There may be a new world record in surfing. Professional big-wave surfer Garrett McNamara barreled down a behemoth wave off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal earlier this week, and some witnesses in his camp claim it was 100-feet high.
Billabong's XXL panel still has to verify the height of the wave, but if it's true, McNamara will have broken the current world record of 78 feet, a record he set back in 2011 in the same spot. Verification is key, and questions surrounding McNamara's initial claims of wave height have been discredited in the past.
"The folks who were promoting his  expedition proclaimed the wave was 90-feet high," said Chris Dixon, founding online editor of Surfer Magazine, who has also judged big-wave surfing competitions. "It was later judged by the Guinness Book of World Records panel to be 78-feet high, which is one foot higher than a world record that was set in 2008 by Mike Parsons at the Cortez Bank off of California."
Determining the exact height of a wave is not an easy feat. Judges study multiple several photographs, all depicting the wave at different angles. The key is to pinpoint the trough of the wave, referring to the flat portion where it begins to curve upward. The judges then take a measurement of the surfer in a crouching position and use that height measurement to determine the size of the wave.
"It's not completely precise and I think it would be difficult to be utterly precise," said Dixon. "It's very difficult to tell by that photograph where the trough of the wave is. It's clearly a huge wave, but it may be that where you see him on the wave is sort of the bottom of the wave. It's a very flat photograph, so it's very difficult to put it into dimension."
This kind of big-wave surfing is separated into two categories: Open and pure paddle. In open, or tow surfing, a surfer is allowed to be towed out to sea by a jet ski, as McNamara was in his most recent run in Portugal. Alternately, pure paddle surfing involves catching the wave with your bare hands by paddling out to the swell area, and is much more difficult.
Hawaii, California and Australia are well-known big-wave surfing spots, but Nazaré, Portugal has become the place where record-breakers make history. Similarly to Black's Beach in San Diego, the ocean off the coast of Nazaré is above a deep canyon, which focuses the wave to make them larger than they are in other areas of the same beach.
"You get these massive North Atlantic storms, which I think most surfers are in agreement these storms are getting bigger and bigger and the swells funnel into this canyon," said Dixon. "They hit this beach and are magnified a great deal over the actual swell height of ocean."
Video of this year's record-breaking ride:
Video of record-breaking ride of 2011: