This is it !!! The 13 Big Boys of the surfing world. The biggest and the most dangerous waves in the entire FREAKIN’ WORLD !! Now, for a mediocre surfer like myself and for most other surfers on planet earth, surfing these gigantic monsters would be nothing short of a suicide run. The danger level is through the roof. There are just to many factors that come into play here; the rough conditions, the massive weight and speed of the waves and of course the very real threat of drowning, after getting slammed and not being able to get up to the surface for air. Big Wave surfing is nothing less than a extreme sport, emphasises on EXTREME. There are some however, a very elite group of surfers, who face their fears and brave these dangerous behemoths, in the hopes of catching the biggest thrill of their lives. These legends train for years to even attempt to ride these mega waves and when they do surfers and non surfers alike stand in awe, wonder and a little bit of fear as these guys (and girls) make surfing history. Welcome to the world of Big Wave Surfing.
Starting off strong we have Pe’ahi (aka Jaws) located on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Jaws is probably one of the most famous waves on earth, second only to Pipeline and maybe Nazere and for good reason. If the conditions are in your favour you can get a perfect right handed barrel and occaisanally a lefty (although this is a far more dangerous ride).
Make no mistake though, this is one of the heaviest and fastest waves on earth. If you go down here, you are in for a real rough ride. Think of it like getting thrown into a intense spinning washing machine, a washing machine with 100 times the power and intensity. Fun right? If you want to see what getting dunked on a big wave feels like, from someone who has actaully done it, skip to the end of the post where I have put a little snippet of an article about that.
This wave is the stomping ground to some of the big pros like Kai Lenny and Paige Alms and numerous other surfers facing off against this beast.
People come from all over the world to surf the beautiful coastline of California with its pumping surf and freezing waters. Surfing may have started in Hawaii but California is what made surfing what it is today. California hosts some of the biggest and meanest waves in the big wave surfing world, perfect for those ultimate thrill seekers.
Located just off the coast of the sleepy dormitory community of Half Moon Bay, in Northern California, it has hosted some of the most dramatic moments of the modern era in big-wave surfing.
I pulled this from a National Geographic article where big wave surfer, Grant Washburn explains the true danger of Mavericks. – “Just beneath the massive peak, a deep hole in the bottom of the ocean inhales seawater, surging violently with each passing swell,” he explains. “It’s known as ‘The Cauldron,’ and it’s responsible for regular two wave hold-downs, and the deaths of Mark Foo and Sion Milosky. When it is firing on all cylinders,” by which he means, when the swell is thirty-foot and above, “Maverick’s provides one of the most feared challenges in sport.”
If that wasn’t scary enough Mavericks is full of hungry sharkies waiting for the perfect oportunity to have a good ol’ munch down on one of your limbs. You really have to be in a different frame of mind to even attempt this bad boy.
If you thought surfing was only a coastal activity, think again. Ever heard of surfing a wave in the middle of the ocean? Cortes Bank is located roughly 100 miles off the the coast of San Diego, California. This massive monster of a wave in the middle of the ocean is formed by a underwater island. The water from the deeps of the Pacific ocean rise up, hit this island and cause gigantic swells.
This wave was first surfed by a group of six people during ‘Storm 15’ on 19 January 2001 where Mike Parsons shredded a perfect 66 footer wave. Ever since then the wave has been a hotspot for big wave surfers.
A gigantic wave in the middle of the ocean. Surfing that thing must be the ultimate ride for any big wave adrenaline junkie. It kinda reminds me of that epic scene from one of my favourite movies, Point Break.
Off shore from Cali’s Pebble Beach, Ghost Tree is California’s heaviest wave. This powerful right hand wave is extremly dangerous because because it breaks close to the nearby rocks, but also because it features a sudden step, similar to Shipstern Bluff. (Read on to find out more about Shipstern).
This wave doesn’t break often but when it does it can reach up to 80 feet on a good day. A true monster.
In 2007, surfer Peter Davi was tragically killed at this spot. Only the best of the best big wave riders attempt this wave. That is saying something.
Welcome to the world’s heaviest wave. Teahupoo located on the southern part of Tahiti is extremely top heavy with the face of the gigantic wave being bigger than the back. If you don’t know anything about surfing i’ll give you a hint. It’s bad news. It means the wave is collapsing in on itself. Not exactly ideal for big wave surfing. Despite this many people still brave this mammoth and a few have lost their lives in the process.
