As the wave crashes down from almost 100 feet above, Garrett stays focused. He knows what falling now could mean. For a moment he’s weightless, aloft in the maelstrom of foam, but he stays in control and lands in front of the boiling whitewater. He has safely reached the shoulder. He turns up the face and kicks out.
Andrew Cotton speeds over to pick him up. He tosses the tow-rope to Garrett, who yells, “The next wave, put me deeper!”
Garrett’s partners in Portugal circulate a press release later that day—November 7, 2011—with the video to prove it: McNamara has surfed a wave with a ninety-foot face, a world record. (If you want to see McNamara’s ride, you’ll find it on YouTube or the Billabong XXL web site.) Big wave judges in the surf industry and an independent scientific organization review the video and validate the measurement. It’s a favorite to win this year’s Billabong XXL Biggest Wave Award and its $50,000 prize. The only question for G-Mac now is: How’s he going to top that?
Big waves, the kinetic and powerful swells that Garrett chases, don’t break just anywhere. It takes certain conditions to create extremely big waves, and surfable waves with sixty-foot-plus faces occur in only a few places on the planet. Using weather reports, swell charts, buoy readings, Navy ocean depth charts, Google Earth and a teaspoon of intuition, Garrett says he’s found his holy grail out there in the big blue. Where, he won’t say.
“I don’t have any interest in riding a hundred-foot wave,” Garrett says and then lowers his voice like he’s letting you in on a secret. “One-hundred-twenty feet. And I will. They can have the hundred-footer. I found a 150-foot wave, and I’m not exaggerating. I’ll ride it up to 120,” he says, then reconsiders. “But if it’s 150 and it’s good, then I’ll give it a go.”