Portugal’s navy has honored Hawaii surfer Garrett McNamara for riding the gnarliest wave ever and highlighting the science that let him see it coming.
The navy awarded the big-wave surfer its Medalha Naval de Vasco da Gama in a ceremony this week in Lisbon.
The 45-year-old pro from Oahu’s North Shore captured the world’s attention in 2011 after catching a 78-foot wave at Portugal’s Praia do Norte, near the town of Nazare.
It was determined to be a record by the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards and certified by Guinness World Records.
A commendation signed by the chief of Portuguese naval staff, Admiral Jose Carlos Torrado Saldanha Lopes, said McNamara worked with the navy’s hydrography office to predict the giant waves.
McNamara said receiving the award was an emotional moment, reminding him of how much his life has changed since his family’s economic struggles in Hawaii during his childhood.
"It was surreal, but it was real," he said.
McNamara turned heads again earlier this year — first in the surfing world then worldwide on Twitter — after a photo surfaced of him riding another massive swell at the same spot. The photo touched off rampant speculation that it might be a new record, though the wave was never formally measured and McNamara doesn’t think it was a record-breaker.
Portugal’s commendation spotlighted the talent of McNamara and "the scientific capabilities and skills of the Instituto Hidrografico, in Portugal and also worldwide." It was presented at a ceremony attended by diplomats from the United States and Norway along with local public officials from Nazare.
McNamara said he was grateful to see top uniformed Navy officers along with throngs of media.
"All of a sudden I’m in the room with all these people and I just felt like a dwarf," McNamara said. "I was like, whoa, this is overwhelming."