The WSL's Big Wave Tour (BWT) 2016/2017 season officially opened Saturday, starting with the Northern Hemisphere window, which runs from October 15th, 2016 to February 28th, 2017. During that time, there's a possibility that events will run at three of the most daunting waves in the world: Nazaré in Portugal, Pe'ahi in Hawaii, and Todos Santos in Mexico.
In honor of big-wave season, some of the world's top chargers gathered at the iconic lighthouse fortress, Farol de Nazaré in Portugal. Along with kicking off the new season, surfers and officials also celebrated the addition of a new event on tour, the Nazaré Challenge. Among the various elements marking the occasion Saturday were speeches from Peter Mel, the WSL BWT Commissioner Peter Mel; Gary Linden, Vice President and Founder of the BWT; and Walter Chicharro, the Mayor of Nazaré.
The highlight of the ceremony, however, was a traditional paddle-out circle formed by BWT competitors just off of Praia do Norte, the ultra-powerful beach break in the shadow of the picturesque Nazaré headland.
Garrett McNamara, the Hawaiian surfer who has set a handful of records at Nazaré, led the paddle-out. Along with putting Nazaré on the map as an XXL spot, McNamara also raised the bar for the size of waves that could be surfed, first in 2011 and then again in 2013. The big-wave charger is also a wildcard invitee to the competition, and at the opening ceremony he recounted the region's seafaring history. In his remarks, he noted that the stretch of coast they were overlooking Saturday was notorious for generations as a deathtrap for fisherman, but now gives surfers a way to celebrate life.
WSL Big Wave Tour officials will be monitoring swell-producing storms for the next four and a half months, watching for the precise conditions that will produce waves in the 30-60 foot range -- the required height to run competition -- at all three locations. If and when a call is made, competitors have 72 hours notice, to get ready to compete.
Another exciting addition to this year's winter season includes an exclusive Women's Championship Big Wave event. The Women's Championship Big Wave event will witness a diverse lineup of the leading waterwomen take on either Pe'ahi or Todos Santos, depending on the conditions. Two Semifinals of six women in each heat will narrow the field, with three moving on from each Semifinal to the Final.