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The tricks and twists of surfers amaze us, but below the surface lies a raft of surfing science as impressive as the feats performed on the waves


“I’m not sure if I have surfed the perfect wave yet. I’m still searching,” says Jamie Mitchell, World Surf League Big Wave Tour surfer.

From highly skilled professional athletes to hobbyists after the rush of the open waves, surfing is enjoyed by people from all walks of life, from all over the planet. All you need is ocean (but not always), a board of some kind, waves, and a lot of enthusiasm.

While the tricks and twists of seasoned professionals amaze us, below the surface lies a raft of surfing science as impressive as the feats performed on the waves.

One wave could power over 30 million smartphones

Anyone who has watched waves crashing will have a sense of their enormous power and it is this power that may prove to be one of the most promising sources for renewable energy; potentially supplying 10% of global needs.

Waves are formed in a number of ways, but in most cases they are created by wind blowing over the surface of the ocean. As long as the wave travels forward slower than the speed of the wind, energy will be transferred from the wind to the wave.

There are clever and complicated equations that can accurately determine the amount of energy in a wave, but to put it simply the bigger the wave, the bigger the power and there are few places on Earth where the waves are as big as they are at Nazare in Portugal.

These monster Portuguese waves can reach epic proportions of over 100ft (30.5m) thanks to a combination of the location of the coast and the unique undersea features. Waves generated by storms in the North Atlantic are focused by a deep, arrow-shaped canyon 16,000ft (4877m) below the ocean’s surface; these deep water waves then approach the shallow waters of the shore and start to climb up, meaning the waves at Nazare can get big. Real big!

“Nazare is like a 7th wonder of the World,” says Mitchell (who is the defending Nazare Challenge winner).

“To surf waves at Nazare is an honour. You sort of feel like you’re back in the day of the gladiators when the world is watching and you’re trying to survive and perform at the same time,” he says.

“To surf waves at Nazare is an honour.”

Imagine the energy in a wave that stands as tall as an eight-storey building. It is estimated some of the waves at Nazare hold enough energy to power over 30 million smartphone batteries. It could be the ideal location for wave energy farms to harvest all that untapped power.