Steudtner completed his prize-winning ride at the bay off Nazaré, a small fishing village 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Lisbon on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, where appearances can be deceptive. For this seemingly tranquil little place is regularly visited by monster waves – and in 1183 even witnessed a miracle. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared here on a rocky outcrop above Sítio to warn Dom Fuas, a local nobleman, who was out hunting a stag in a dense sea mist. The scene was captured in a mural in the typical white-and-blue of Azulejo glazed tiles: the nobleman, sitting astride his horse, on the rocky outcrop high above the sea; above him on a cloud, the Virgin, warning him of the abyss. The stag is lost, hurtling towards the sea, which in this record of that day is depicted as being as flat as the tile on which it was painted.
For centuries, before the apparitions at Fátima, Nazaré was Portugal’s most visited pilgrimage site. Today the village attracts pilgrims of a different sort – surfers. And all because of the submarine canyon that stretches from the open waters of the Atlantic to the Bay of Nazaré. On occasions, the significant variations in marine depth, strong winds, and unique currents combine to generate monster waves towering up to 20 or 30 meters (66 to 98 ft.) in height. From October through January, Nazaré regularly boasts the highest near-coastal waves in the world.