There are few things as satisfying as a great documentary recommendation – especially when you didn’t ask for one. Then you know it’s going to be good. Case in point: a few months back, a friend sent me the link to the 100 Foot Wave from HBO. It’s a multi-season, award-winning story of a lesser known port town in Portugal called Nazaré, an American big-wave surfer called Garrett McNamara, and his very personal hunt for the elusive 100-foot wave.

It goes without saying, watch it! Especially if you have any interest in extreme sports. The coolest part is the fact that almost a week later, the team at square mile reached out and offered me the opportunity to travel to Portugal to that very surf town to try and ride the waves there with Tudor’s big wave ambassador Nic von Rupp. It was a weekend that will live long in the memory. 

Nazaré is located in the Oeste region and has a population of 14,889 but in recent years has exploded in popularity following the success of the documentary.

For many, many years most in the surf community had written off locations outside of Hawaii for big waves. But what brings Nazaré into the equation is that it boasts a natural undersea canyon in the eastern North Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest submarine canyon in Europe, reaching depths of about 5,000m (16,000 ft) deep and a length of about 230km (140 miles). While you might wait for years to see the right conditions in some parts of the world, Nazaré has three to five big wave sessions a year.

One of the key differences between traditional paddle surfing and this kind of surfing is that you have to be towed into the wave by a jet ski, simply because the waves are just too big to get onto without assistance. It also means you can ride many more waves in a session.

Nic von Rupp surfing

Things all changed for Nazaré when, in 2011, Garrett McNamara caught a 78-foot wave, the biggest to have been surfed anywhere in the world at that time. Then, in 2017, Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa surfed an 80-footer, narrowly surpassing Garret McNamara’s record wave of 2011, stamping the world record for the biggest surfing wave ever. In 2022, Sebastian Steudtner conquered an 86-footer – and so the journey continues to – you guessed it – 100 foot.

Nic von Rupp couldn’t be a better ambassador for Tudor’s tagline ‘Born To Dare’. Raised in Sintra, Portugal by a German-American father and a Swiss mother, Von Rupp’s international background gave him an early curiosity for travel. At just nine years old, he began surfing, and his hunger to win would lead him to a successful career as a junior, winning national and international titles.

When he turned professional, he began travelling globally on the World Qualifying Series where he excelled, leading him to being titled ‘European Surfer of the Year’ in 2013. He stepped away from the traditional surf circuit a few years back to pursue his passion for big wave surfing – a subdivision of the surf world and one that is seemingly harder to make a career from.

For so many, it’s hard to find sponsors and maintain visibility in an increasingly digital world. To be a surfer these days you have to be a media company as well. And interestingly Von Rupp does in fact have a large team for his productions. I highly recommend checking out his YouTube.


It helps that Von Rupp is such a nice guy – and I genuinely mean that. He’s warm and open while being funny and passionate. When we sat down for a coffee, he explained to me: “There are four pillars for facing fears, that give me strength to go forward: physical training, mental training, equipment, and teamwork. Surfing is very much a calculated risk, but it’s all about the team.” This was a theme that echoed across the weekend for me. Von Rupp is a man who puts it all on the line, yet there’s no ego – he’s always keen to celebrate his team first and foremost. 

Every year, boundaries are broken in big wave surfing. People do things that have never been done before. But since it’s so hard to actually figure out the height of a given wave, it’s tough to really know for sure. There are just too many moving parts — the angle of the camera, the exact bottom and top of the wave, the surfer’s height, etc. It doesn’t take into account the bend in the wave face, the exact bottom of the wave, and of course, the fact that the height of a breaking wave is likely changing second-by-second. Getting a measurement of a wave that’s accurate enough to claim it’s a world record could be seen as something of a fool’s errand. And this year at Nazaré, there were more than enough giant swells for a whole lot of “world record” claims.  

This is the world Von Rupp lives in. “Every year, there is the same talk,” he said. “And honestly, this is the worst part about surfing big waves. It’s when everyone starts pulling out their measurement tapes and the battle starts. Who surfed the biggest wave? Who rode it deeper? That’s not the part I like the most, but we are in a competitive sport, and that requires a winner. “What I feel is wrong with that is that less and less there is a rule book on how waves should be measured. Everyone just screams as loud as they can and those who scream the loudest get the public’s attention.”

