Garrett McNamara | 100 Foot Wave

The HBO series is back for a second season of spellbinding surf and swells

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Isaac Dektor

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Photo Courtesy of HBO

Most people spend their lives afraid of monsters. But in every generation, there are those few brave souls who charge headlong at the dragon. Those are our heroes and their achievements, the stuff of legends. Through stunning cinematography and awe inspiring swells, HBO’s 100 Foot Wave takes you into the breathtaking world of big wave surfing.  

At the helm of the series is Garrett McNamara, a man whose monumental achievements in the sport over the past two decades have made him synonymous with monster wave riding. The 55-year-old has claimed some terrifyingly-epic waves throughout his career, including an unforgettable 60-foot barrel at the iconic big wave spot in Hawaii, fittingly named after Steven Spielberg’s sea monster that scared an entire generation out of the ocean: Jaws. 

Photo Courtesy of HBO

Season one of 100 Foot Wave gave a behind-the-scenes look at how McNamara and other brave swell riders prepare to face huge waves. Enlisting his wife Nicole, brother-in-law CJ, and British surfer Andrew “Cotty” Cotton, the seemingly-amphibious McNamara built a ragtag team that proved itself to be world-class.

Season two brings viewers back to Nazaré, Portugal, the place McNamara put on the map for big-wave surfing back in 2005. It quickly became one of, if not the most important stop on the circuit. An underwater geological marvel is responsible for Nazare’s massive waves — a subsea canyon just off the beach extends for over 100 miles and is more than 15,000 feet deep at its lowest point — causing rogue waves to escape the underwater canyon and run right into the beach break. It’s the Everest of big-wave surfing, and for McNamara, it’s where legends are made.

Photo Courtesy of HBO

Flaunt caught up with McNamara to discuss season two of the 100 Foot Wave and the lore of big wave riding.

When you first saw a photo of the waves at Nazaré, did you have any idea that this would be such a defining place in your career?

Yes. It might sound crazy, but it was like once I saw it I felt like I was looking at the holy grail. The day I saw it conditions were terrible but it was massive and luckily Dino had sent me a picture of a day with good conditions. I was able to visualize what he had sent me with what I was seeing and I was captivated. A total ‘ta da’ moment. There were rainbows in the waves and we had basically found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

You've helped to put Big Wave surfing and Nazaré on the map. What is it like to see the next generation of surfers like Tony Laureano, come into their own?

It has been very… rewarding. To see the next generation from the very beginning to now and finally see them really excelling and surfing alongside everyone else. The next generation is so talented. There are so many good surfers, so many newcomers, it is mind-blowing to watch what everyone is doing now. The level of surfing is so much higher, the bar has been raised.

The show branches out from surfing to show the culture surrounding it. From local lore to crowded lineups and drone operators, in what ways does 100 Foot Wave highlight the historic fishing town of Nazaré and the culture that has emerged out of surfing its now-iconic wave?

I really love how episode one goes back to show the village and see its evolution to what it is now. From a sleepy, misty, nobody on the streets in the wintertime with everything closed. Now everything is open and flourishing, on the sunny days and the big days the streets are packed beyond anyone's wildest dreams. At a minimum, people from 72 different countries are in Nazaré every day.

People might not realize how important safety is to big-wave surfers. Can you describe what calculated risk means to you and how you mitigate dangerous situations?

Calculated risk means being a risk manager, risk technician. Doing your best to figure out everything that can go wrong, all the scenarios. All the challenges that you may face. And before entering the water you have planned out solutions for all those challenges. Working on that with your team, all your people, and whoever you can that will be in the water. And then you have to always be ready for the unknown variables, the challenges you did not plan for, and remember to stay calm and do your best with the unknowns that you face. You are only as good as your team and your equipment.

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Garrett McNamara, 100 Foot Wave, HBO