The AT50: Surfer Garrett McNamara (#11)

This surf veteran tames the world's monster waves
Staff Writer

Gustavo Miguel Fernandes/Shutterstock

Age: 45
Sports: Big Wave Surfing, Stand Up Paddling
Highlights: Record for largest two waves ever surfed (90-100 feet in 2013; 77 feet in 2011); won Hawaiian Triple Crown Series; largest surfing prize ever ($70,000) for winning Tow Surfing World Cup in Maui's Jaws (2002).
Quote: “I never claimed the wave to be 100 feet, I claimed to have a lot of fun on it. When I first caught that wave, it was twice as big as that picture that’s going around the world.”
Fact: In 2007 McNamara rode tidal waves from calving Alaskan glaciers.
AT50 Point Total: 45.5

Pro athletes, for the most part, tend to mellow out with age. Their competitive edges dull, their chiseled physiques show the first signs of human frailty and, suddenly, where before there was only bravado and self-assuredness, humility starts to grow. For Garrett McNamara, though, 35 years of testing the limits of big-wave surfing has only made him more intense and more willing to take big risks on the world's truly monstrous waves. Just this January, at Portugal's Praia do Norte beach, he headed out into a roiling sea and towed-in to a killer 90-foot behemoth wave. To the onshore bystanders, it looked like a suicide ride, but McNamara stuck with it and surfed down its face and into the record books (his second record since riding a 77-footer there in 2011).

A North Shore native and an early adopter of tow surfing—a 1990s development that allowed surfers to catch bigger, faster swells—he's been taking on these man-swallowers longer than almost any other surfer, and it's finally paid off with these two consecutive world records. But these spectacular rides don't come without risk; at last year's Billabong XXL Awards, he also won Wipeout of the Year for this dinger he took at Jaws:

—Brian Berkovitz

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