While he manages to balance surfing with producing films and working for his sponsor obligations, he didn’t take any of it for granted. He recalled a few times over the weekend that he came to Nazaré as a 15 year old with his surf idols. Many turned away and didn’t come back, because the equipment just wasn’t there in the early days to take on such big waves.

Chatting to him, what really struck me was his gratitude to be where he is and doing what he’s doing. It felt that almost the sheer magnitude of physical risk associated with the sport actually sharpened his mind towards a day-to-day appreciation for what is.

That said, he puts the graft in, too. When it comes to his training and preparation, he shared that “during the season I train three days a week; that’s physical training in the gym – specifically functional training for upper body and legs – and we’re combining that with surfing as well. 

“During off season, I train five times a week, with high intensity in June, July, August and September. We take it to the trampolines and then we take it into the swimming pool and then we take it into the ocean. I want to make sure that I’m as physically prepared as I can be to endure a superior power of nature.” 

One of the most interesting parts of the training for me was the breath work. The fact of the matter is, if you come off on one of these waves, you may have to hold your breath for minutes at a time while you get pummelled under water. “You’ve to be able to recover as fast as possible. So I need to train breath holds, periods of time to actually know that you’re going to be able to be manage under there for a certain period of time if you need to. So endurance training is paramount outside of the water – and then we do swimming pool training and apnea training. We use weights while walking under the water while doing drills to improve our capacity. I hate it!”.

He and his team took us out on their jet skis and we had the chance to try being towed in. The standing start in the water, while holding the rope tightly to the body and being lifted up and out the water was a real buzz. After a few attempts I eventually got the hang of it. The arms and legs took a pounding, mind – constantly in an eccentric hold. But what was great was the fact that my feet were locked in and the board was small enough to feel manoeuvrable beneath me. I left thinking about when I might be able to go down to the lake and do some wakeboarding next.

My actual surfing was lacklustre to say the least. ‘More practice needed’ was my overriding sense on departure. But just being out there in the same waters as those massive waves I had seen in the documentary blew my mind. It was spine-tingling. Looking up to the famous lighthouse and the Colosseum-esque banks that are full to the brim with spectators during big days, made me think of those great stadia around the globe where warriors of all sports come out to do battle.  

Over my trip, Von Rupp was much keener to talk about the ways in which he was determined to give back in the future, than to focus on himself. “When I was growing up, surfing was very big – there were a lot of core brands who were supportive about the next big thing. But that’s a little bit sleepier now. So this younger generation can only turn into established professional surfers if they have the support from a young age.

“There are a lot of friends of mine who have a lot of potential but are struggling. I was very fortunate to have good sponsors and have good people around me that have supported me. So I really want to make sure that I finish my career by not only putting myself at the top, but also being able to nurture the next generation – and help them achieve their dreams. 

“My manager and I crafted an initiative called Surf Fun(d) to help the next generation of surfers here. We allocated ten percent of our takings to a fund which directly supports a number of talented younger surfers,” he explained. “We’re only at the early stages of this project right now, but we are hoping to really involve the local community and introduce surfing to less fortunate kids.”

Nic von Rupp with Tudor
Nic von Rupp with Tudor

The man is a fantastic ambassador for the sport as well as for Tudor. He always wears a Tudor Pelegos while surfing – a titanium variation, which is both light and functional. He assured me that it’s been with him on some of the biggest waves ever surfed and still keeps great time.

“I feel naked without it out there. It’s part of my kit list because it’s essential to know what time it is for the swells, etc.” While some ambassadors are all talk and no action, Von Rupp was clearly genuinely incredibly proud to wear Tudor and represent the brand. 

I feel privileged to have met him and the people of Nazaré. It will be a journey that will live long in my memory. Oh! And I eyeballed Von Rupp at the end of the trip and asked him squarely: “How big can the waves actually get at Nazaré?” His response: “Over 100 feet.” To be continued… 

See more at