Garrett McNamara: 50 facts about the Hawaiian big wave rider

November 2, 2021 | Surfing
Garrett McNamara: one of the greatest and most inspiring big wave surfers of all time | Photo: Amorim Cork

Garrett McNamara is one of the most inspiring personalities in the history of surfing. His life could be a movie.

Despite the unorthodox upbringing and struggles to find meaning and purpose for his existence, the surfer eventually discovered his path.

Garrett McNamara needs no introduction.

He is probably the most popular and well-known American in Portugal, the country which cherished and adopted him as one of its own.

The first person to be towed into a wave by a helicopter evolved continuously through life - personally and professionally - and became a multidimensional persona.

McNamara is more than just a successful big wave rider.

He is an ocean explorer, a philanthropist, a guardian of the environment, a friend and, above all, a grateful family man.

In his Linkedin account, the education resumé indicates a "master degree in world travels." Precious, isn't it?

Here are 50 things to know about Garrett McNamara, one of the greatest big wave surfers of all time:

Garrett McNamara: enjoying life from day one | Photo: Astral

Childhood and Upbringing

1. Garrett McNamara was born to Laurence McNamara and Malia McNamara on August 10, 1967, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, USA;

2. He is of Irish descent through his father. Malia is a great-grandniece of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Church of Christ, Scientist. Garrett has a younger brother, Liam McNamara;

3. Laurence taught English and Latin and was also the basketball coach at the Stockbridge boarding school. Malia was the housemother in the boys' dorm;

4. Garret was four when he took my first hit of marijuana. "At night, the adults smoked pot for recreation. I looked over and saw the pipe resting between the fingers of someone's hand. But the next person wasn't taking it, so I lurched over, reached in, and grabbed it, and sucked on the end";

5. McNamara spent his early days in Berkeley, California, but his childhood was difficult. The young Garrett wandered and lived with her hippy mother and boyfriends in Central America, was adopted by a Guatemalan farmer, and returned to Berkeley to live with his birth father;

6. Laurence McNamara opened a restaurant named "Ma Goodness," named after a book he used to read to Liam and Garrett about a couple named Pop Corn and Ma Goodness;

7. When he was still a child, climbing and riding trees was Garrett's all-time favorite pastime;

8. Around 1974, Laurence gave Liam and Garrett $100 each. They spent the money on brand new skateboards with Banzai metal decks, Road Rider 4 wheels, and Tracker trucks;

9. McNamara later moved with his mother and new partner to Hawaii at age 11 and started surfing shortly after with a second-hand beat-up 12' surfboard;

10. Garrett's first home in a Hawaii was first-floor apartment in Cement City, a clutch of decrepit stucco apartments considered low income, low rent, on the North Shore of Oahu;

Garrett McNamara: hiding himself inside a giant barrel at Jaws | Photo: Ron Dahlquist/Astral

The North Shore Years

11. By 16, he was already taking on the North Shore of Oahu's heaviest surf breaks, including Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and the outer reefs. His home break was Haleiwa;

12. One of McNamara's early idols was South African surfing champion, Shaun Tomson;

13. The first time GMAC paddled out at Pipeline, it was 8-to-12 feet breaking on Second Reef;

14. Japanese photographer Denjiro Sato took a few pictures of McNamara getting barreled at Pipeline. The shots eventually found their way into Surfing Magazine;

15. In his early competitive days, Garrett participated in the 1984 Triple Crown of Surfing run by Randy Rarick of Surfers Alliance and earned a $250 check for his performance in the contest;

16. He signed a few sponsorship deals with Japanese companies, who invaded the North Shore of Oahu in 1983. 44. Interestingly, McNamara speaks Japanese fluently;

17. After realizing he was not going to make a living out of a standard shortboard surfing career, McNamara shifted his time and efforts to tow-in surfing in the mid-1990s;

18 . The turning point was 1992. Garret was standing on the beach staring at the break at Outside Backyards between V-Land and Sunset when he saw a few specks of color moving in the waterway outside. It was Laird Hamilton, Darrick Doerner, and Buzzy Kerbox, in a fifteen-foot Zodiac with a 60-horsepower outboard motor, out there pioneering tow-in surfing. I didn't know that it would change my life. Without thinking, I ran home and grabbed my 9' Waimea gun with an underdeveloped idea that I would paddle out and say 'howzit' and ask Laird to tow me in. But when I made it back to the beach with my board, I just stood there. I made a pact there and then to start saving for my own Zodiac. A year later, I bought a used one and refurbished it";

19. On December 29, 1995, Garrett McNamara paddled out as an invitee at The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational;

20. McNamara's most famous nickname is GMAC or G-Mac;

Garrett McNamara: a stunning painting by Italian surf artist Vincenzo Ganadu | Art: Vincenzo Ganadu

The Tow-In Rush

21. In 2000, McNamara opened a surf shop called Epic Sports. It sat at the end of a row of small shops in Haleiwa Town on Kam Highway;

22. At the age of 35, Garrett was tired and missed the rush of surfing. So, he closed his fairly successful surf shop and dedicated full-time to professional big wave surfing;

23. In 2002, McNamara and his jet ski partner Rodrigo "Monster" Resende won the inaugural Tow-In World Cup at Jaws/Peahi in Maui, Hawaii, and took home $70,000;

