Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Biggest wave ever ridden?

Hawaiian big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara will go to any lengths to chase a massive swell. On Monday that pursuit took him back to Praia do Norte, a tiny coastal village about 60 miles north of Lisbon, Portugal, where he got pulled into a massive wave that has the entire surfing world in awe. 

What's remarkable about the wave McNamara rode Monday is how much bigger it appears than his record-breaking ride at the very same spot back in November of 2011. That 2011 ride is currently recognized as the Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed, at 78 feet. 

The decision to give McNamara that record was a controversial one, as it was ruled a single foot bigger than the 2008 record set by Mike Parsons at Cortes Bank, a wave that breaks 100 miles off the coast of Southern California. Naturally, the debate over whether McNamara's wave was truly worthy of the honor raged. 

At issue was the questionable method of measuring the wave, which is a problem that faces the judges every year during the annual Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards. The XXL Awards are the most prestigious honors for big-wave surfers, thanks mostly to the judging panel comprised of experienced big-wave legends, leading surf forecasters, and experienced photographers, all of whom examine all the evidence that exists for each ride to pinpoint a measurement. 

"The hard part isn't locating the top of the wave," says Bill Sharp, director of the XXL Awards. "It's finding the bottom of it, because that's the point where you start measuring from. The challenge is photos and video can both be deceiving depending on the angle of the shot, the size of the lens used, and even stuff like mist and water color." 

The latest example is McNamara's wave from Monday. At first glance, it looks incredibly massive. Bigger, even, than his 2011 ride. But will it hold up under scrutiny? 

"It's hard to say," says Sharp. "We should be seeing video of it in the next week or so, and that will be a lot more revealing because it allows us to see where and when the surfer reaches the bottom." 

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