Big Wave surfing is really something else. Normal surfers don’t like heavy conditions, but Big Wave Surfers hunt waves the size of mountains, and risk everything for the ultimate ride.
But which breaks produce the biggest waves in the world? Here is our list of what we think are the best and most dangerous breaks for big wave surfing.
Teahupo’o is by many regarded as the mother of big wave surfing. In the late 90’s rumors of the wave emerged, but it wasn’t until 17’th August 2000 when Laird Hamilton surfed what was known to be the heaviest wave on earth, that Teahupo’o became known around the world. Since then, many surfers have tried to conquer this beastly wave, some succeeded while others failed, paying the ultimate price.
Teahupo’o is located in Tahiti, French Polynesia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Island picks up massive amounts of swell and combined with the Islands reef bottom contour, big and heavy waves are a common sight.
The science behind Teahupo’o is one of a kind. The reef surrounding the island is extremely shallow, making the wave very hollow when it breaks. In fact, the reef is so shallow, that when big swell meets the shore, it breaks below sea level.
The wave is super dangerous and is often referred to as the heaviest wave in the world. The name loosely transfers to “the place of skulls”, which somewhat indicates danger. A handful of people have died from surfing Teahupo’o, but many have had close calls. And even more have had their skin torn by the reef, or bones break from the sheer impact of the wave.
Local surfer Jeff Clark surfed the wave for the first time i 1975. He surfed Mavericks alone before other surfers started to join him in the early 90’s. In 1990 a picture of the wave featured in the magazine Surfer, and the news quickly spread, and Mavericks soon became the epicenter of big wave surfing. Mavericks received worldwide attention when the Movie Chasing Mavericks became a box office success.
Mavericks is located in Northern California a little north of the city of Half Moon Bay. During winter season large storm are created in the Pacific Ocean, sending large swell towards California. Waves as big as 60 feet have been reported breaking at Mavericks.
Mavericks is placed right on the San Andreas Fault. The San Andreas Fault tracks up along the coastline from Monterey Bay, splitting Mavericks between two Fault systems, making the physical structure of the bottom reef most unusual. The contour of the bottom reef creates a very powerful wave.
The wave is perhaps the most Dangerous of them all. Both the water and the wind is cold, the wave breaks far from shore, sharks patrol the water, and the wave breaks over a long stretch of nasty reef. The wipeouts at Mavericks are notoriously known as very dangerous. Kelly Slater once said his worst wipeout was at Mavericks.
Two big wave surfers have lost their lives at Mavericks, Mark Foo, .and Sion Milosky. Both surfers had much experience in big waves, and the deaths of the two helped raise awareness on water safety issues.
Jaws was first surfed by windsurfers in the early 1980s, but Jaws soon attracted attention from local big wave surfers. Because of the size of the wave, it was impossible for surfers to paddle into it. Tow in surfing was invented as an alternative way to surf the spot, making a huge impact on the sport of surfing. The invention of big wave surfing was originally pioneered by Buzzy Kerbox, Dave Kalama, and Laird Hamilton.
Peahi is located on the north shore on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Peahi is translated as “wave” in Hawaiian. The surf break Jaws was allegedly named so, because of the sudden change in conditions, resembling the break of a shark attack.
The wave is both very big and very powerful. The wave breaks very fast, and moves a lot of water, and the paddle out alone is very tricky. During winter storms, waves as big as 70 feet can be seen at the spot, making it one of the largest waves on the planet.
Miraculously no one has ever died at Jaws, but this has perhaps more to do with sheer luck as anything else. But the fact that the water is warm helps surfers not to panic during hold downs. Another aspect is that the wave break on relatively shallow water. This means that if you wipe out on the first wave, the second and third wave is a bit smaller on the inside of the break.
Another thing is that the spot is guarded by the best watermen in the world. As stated earlier, tow in surfing was born at this spot, and so was the evolution of big wave water safety. The people and the equipment used to enforce the safety are the best. The water rescuers have a lifetime of expertise in big waves, are physically fit, and have the best equipment. They don’t take safety lightly and they do not take any chances.
Nazaré is a relatively new wave in the big wave scene. It was first surfed by big wave legend Garrett Mcnamara in 2011. He broke the world record by surfing a wave 77 feet tall. The area surrounding Nazaré has long been known to have big waves, but it was believed to be impossible to surf the big waves of Nazaré until Garrett successful surfed the break.
Nazaré is located in the region of Oeste on the west coast of Portugal. It’s a small fishing town, but in the later years, surf tourism has become a large part of the town’s economy. Along the towns beachside, it’s possible to surf everything from small beach breaks to the biggest waves in the world, making it an ideal destination for all surfers.
