Most of us have seen the video; the mountainous wall of water consuming the frame looks like an optical illusion in comparison to the cliff in the foreground. Within this intimidating mass of liquid stands Garrett Mcnamara, the world record holder of the largest wave ever ridden.
Ever since 1 November 2011, the day McNamara achieved this record, the economic climate of nearby town Nazaré has evolved to take advantage of the curious tourists now queueing along the coast. This is, however, further impacting the fishing industry which has already seen a decline which began several decades ago.
This change was noticed by University Lusófona researchers, who partnered with the film and multimedia departments to produce a web documentary and extended interactive website that explores how this global event has changed the lives of those living in this area.
In 1960 54% of the town’s population worked in the fishing industry, the figure had reduced to 4.6% in 2011. For the 10,000 residents of Nazaré a transformation was underway; tourism was taking over from the fishing days of times gone by.
For producer/director Célia Quico, Professor and researcher at the University of Lusófona, the filmmaking process offered an opportunity to investigate the social, economic and environmental impacts on this small town
What changes occurring in Nazaré first triggered your concern?
The idea for the project came from my university colleagues Gonçalo Calado and Manuel José Damásio, when we were discussing our participation in the international project ResponSEABle, related with ocean literacy. Gonçalo Calado passionately defended that Nazaré is going through a paradigm shift in terms of the population relation with the sea, in particular, with Praia do Norte.
What was a source of fear and tragedy, now it is a source of pride – and new income. That sudden change can be comparable to the paradigm shift that occurred about 30 years ago in Açores, when whaling was forbidden. The populations successfully reconverted to other activities, such as whale watching.
Do you truly believe these two can live in equilibrium?
Humans and the ocean? Yes, we can live in equilibrium, but there are many challenges to be overcome. Human greed might be the number one source of problems. Also, the power of human stupidity should not be underestimated. But hopefully, more and more informed citizens can come together and make a difference.
Are there any systems put in place to protect the fisherman’s jobs or does the town follow the money?
Brussels (EU) might have a bigger say in terms of protecting fishermen’s jobs, rather than national or local government. It should be noted that the general trend in Nazaré has been the decrease of the active number of fishermen and decrease in the importance of fishing in the local economy, which is increasingly service-oriented, particularly for tourism and public and social services.
Nazaré has changed significantly, especially since April 25, 1974. The inauguration of the fishing harbour in 1983 was a historic event for this village. However, the fishing port came late. Before its opening, many fishermen – and their families – had already left for other places or abandoned the fishing activity. In 1950, there were about 2,000 active fishermen in Nazaré, which had at the time 9,240 inhabitants. In 1960, it was estimated that fishing was the occupation of 54% of the active population. In 2011, only 4.6% of the employed population had their occupation as fishing or agriculture in Nazaré, while 76.1% worked in trade and services.
Are there any other communities that have suffered from the attention on the town? Are there any that have found new life?
The global notoriety of Praia do Norte and Nazaré is good for the region and for the country. It promotes Portugal as an exceptional surfing destination – the best surfing destination in Europe and one of the best in the world.
Are there any other towns at risk to something like this?
Portugal has other great surfing destinations such as Peniche and Ericeira, quite close to Nazaré. This is truly a golden coast for surfing.
There are risks, but there are also opportunities: new companies and new jobs can be created, hopefully, in a sustainable way.
You mention it in the video, but what do you personally think the best choice for the future is in terms of saving both fishing and surf culture?
Great question, not easy to answer. What happened in Açores can be seen as a good model for Nazaré, in which many fisherman became tourism operators, with whale and dolphin watching. Nazaré does not have whales, but it has the biggest waves in the world and the biggest underwater canyon in Europe, and many other great points of interest. Disclaimer: I was born at Nazaré and even if I live and work in Lisbon, Nazaré will always be my dear hometown.
Learn more about ‘Cavalgar a Onda da Nazaré‘.