‘100 Foot Wave’ – A surfer seeks his great white whale

HBO docuseries follows record setter to Portugal

“100 Foot Wave”

Sir Edmund Hillary had his Everest, Bob Ballard had his Titanic and now Garrett McNamara has his “100 Foot Wave.”

Airing Sundays on HBO, the so-titled six-part documentary series from director/executive producer Chris Smith (“Tiger King,” “Operation Varsity Blues”) follows McNamara, a veteran surfer from Hawaii, as he ventures to Portugal in the hopes of riding his much-sought-after 100-foot wave and in the process push the sport to greater heights.

His interest in Nazaré, a small fishing village on the country’s central Atlantic coast, came about from emails he received from locals, who were curious about whether the dangerous swells they had observed all their lives were surfable. They also wanted to make Nazaré a surfing mecca. McNamara, who for eight years held the Guinness world record for surfing the largest wave, first visited there with his wife Nicole in 2010 and immediately saw his opportunity.

For the 53-year-old surfer, who has ridden giant waves all over the Pacific and even taken on a tsunami in Alaska, riding a monster wave is a profoundly exhilarating experience. But if he makes a mistake, there is something else that is profound.

“Then this massive, basically like an avalanche just lands on you and it feels like a ton of bricks,” he says. “Basically it tries to rip your limbs apart and tries to squash the oxygen out of you and you’ve got to do your best to stay calm and just go with it. And it’s like a washing machine on spin cycle with like King Kong shaking it. … When you don’t make a wave is when you … get the rush because you’re getting pounded like you’ve never been pounded.”

And he has the injuries to prove it. In the series, we learn McNamara has incurred a broken back, shoulder, ribs and feet over years of riding giants. But this is a man who has been surfing since age 11 and it’s firmly ingrained in his lifestyle, so much so that he named his son Barrel.

“I love surfing,” McNamara says. “It’s where I belong when it’s really big and giant, and I feel more comfortable than doing a Zoom meeting.”

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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