The first account of waves ridden in Portugal dates back to sometime between 1926 and 1927. Bodyboarders were filmed coasting to shore on the crashing waves off the coast of Leca da Palmeira. The black and white film, stored in the National Archive of Moving Images, shows 12 bodyboarders on flat wooden boards riding large waves into shore. The video, named “Details of Leca de Palmeira, Matosinhos and Leixoes,” is expected to be the oldest surf film in European history.
Roughly two decades later, in 1946, the first bodysurfing club of Portugal was created in Carcavelos e Parede. Surfers in Portugal continued riding boards made of cork and using them as bodyboards until the late 50s and early 60s, when surfboards were brought to the country from France. Pedro Lima, Portugal’s pioneer of surfing, started riding waves, without a wetsuit or other modern surfing luxuries, during this time.
Surfing grew slowly until the sport experienced a boom in Portugal in the early 1980s. Portugal was represented for the first time with a national surf team at the Eurosurf European surfing championships held in France in 1987. The Portuguese Surfing Federation was established in 1988.
It wasn’t until 1990, when the Buondi Pro surf competition was held in Ericeira, that Portugal gained recognition as a top-quality surf destination. Portuguese natives began rising to stardom in the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Tour. In 1996, Portugal’s Bruno “Bubas” Charneca claimed victory over four-time world champion (now 11-time world champion) Kelly Slater.
By the 2000s, Portugal had become one of the world’s great surf destinations, and in 2010, Peniche became a stop on the ASP (now the World Surf League) professional surfing tour. The otherwise mellow seaside town sees crowds of 35,000 on the sand on some competition days. World-renowned surf competitions continue to be held at beaches spanning the length of Portugal’s coastline, and the country has become known as one of the world’s best big wave surf destinations too.
Portugal’s big wave surfing scene made headlines around the world in November of 2011, when Garrett McNamara set the world record for the largest wave ever surfed by riding a 78-foot-tall giant at Nazare. The world stood in awe again, two years later, when Brazilian Carlos Burle road a Nazare wave that was expected to be 100-feet-tall.
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