He may not seem like your stereotypical surfer, but Garrett McNamara’s multiple tow-in big wave surfing world records speak for themselves. A pioneer of the extreme sport, the American has travelled all over the world for years in search of the Everest of waves. That wave would come off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal, but it was his surf at ‘Jaws’ that McNamara remembers most fondly.
Born in Massachusetts, McNamara’s surfing journey began when he moved to the North Shore in Hawaii at 11 years old and instantly fell in love. After riding smaller waves off the coast of Oahu, he entered the Hawaiian Triple Crown Series, beating more experienced opposition.
Now officially a professional surfer, McNamara headed to Japan where he learnt the language and became hugely popular. He enjoyed success around the world but suffered a setback in 1989 when he broke his ribs riding a large wave in Oahu.
He returned to the board in 1992, but his journey would take an upwards turn at the beginning of the millennium when he began tow-in surfing. In this extreme form of surfing, McNamara would be pulled by a WaveRunner out to the faster big waves further ashore, regularly taking on behemoth-sized waves between 20 and 40 feet.
Tow-in surfing had begun back in the early 1990s and over the decade it became increasingly popular. By 2001, McNamara had already sighted his first major tow-in event at Pe’ahi off the coast of Maui, Hawaii, best known to surfer enthusiasts around the world as ‘Jaws’ due to its unforgiving nature and 70-foot waves.