24. In 2003, G-Mac rode one of the biggest and heaviest waves of all time at Teahupoo, in Tahiti;

25. In November, Dane Kealoha towed McNamara into a 60-foot barreling wave at Jaws;

26. In January 2005, Dino Casimiro, a Portuguese bodyboarder from Nazaré, pointed his camera at the giant walls of water that were striking the lighthouse's promontory. On that day, he sent a photo via email to Garrett McNamara. "I saw a fantastic wave, but with no one surfing it. I went crazy!" the surfer later revealed. In the following five years, McNamara was kept informed of some of the best swells hitting Praia do Norte;

27. In 2007, GMAC won "Performance of the Year" and "Biggest Wave" at the Billabong XXL Awards;

28. Also, in 2007, Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala became the first surfers to ride the tsunami waves created by a calving mountain of ice at Childs Glacier near Cordova in Alaska. "It was the closest I've ever come to death," GMAC later revealed;

29. In 2008, the Hawaiian took home the "Performance of the Year" trophy at Billabong XXL Awards;

30. He was involved in designing and shaping stand-up paddleboards for heavy water arenas like Mavericks, Puerto Escondido, and Waimea;

Garrett McNamara, November 1, 2011: the legendary shot taken by Portuguese photographer Tó Mané | Photo: Tó Mané

Discovering Nazaré

31. In November 2010, Nazaré invited McNamara to visit and explore the town's big wave surfing potential for a couple of weeks, but he ended up staying a month. When he arrived and saw Praia do Norte's wave, he immediately knew this could be the sport's Holy Grail;

32. On November 1, 2011, Garrett McNamara rode a 78-foot wave (23.7 meters) at Praia do Norte with a 6'0" Dick Brewer tow board. On the tow and safety jet skis were Andrew Cotton and Al Mennie. In May 2012, the Guinness World Records confirmed that the Hawaiian had ridden the biggest wave of all time;

33. The first and most famous photo of Garrett McNamara riding the legendary Nazaré wave was taken by the Portuguese photographer and surfer António Manuel Silva, also known as Tó Mané. The iconic picture was published and featured all around the world by thousands of media outlets;

34. In 2012, McNamara inadvertently dropped in on Greg Long at Cortes Bank, off the coast of California, while riding a controversial jet-powered surfboard. Long paddled with priority into a 50-foot wave, but his ride was cut short when McNamara crossed his surf line. Both surfers wiped out. McNamara deployed his inflatable vest. Long's life jacket failed to inflate, and the surfer from San Clemente was held under for three waves;

35. McNamara designed a customized wetsuit featuring a small oxygen reserve that allows him to stay underwater for extra minutes;

36. In the same year, he won "Biggest Wave" and "Wipeout of the Year" at the Billabong XXL Awards;

37. In 2013, the Hawaiian surfer took CNN's Anderson Cooper on a jet ski tour and cruising experience at Nazaré's infamous lineup;

38. In that same year, McNamara decided to withdraw from the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards due to the of the even by an alcohol company. He stated, "I feel very strongly that we, as athletes, should not endorse alcohol. We are sending the wrong message to the general public";

39. McDonald's also wanted to create a signature GMAC fish sandwich, and Wild Turkey tried to feature him in an ad campaign. The surfer turned them both down without a second thought;

40. In July 2013, the oldest continuously serving Navy awarded Garrett McNamara with the Vasco da Gama Medal of Honor, citing the surfer's example of discipline, perseverance, sacrifice, and high professionalism. The Portuguese Navy was founded in the 12th century;

The Golden Age

41. In 2014, McNamara and Mercedes teamed up to develop the "Silver Arrow of the Seas," a specially designed series of four futuristic and fast surfboards made from Portuguese cork by Amorim. The tow-in board models feature a built-in telemetry system that read sensors in Garrett's wetsuit to provide data about his performance;

42. In 2016, aged 48, McNamara nearly died surfing Mavericks. He paddled into a massive wall of water, air-dropped into the abyss, rode the wave for a few seconds, fell, bodysurfed the still unbroken part of the wave until and finally was aught by the whitewater avalanche. The result was a dislocated shoulder and a broken upper arm;

43. In November 2016, the athlete launched his autobiography titled "Hound of the Sea: Wild Man. Wild Waves. Wild Wisdom";

44. In August 2017, McNamara rode the longest wave of his career at Tagus River in Lisbon, Portugal. The American daredevil surfed the wake generated by a boat for 2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers);

45. Experienced big wave rider Greg Long once described McNamara as "one of the most extreme high-sensation seekers on the planet";

46. The regular-footer was one of the stars of the 2017 Web Summit, held in Lisbon, Portugal;

47. Garrett McNamara is 5'10'' (1.78 meters) and weighs 175 pounds (79 kilograms);

48. On July 18, 2021, HBO premiered "100 Foot Wave," a six-episode documentary series by Chris Smith that focuses on McNamara's quest to chase and ride the 30-meter wave;

49. Garrett McNamara has three children with his first wife, Konnie Pascual - Ariana Kaimana, Titus Waimea, and Tiari. On November 22, 2012, GMAC married Nicole Macias on top of the legendary Nazaré lighthouse. The couple has two children - Barrel Moore and Theia Love Nazaré Celeste Rose;

50. Garrett McNamara is on Facebook (@garrettMcnamarasurf), Instagram (@mcnamara_s), and YouTube (@gmachawaii);

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