters down the dark green face. He feels his way to the bottom, relying on his instincts and his years of experience. After what seems like an eternal drop, he reaches the bottom and turns down the line. Looking over his shoulder, he sees the thick, feathering lip pitch and collapse like an avalanche. As the whitewater engulfs him, he has no idea that this wave will be later measured at more than ninety feet, making it not only the biggest wave he’s ever surfed but the biggest wave anyone on record has ever surfed.