Another hair raising fact about Teahupoo is that it crashes directly over a razor sharp reef that is only a few feet under the surface of the water. So if you wipeout here…well let’s just say it won’t be to fun.
Shipstern Bluff, Tanzania
If you thought Teahupoo was bad this wave will leave you trembling. Just getting to this spot is an adventure in itself. You have two options to reach this remote Tasmanian spot; 1. take a 30-kilometer jet ski or boat ride or 2. take a two hour hike through the Tasman National Park. Surfers will do anything to catch a wave I guess (even if that wave is one of most dangerous and unpredictable waves in the world). I mean it beats a office job any day right?
Anyway once you get to Shippies you will be awestruck by this freak of nature. The wave is…ugly, I think is the best way to describe it. I am not talking about the colour of the wave (which is a beautiful green turqiose if you were wondering) but rather the shape of the wave. As you drop in the wave creates a wave within a wave. ‘The step’ as this unnatural phenomonon is known by, causes the wave to drop from under your board which causes you the surfer to get slammed down a couple feet. I’ve done this a couple times surfing small 6 footers (ye ye, I know i’m almost pro right) and it is pretty scary. You feel like you are loosing all control on your board, well I do anyway. Now imagine that on a wave 3, 4 or 7 times the size. SKETCHY!!!
This wave also has a razor sharp reef just below the surface, so ye, it’s not for the faint hearted.
Mullagamore Head, Ireland
Mullaghmore is Ireland’s premium big wave surf break and one of the most feared spots in Europe.
With a rainy and windy climate painting a dark picture, this wild, shallow, left-hand reef break can only be tamed on high tide.
The giant barreling waves break of a rocky bottom and come to life when the classic North Atlantic winter storms hit the Irish coastline.
Mullaghmore is a long and fast wave of consequence – surrounded by dangerous and strong currents – that breaks 100 meters off the local headland.
North Shore, Hawaii
I don’t know if Pipeline really fits among these other big wave surfing spots on here, but Pipeline is iconic in the surfing world, with its perfect barrels and warm weather, so I had to slot it in somewhere. I mean come on!! Everyone who was ever serious about surfing wants to make it Pipeline someday and shred with the legends (me included). Imagine paddling out past the break and you see Jamie O’Brian, Kelly Slater or John John pumping the barrels. That would be pretty sick I reckon!!
The waves here aren’t that big compared to some of the mountains on this list (still pretty big waves though, make no mistake) but it is still a very heavy wave and vey dangerous, due to the reefs just below surface level.
The North Shore of Oahu is littered with world-class breaks, and just down the Kamehameha Highway from Pipeline lays the cove that houses the granddaddy of them all: Waimea Bay. While often overlooked nowadays due to the boom in tow-surfers that favor outer reefs, Waimea is still the measuring stick for big-wave spots worldwide.
Packing a life-threatening punch, Waimea has set the standard for big-wave surfing for nearly forty years. With the combination of neck-breaking shorebreak and wave faces that can reach up to 60 feet, Waimea has seen its share of tragedy and claimed the life of Dickie Cross in 1943 and aspiring California pro surfer Donnie Solomon in 1999. Legendary Kauai waterman Titus Kinimaka also had his femur snapped in half after a particularly nasty wipeout back in 1989.
Dungeons, South Africa
Now ladies and gents, may I draw your attention to my local South African, megawave. When I say local I really mean it is a couple of hundred kilometres away from me but you know I’m counting it. Not that I could ever actaully surf this wave, well not for a very long time at least. I would need to train for years to even attempt that challenge. Located off Hout Bay, Dungeons is by far Africa’s biggest wave.
Large swells born in the Roaring Forties (latitudes) move fast in deep water at around 30 miles per hour before suddenly hitting the local reef and creating a huge right-hand monster.
When it breaks in shark-infested waters, the South African beast doubles up and produces long walls of water that might close out unexpectedly.
A wipeout at Dungeons could drag a surfer 30 feet underwater.
Belharra is an outer reef break located 2.5 kilometers northwest off the coast of the fishing town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz.
