Mason Barnes reflects on his historic 100-foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal

NAZARE, PORTUGAL - 2020/10/29: Big wave surfer Mason Hyce Barnes from USA rides a wave during a tow surfing session at Praia do Norte on the first big swell of winter season. (Photo by Henrique Casinhas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
NAZARE, PORTUGAL - 2020/10/29: Big wave surfer Mason Hyce Barnes from USA rides a wave during a tow surfing session at Praia do Norte on the first big swell of winter season. (Photo by Henrique Casinhas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

Mason Barnes may have just set a record for the biggest wave ever ridden, 100-foot monster.

While winter is a time when most people hit the mountains, for big wave surfers it is a time to hit the sea. The winter months are when mother nature sends the biggest of the big barreling waves right towards the most well-known surf spots. One spot in particular where you can find the biggest waves in the world might not be that well known, after all, that place in Nazaré in Portugal.

For those familiar with big wave surfing or those who have tuned in to the recent HBO special called The 100 Foot wave, they know Nazaré is the mecca of big waves. A giant wall of water that was considered unrideable not too long ago has become the playground for the brave men and women who are looking to make history or simply have the ride of a lifetime. One man who recently scored possibly the biggest wave ever ridden may have accomplished both of those things. That man is Mason Barnes.

I caught up with Barnes not long after this massive history-making ride. Like most big wave riders, Barnes was not just kicking back reflecting on the ride of his life. No, Barnes was in Hossegor, France looking for more waves. He spoke about how he came to put himself in the position to ride such a huge wave.

“As a surfer, what we do is we look at the forecast and the weather for big waves. That storm had popped up about a week before and it was a very significant storm, it looked like one of the biggest of the season. So I had my eyes on it and I’m not gonna miss it no matter where I am in the world. It looked good a couple of days before. So I hopped on a plane, and there were about 30 jet skis in the water, and about only, let’s say, seven surfers, seven of the best big wave surfers in the world. Everyone’s out there, trying to find the biggest, craziest wave on a day like that, there’s a lot of opportunities to break a world record, ride the wave of the year.”

The hunt for a 100-foot wave is a mythical quest and Mason Barnes may have found it at Nazaré

Everyone was trying for the wave of the year, but it was Mason who was towed into what could be, the wave of the century. When riding waves that large a surfer doesn’t work alone. There are safety teams on hand and someone to drive the jet ski to tow the surfer into a sweet spot on the wave. Even though Barnes’ trip to Nazaré was last minute he was able to hook up with a skilled and talented team of watermen. The union paid off with dividends.

“I flew into Nazaré two days before the swell and to surf a wave and day like that you have to have a team essentially. So I had to organize an entire team and about two days,” Barnes said. “I had to find two jet skis. Two guys to drive safety and whip me into the waves like two good guys I trust my life with. Surfboards, wetsuits, pretty much all the gear I had to find because I was coming from New York so I had nothing with me. It took about two days of just being on my phone nonstop to lock everything down last minute, and I found it. I ended up meeting these two guys,  Pierre Caley and Clement [Nantes]. They’re from France, but they’re very well known in Nazaré for being really good jetski and safety guys, and they were open to joining me. We went out that day,  our goal was to be very strategic and not rush anything and just try to be smart and wait for a really good wave and not catch a bunch of small ones. We stuck to our game plan and that wave ended up coming popping up late afternoon around four o’clock.  It was well worth all the hassle and money that is spent to make it happen.”

Waves like this one ridden by Barnes in Portugal don’t come around that often, but when they do they pass by in the blink of an eye. Getting a ride like this caught on film is the only way to be able to calculate just how massive it really was. Barnes and those looking on estimate the wave to be over the 100-foot mark, but to verify that the footage must be authenticated by a professional. The man to do that job is Bill Sharp. Barnes described what it will take to get this wave deemed the biggest ever ridden.

“Bill Sharp, who is a big wave surfer. He’s been in the big wave world for years now. He’s in charge of measuring waves, he came up with a system to actually measure the wave,” Barnes explained. “He’s also a part of the team that can validate it as the Guinness Book of World Records. So he reached out to me and was super excited about that wave, in particular, he flew all the way from California to Nazaré to meet up with me to measure everything. He has a very strict way of how he does it. Pretty much he mimics my stance and measures each part of my body so that he can  measure the size of, and height of my stance, and  that’s how he gauges how tall the wave is.”

Sharp will calculate how tall Barnes is and then use his height as a unit of measurement to get the estimated height of the wave that he rode. This is the way that waves are measured through photographs and video. The absolute peak on the wave and the very bottom will also have to be determined.

Nazaré as a big wave spot came on the map largely in part of the first man to ever try to ride these waves, Garrett McNamara. Barnes credits McNamara for getting him into big wave riding.

“Garrett is a very close friend of mine,” Barnes explained. “Pretty much since I was a kid, and he actually introduced me to big wave surfing when I was about 12 or 14 years old. He took me tow-in surfing for the very first time and Hawaii. And then it was really cool because he taught me everything,  that was the start of it all right there. That kind of gave me the bug and that’s the fire that I needed to be where I am today.”

While Barnes waits for his ride to be validated, he is not slowing down. He is at the top of his craft and still looking to ride bigger waves. In the meantime, Barnes is amazed at the reach of his historic ride and the impact it has had not only in the surfing world but beyond the reaches of the sport. His goal was to share surfing with the world and he is now doing just that.

Next. Momo Sakuma on being a mom and a big wave surfer. dark