The Truth About Surfer Garrett McNamara's Guinness World Record

Surfer Garrett McNamara definitely isn't afraid of heights, having tackled some of the biggest waves on Earth. He made it into Guinness World Records in 2011 for the largest wave surfed. He started surfing at the age of 11 when his family moved to Hawaii, and he turned pro as a teenager (via BBC). McNamara made his name as a big wave surfer and accepted an invitation in 2010 to explore the waters of Nazaré, Portugal, to determine if it was a viable surfing spot (via Entertainment Weekly).

Nazaré proved to be a surfing wonderland. "It's the only place in the world in which a giant canyon reaches all the way to the beach," McNamara told Guinness World Records. The area known as Praia do Norte produces extraordinarily huge waves, and it was there that McNamara tackled his record-setting waves in 2011. While initial reports claimed that he rode a 90-foot wave, Guinness World Records only recognized it as a 78-foot wave. But it was enough for him to make the news and the record books. "I feel so blessed and honored to have been invited to explore this canyon and its special town," he told Surfer Today. "The waves here are such a mystery."

Quest for the 100-foot wave

McNamara continued on his quest for bigger waves to ride, and he claimed to have beaten his own record in January of 2013. From early reports, it looked McNamara may have bagged the ultimate 100-foot wave. Fellow surfer Alastair Mennie was towing into McNamara's monster wave and had a front-row seat to all the action. As he explained to the Guardian, "Everything was perfect, the weather, the waves ... The jet ski was the best place to see him riding the biggest wave I've ever seen."

Unfortunately, McNamara's legendary wave in 2013 never received official certification from Guinness World Records. Still, his previous record of 78 feet stood for nine years until Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa rode an 80-foot wave in Nazaré in November 2017, which was accepted by the Guinness World Records the following year. In April 2021, another surfer António Laureano claimed to have surfed a 101-foot wave, but this ride has yet to be certified (via Surfer Today). That same year, McNamara's quest for the biggest waves hit the small screen as he was featured in the HBO documentary series "100 Foot Wave."