This gigantic A-frame wave breaks over a 15-meter deep, seagrass-covered shoal and can be surfed in low tide.
Although it only breaks a few times per decade, Belharra produces a massive and violent wave with a heavy lip.
To dos Santos, Mexico
Todos Santos, also known as Killers (menicing name), is a monstrous wave that breaks 11 miles off the coast of Ensenada, in Isla Todos Santos.
The quintessential Mexican big wave surfing spot takes the most of the local underwater canyon and creates a powerful, bumpy right-hand giant.
Todos Santos channels the ocean’s raw power and the swells from the Pacific northwest that travel toward the Baja peninsula.
The offshore point break produces the largest waves on the west coast of North America. A deep water channel and great visibility from the nearby island help make it a big wave surfing paradise.
Todos Santos is a World Surfing Reserve since June 21, 2014. Didn’t know that was actaully a legit thing? Well I didn’t either until earlier today.
And so we conclude with the wave of all waves. The famous and terrifying Nazare. The wave of world records. The wave where the best athletes take to the water to surf, what can only be described as a mountain. Situated off a small fishing village in Portugal, when the swell starts rising, this is where its at.
Despite being a beach break, it is so powerful and heavy that some call it “the surfboard breaking machine.”
The big waves of Nazaré were first ridden by local bodyboarders and a few international athletes, which include nine-time world bodyboarding champion, Mike Stewart.
One of the coolest parts about this spot is the vantage point for onlookers. Every year, when the massive swells fill in, you can find the overlooking lighthouse walls lined with spectators and cameras, and a handful of very brave men and women in the water, vying for their shot to dazzle the crowd (and hopefully walk away unscathed).
Now Nazere, being the wave that it is, is home to a couple world records including the biggest wave ever ridden coming in at a whopping 33 metres (or 108 feet for my American friends) by a surfer by the name of Benjamin Sanchis in 2014. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly 11 STORIES!!!!! The only way to describe something like that is just absolutely, positively insane.
In February 2020, Maya Gabeira surfed a 73,5ft (22,4 metres) monster making her a world record holder for biggest wave surfed by a female.
Nazere is the ultimate big wave surfing experience for both surfers and viewers alike. It’s like nothing else on the planet.
Pulled this little piece of poetry from a article from StabMag. It describes the brutal reality of what happens when you bail on a big wave (this one being described here is Jaws), and get sucked under.
“First up comes whiplash so violent you barely stay conscious. Then after 10 front somersaults, four cartwheels and seven mctwists, you find yourself 15 feet below the surface fumbling for you parachute cord. Instant relief overcomes you upon inflation, but it’s short-lived. After breaking the surface you have about three and a half seconds to suck in as much of that glorious o2 as possible before a 25 foot wedging double up detonates on your head, which is unfortunately being held up in the firing line by that once-awesome life jacket. Now you’re thrust into another violent underwater gymnastics routine until your lungs are seconds away from bursting. If you pop up before they burst you’re in good shape, that is until a well-meaning jetski driver does a furious burnout in front of you, crashing its rescue sled into the point of your beak before zooming off as the next 10 feet of whitewash engulfs you. At this point you’re basically welcoming unconsciousness to take you away from the pain in your lungs and the cramps firing through your arms and legs. But amazingly, you resurface once again. This is your last shot to grab a hold of that rescue sled instead of head butting it. Hold onto that thing as tight as you can. If you don’t… the Jaws shorebreak is going to use you as a human pin ball.”
You need to be a completly different breed, to surf these giants, these monsters, these behemoths. Legends are made on these waves and legends are sadly lost on these waves. They have to train their bodies and minds intensivily, so that when the swell starts picking up, and the waves start to get bigger and bigger, they do not hesitate, to go out and ride the biggest waves on earth. Are they brave or crazy? Well, I will leave that part up to you to decide. The people that surf these beasts inspire us, leave us in awe and remind us that when you set your mind to something you can do anything.
For the vast majority of surfers out there, these spots will remain inaccessible to us due to the danger element and extremeness (ye we aren’t all crazy) of these spots. So, if you are a surfer (or not, it doesn’t really matter), let me know in the comments if you would like me to write a post about slightly more accessible waves for us ‘normal’ people to ride. It would title ‘Bucket List Surf Spots around the World’ or something of that nature.
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