How an extreme waterman conquered a wave and surfed into history

Surfer Garrett McNamara.

In late January, surfer Garrett McNamara caught what may be the biggest wave ever surfed - perhaps 100 feet tall - off the coast of Portugal.

Surfer Garrett McNamara may hold the record for the biggest wave ever surfed. CBS

McNamara already held the record for a 78-foot wave that he rode in 2011.

To catch the wave that put him into the record books, McNamara had to be towed by a jet ski.

A camera mounted on his surfboard and one on the shore, recorded him as he got into place, let go of the tow rope and began the ride of his life.

He had no idea at the time but this would become probably the most famous wave in the history of surfing.

"I didn't realize it was that big of a wave until it came down from above and just boom right on my shoulders and it almost squashed me. I almost collapsed," said McNamara.

Surfer Garrett McNamara. CBS
McNamara claims record for biggest wave ever surfed

McNamara describes the feel and power of the wave by comparing it to other extreme sports.

"A lot of us have snowboarded or skied," he said. "Just imagine going as fast as you go down a mountain and then imagine hitting some ice, maybe some moguls ...And then imagine an avalanche coming down after you."

"Then imagine not trying to run away from it, trying to stay as close as possible to it the whole time."

"And have it chasing you and now the mountain's moving and ... and not just the avalanche, but the whole mountain is moving.

"That's what it's like riding these giant waves," said McNamara.

Think that sounds terrifying? "For the average person, (it) could easily be hell," said McNamara.

Anderson Cooper's interview with Garrett McNamara airs on "60 Minutes Sports" on the Showtime channel.

  • Anderson Cooper
    Anderson Cooper

    Anderson Cooper, anchor of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," has contributed to 60 Minutes since 2006. His exceptional reporting on big news events has earned Cooper a reputation as one of television's pre-eminent newsmen.