The big waves of Nazaré are created from a combination of storm storms and the Nazaré Canyon. When the waves from the storm hit the coast, the depth of the ocean goes from super deep to super shallow, pushing massive amounts of water to the surface, generating some of biggest waves in the world.
Luckily no surfers have lost their lives at Nazaré. But the wave is in a different category when it comes to danger. The area produces a lot of freak waves, and the conditions are often fickle. A 5-year-old girl and her grandfather died in 2012 from just walking on the beach of Nazaré. A freak wave took them by surprise and washed them out in the ocean.
In 2013 Maya Gabeira almost lost her life at Nazaré. She was knocked unconscious from a wipeout, and nearly drowned. Big wave surfer Carlos Burle managed to rescue her in the extreme waters, bringing her lifeless body to safety on shore.
In 2016 the World Surf League Big Wave World Tour event at Nazaré was heavily debated by the surfing community. The event was filled with life-threatening wipeouts, death-defying drops, and collisions between jet skis and surfers. Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker even suggested on social media that he would most likely not return to surf Nazaré because of the dangers of the break.
Cortes Bank was allegedly first surfed in the early 60’s by surfer Harrison Ealy, but it wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the secret of Cortes bank was revealed. Larry Moore (photo editor at Surfing magazine), and Mike Castillo (veteran surfer and pilot) flew over the bank during a massive swell and found huge uncrowded waves. Soon big wave expedition to the bank was organized, and in 2001 Big Wave surfer Mike Parson was documented surfing a wave estimated at 66 feet.
Cortes Bank is located 110 miles west of San Diego and is considered a submerged Island. The most shallow part of the bank is named Bishop Rock and is just under 1-2 meters beneath the surface of the ocean, creating a surf break in the middle of the ocean.
Cortes Bank is a pretty mythical break, believed to be the home of the largest waves on the planet. But it is hard to prove since the break isn’t visible from shore. It takes a lot of logistic preparation to document the big waves, but in 2008 Mike Parsons was documented surfing a wave calculated to be at least 77 feet tall.
Cortes Bank is a very dangerous wave. First and foremost its located in the middle of the ocean, making it impossible to reach the shore for help. Furthermore, the water is cold, shark infected and the line up is a mile wide, making it almost impossible to position oneself correctly.
Almost all surfers who have surfed the place have had near death experiences at the break, and even in “small” conditions, the break can produce deadly waves. Big wave legend Greg Long nearly lost his life after wiping out on a 25 feet wave.
The Right is a relatively new wave in the Big Wave surf scene. And what is perhaps more important, it is one of the Big Wave Spots that is still pretty unknown. Even though we might (or might not) know where the wave is located, we have chosen not to share the exact location, all we can say is that is located in the west of Australia, and that it is located a few miles offshore.
The wave only breaks a few times a year and is considered the heaviest wave in Australia. It only breaks a few times a year, sometimes less, so it’s important to be in the right spot at the right time. You have to have inside knowledge of the spot in order to know which conditions offer the best conditions.
The Right is notoriously known for its long hold downs and sharky waters. The wave is really not shallow, so the reef is not a factor, but on the other side, the Right pushes surfers deeper underwater than any other wave in the world. According to Big Wave surfer Mark Mathews no other wave gives surfers the feeling of eardrums popping.
Puerto Escondido is a small town located in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The town of Puerto Escondido was founded around the early 30’s, and prior the bay had been used as a port to ship coffee. Today the main attraction are the beaches of Puerto Escondido.
In the late 50’s American surfers discovered the big and hollow waves of Puerto Escondido, and up until the 60’s only stories of the Mexican, Pipeline submerged the surface of the surfing community. But after pictures and film started appearing, it quickly became a popular surf destination for American surfers.
Today Puerto Escondido is one of the most popular big waves on the planet. Its located on the beach of Zicatela, which is the main beach for surfers. Puerto Escondido is often called the Mexican Pipeline because the power of the wave resembles Pipeline. It is long, fast and hollow and breaks on sand bottom.
The dangers of Puerto Escondido are many. First and foremost the area is known to be filled with corruption, crime, and violence. It is perhaps not an ideal destination for the more luxurious traveler, but if you are cool, chances are that trouble won’t find you.
The wave is known to be the deadliest beach break in the world, and the spot has claimed many lives. The impact of the wave is so brutal that even experienced big wave surfers are having a hard time coping with the wipeout. What makes the wave even more dangerous is, that it’s hard to differentiate the closeouts from the open and barreling runners.
That’s our list containing the biggest waves in the world. We hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any questions, we will be happy to answer any of your questions in the comment section below.