Magnetic on Netflix: How Nazaré Canyon off Portugal makes some of biggest waves in the world

Netflix's Magnetic
Netflix’s Magnetic follows surfers at Nazaré Canyon in Portugal. Pic credit: NDG Cinema/YouTube

Magnetic is a new documentary that premiered on Netflix on June 12.

The Netflix series follows a group of athletes who travel around the world to remote and exotic places in pursuit of their passion for extreme athletic activities, including skiing, sailing, base jumping, snowboarding, mountain biking, and surfing.

The series, directed by Thierry Donard, stars big wave surfers, such as Maya Gabeira, Sebastian Steudtner, Pedro Pisco, Andrey Karr, Ross Clarke-Jones, and Toby Cunningham.

It also stars freestyle BMX rider Tom Barrer, kite surfer Liam Whaley, mountain biker Xavier Marovelli, speed fliers Jamie Lee and Malachi Templeton, and snowboarders Fabian Bodet and Julien Herry.

In one of the episodes of the series, the surfers test their mettle by taking on monster waves generated by the famous Nazaré Canyon in Portugal.

Viewers are treated to heart-stopping sights of dare-devil surfers riding gigantic waves.

How does Nazaré Canyon make monster waves?

Nazaré Canyon is a deep gorge off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal that produces some of the highest breaking waves in the world. Some are higher than 80 feet.

According to Swellinfo.com CEO Micah Sklut, big wintertime storms in the North Atlantic push huge swells of water toward Europe. Nazaré Canyon accentuates the effect of the storms with its unique underwater topography.

When ocean swells are generated by storms at sea, their size, power, and speed, as they break ashore, is limited by the decreasing depth of the ocean floor toward the coastline.

However, Nazaré Canyon, located close to the Portugues coastline, helps to accentuate the swell.

The gorge, which is about 16,000 feet at its deepest point, exerts an amplifying effect on the waves coming from the open seas as they approach the Portuguese coastline at Nazaré.

To put the depth of the Nazaré Canyon into perspective, Arizona’s Grand Canyon is only about 6,000 feet deep at its lowest point.

According to Sklut:

“Normally, what happens is that the open-ocean swells, as they approach the coastline, they’re going to be slowed down by the ocean bottom as it gets shallower. But at Nazare… the ocean swells get focused in this submarine canyon and have much more energy.”

The upward slope of the gorge in the direction of the coastline, after its deepest point, further exerts an amplifying effect that generates the monster waves.

“As it [the waves] approaches the shore it gets very shallow, and that enables the waves to climb really, really big all of a sudden.”

Other spots around the world with similar conditions include Tahiti’s Teahupoo, Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu, the Cortes Bank in the North Pacific Ocean (southwest of Los Angeles), and Mavericks, near Half Moon Bay in Northern California.

Magnetic is streaming on Netflix.

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