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The science behind the viral, record-breaking 80-foot wave

A towering mountain rises out of the ocean, dwarfing boats, buildings and stunned spectators. In the middle of it all, Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa rides the behemoth wave, an infinitesimal specky in the blue.

This was the scene last November off the coast of Nazaré, Portugal, when Koxa shocked the world and defied all odds by breaking the World Surf League's record for the largest wave ever surfed.

New footage of Koxa's feat recently surfaced on Twitter, quickly gaining viral status with over 29,000 retweets. Science can explain just how this monster wave came to be.

Sharon Gilman, a biological oceanographer at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, classifies this behemoth as a wind-driven wave, which can be nearly impossible to predict or track.

Koxa's triumph of the 80-foot wave was reportedly a stroke of luck; he was simply in the right place at the right time.

However, Nazaré has a certain set of traits that makes it more prone to large waves like Koxa's 80-footer. In fact, the previous world-record holder, Garrett McNamara, made his claim to fame by riding a 78-foot wave off Nazaré's shores in 2012, according to CBS.

The coast by Nazaré has a steeper sea bottom, according to Live Science, which helps to amplify waves by pushing them over one another.

"The [waves] in front start really getting dragged by the bottom and so they slow down," Gilman wrote on her website. "This allows the ones behind them to ride up their backs. As the distance between the rows of waves decreases, all that wave energy gets condensed into a narrower and narrower space and has to go somewhere, so the wave gets taller."

As the waves crash into each other before hitting the shore, they absorb each other's energy in a process known as constructive interference, according to Gilman.

In 2013, NPR reported that the beaches in Nazaré have an unusual amount of constructive interference, making it the perfect place to find a monster wave.

But what really makes this spot special for big wave hunters is the underwater Nazaré Canyon. The ravine is estimated to be almost 16,000 feet deep, according to Live Science. The gorge beneath the ocean's surface pushes waves up to the shore, some reaching 100 feet tall, NPR reported.

As long as Nazaré keeps producing these magnificent mountains of water, thrill-seeking surfers will undoubtedly continue to flock to this Portuguese beach in hopes of riding the perfect wave.

For more information about Nazaré's unique waves, visit Live Science.

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