Hawaiian Daredevil Surfer Survives 90-Foot Wave

Extreme surfer claims the record this week off the coast of Portugal.

ByABC News
November 10, 2011, 1:12 PM

Nov. 10, 2011— -- The daredevil surfer who shattered a world record by riding a 90-foot-high wall of water says the monster wave "just popped out of nowhere" but that he was never afraid.

"This wave was very different," Garrett McNamara said. "This one just jacked up, broke, actually kind of barreled, and went to run me over, and somehow by the grace of God, I made it.

"When I rode the wave I didn't know how big it was and then it landed on me at the very end. … It was like a ton of bricks on my shoulders and that's when I realized if I had fallen it could have been really bad."

McNamara, 44, of Hawaii, is part of an elite fraternity of extreme surfers who travel the world seeking gigantic waves.

He claimed the record this week while surfing off the coast of Portugal, where an underwater canyon magnifies wave energy, producing eye-popping crests. The record wave's 90-foot height still must be verified through videos and photos to officially eclipse the old "big wave" surfing record of 77 feet.

Two other big wave enthusiasts with McNamara had just ridden 60-foot waves when the 90-foot crest began forming as McNamara was being towed into position. He released the tow-line and then began the ride of his life.

"Everything felt good about it. This wave, this abnormal-sized wave, just popped out of nowhere. It was like it was meant to be," he said in a telephone interview from Portugal, where he is still surfing.

"I always say it's not how big the wave is, it's how you ride it. Once it gets to a certain size, there's so much water moving you could easily end up having that be your last ride."

McNamara described the sensation as like skiing on the steepest, iciest trail on a big mountain "and then all of a sudden this avalanche starts coming after you and you're turning to get away from the avalanche but you're actually staying as close as you can to it."

He added, "The scariest part is when you are coming down the wave and there is all this water coming own the wave and your feet are coming out of the straps."

McNamara's website says that in the past 10 years he has been "on a mission to catch the biggest, best waves on the planet."

The site describes big-wave riding as reaching "new heights of popularity" but that no other rider "can surpass McNamara's combination of talent, courage and thirst for the unknown."

In the telephone interview, McNamara said a lot of careful planning goes into riding big waves. "I set up ahead of time … I run through it in my mind over and over. I check through all the safety precautions," he said.

Still, McNamara said that once he's riding that moving mountain of water "100 percent instinct" takes over, "surfing with heart."

"It's a very thought out, well-planned mission but once you get in the water and you're at the spot there's always the unknown and you just have to deal with it as it comes," he said.

"Half the people think I'm out of my mind … and half are just – I think they all think I'm crazy, actually."