There is something eternal about a place like Nazaré; long before humans ever set foot in this rugged coastal enclave, massive waves have risen up from the sea before crashing onto the craggy point that juts out between soft sandy beaches on both sides. In fact, the secret promise of Nazaré was only revealed to the world a few years ago, when a Hawaiian big wave surfer named Garrett McNamara discovered that waves as tall as 10 story buildings were not merely a flight of fancy, but a rather frequent occurrence during the stormy winter months.
Since then, McNamara and a few other elite surfers from around the world have come back to Nazaré to conquer even bigger waves, and tourists who once visited the town during the hot summer months have been showing up in the dead of winter to catch a glimpse of these giants.
As luck would have it, I missed out on seeing the waves at their biggest yet by a couple of days; I was still in Lisbon a week ago, when McNamara and a gutsy Irishman named Andrew Cotton surfed waves upwards of 30 meters. So instead, I settled for waves in the paltry range of 8-10m; still much larger than anything I have ever seen before, and I was left breathless at the sight of them slowly rolling in.
Indeed, there is something about sheer height that captivates me. Just as I am drawn to the towering vaults of Amiens, so too am I awed by the crests of these gigantic waves which rise from the depths of the stormy North Atlantic.
As the builders of the great Gothic cathedrals could affirm, there is something Divine in the pursuit of height. To stand in the shadows of pillars that seem to hold up the sky is to remember humanity’s small place in the grand scheme of the Universe. Likewise, to brace yourself against the fury of a sea that is so powerful it shakes the earth you stand on is to acknowledge that if waves as powerful as these disintegrate into nothing but whitewater, who are we to consider ourselves anything more than dust blown about by the wind?
The next time you need an ego check, come to Nazaré in the wintertime and remember how small you really are.
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