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The Biggest Waves in the World

The adrenaline that pumps into your heart when riding massive waves is absolutely glorious. This article will talk about where you can find the biggest ones.

The biggest waves in the world

Even though surfing is not a head-to-head competition sport such as basketball or baseball, surfers and the media surrounding the surfers have made it a mission to place big wave surfers in a category of their own. It's not that giant waves aren't difficult to ride or that riding the biggest wave isn't a feat, but is there really a point in going after the biggest wave?

Well, for some among us, it does. The elevated sense of danger alone commands a great deal of respect for anyone that is brave or foolish enough to put their life on the line in order to top the Guinness World Record or get that added adrenaline rush.

In many ways, giant wave surfing is elevated to unprecedented heights because it might just be your last day at the beach. Let’s look into some of these high-rise hydro conglomerates that have been known to erase everything in sight. 

Big Wave Surfing

There are two main facets when it comes to large wave stuffing. The first one is the actual exertion of energy that it takes to get near the spot where the wave will rise by paddling against all kinds of forces. The second one is getting the timing down to perfection so that the wave doesn't swallow you beneath it and put you six feet under, literally. 

Even though it might seem like all of the burden falls on the shoulders of the surfer, a lot also rests on the team that surrounds them and the gear that they have chosen to utilize. Sometimes surfers even opt to be dropped in by air and board a helicopter to get them to the rising spot. Others get there dragged by jet skis. It really all depends on the location in question and the might of the waves. Speaking of locations…

The World’s Most Famous Big Waves

Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal

Praia do Norte, found on the banks of Nazaré, Portugal, is both a famous and infamous surfing canyon. The spot has made it into the record books not once but twice, as it holds both the records for the largest ridden wave. 

Needless to say, many surfboards have been crushed and dismantled under the weight of the liquid walls forming in Nazare. Praia do Norte is known as the go-to spot for multiple world champions as well as local surfers who would do anything to be among the ranks of the best. 

So, how come this place produces waves as big as mountains? Well, it’s an uncanny coming-together of strong swell refraction, depth, the pull of the water through the underwater canyon, and—you guessed it—the wind. 

Jaws/Peahi, Maui, Hawaii

Jaws/Peahi is a heavenly destination on the coast of Maui in Hawaii, but it also stands as the heaviest, quickest, and largest liquid conglomerate that has been seen on the Pacific Ocean.

The waves at Jaws have gone up to unprecedented heights of 80 feet. The event that put it on the map was the insane idea of one Laird Hamilton to be towed in by jet ski and left to tackle the impossible more than 30 years ago. 

The reef break is not always even, making its waves even more dangerous because they are unpredictable. Surfers at Jaws can and will be met by both left and right-hand barrels. 

Teahupoo, Tahiti, French Polynesia

The Teahupoo is perhaps the deadliest location of them all. Residing in Tahiti, the spot has given birth to a plethora of lightning-quick waves that violently crash against the shallow reef and send everything flying far and beyond. 

Not only that, but the waves at Teahupoo have a very distinct structure about them. Usually, the front side of the waves is up to three times taller than the back. Once again, a notable example of someone who put it all on the line is Laird Hamilton, who made the feat of the millennia and boarded the sensational Millennium Wave.

Even though Laird made it into the record books, many accomplished and professional surfers have suffered serious injuries while attempting to defy Teahupoo’s prowess. 

Mullaghmore Head, Donegal Bay, Ireland

The Mullaghmore Head is a big-break Irish monster that comes down off Donegal Bay. The spot is notorious for its gloomy nature, making even the bravest of chance-takers reconsider their ambitions. 

The constant wind paired with the sharp left-sided reef break is very intimidating at high tides.
To make things even more adrenaline-fueled, the most exciting waves are usually delivered during the winter storms that roam across the North Atlantic. 

The current pull of Mullaghmore can be felt for more than a hundred meters offshore, so it’s very understandable that some of the biggest names in surfing have decided to forego it altogether and turn their attention to sunnier coasts.

Belharra, La Côte Basque, France

The French Belharra that spreads over La Côte Basque is a dangerous reef break that delivers 60-foot waves from the forces that come together. Most of the time, the A-frame liquid juggernauts run deep into the shoals at low tides. 

Even though they aren’t as frequent as the ones at some of the other spots we’ve covered here, the Belharra is more than capable of delivering a full-fledged monster of a wave that runs deep and cuts sharp. 

Todos Santos/Killers, Baja California, Mexico

Todos Santos in Mexico, just off Baja California, is home to the Killers, a breed of huge waves that start to rise more than 11 miles (17 kilometers) offshore. 

Most of the fearless local surfing elite in Mexico have had it on their mind to ride the powerful right-hand wave that is conjured by the underwater canyon.

The swell pulls so much weight that it’s known for producing some of the biggest and most extreme waves across the entire west coast. This doesn’t just stand for Mexico, but the entirety of North America as well. However, the canyon in this particular spot is what gives birth to the Killers and lands them on our list.

Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania, Australia

The Shipstern Bluff that rises on the coasts of Tasmania in Australia is undoubtedly one of the most intimidating surfing spots in the whole wide world. In fact, there is a good chance that it’s going to deliver the last wave that you will ever see up close. 

The Shipstern Bluff has gotten its reputation due to its freaky nature of swirling two waves into one. The reef is such that by the time one wave breaks, another one is right on its tail, and they all but rise simultaneously, causing all sorts of havoc. This makes it increasingly hard for surfers to position themselves in the right spot in order to achieve the appropriate balance. 

The most utilized means of approaching the belly of the beast is by jet ski or boat.

Mavericks, Half Moon Bay, California

The Half Moon Bay in California is home to the Mavericks. A spot where giant, building-sized waves tower over Northern California.

The unpredictability of the Mavs makes them a very challenging ride for surfers of all levels of skill. That being said, the swinging tide is not the only concern that surfers have when they’re ready for the ride of their life. It’s widely known that the Mavericks are shark-infested. 

Yes, double trouble has never had a truer ring to it. 

Punta de Lobos, Pichilemu, Chile

In Pichilemu, Chile resides the Punta de Lobos, a surfing break unlike any other. The spot is widely known for delivering some of the most difficult left-hand, point break, colossal waves of all time. 

Its draw? It’s as consistent as they come. Surfers from all over the globe have made a trip to Chile in order to take the Punta de Lobos. What makes this location different and special is the fact that it resides in the southern hemisphere. In turn, the journey and the means of approaching it are a worthy adventure and, ultimately, an altogether different experience for most northern hemisphere surfers. 

Dungeons, Cape Town, South Africa

The Dungeons in Cape Town, South Africa, are as intimidating as they sound. The heavy swells move up everything out of place and redistribute the current in an extremely hectic manner, leaving not a pebble unturned. As you can imagine, the sharks that find themselves thrown around whilst this is underway aren’t too happy about what’s taking place. Yes, actual sharks.

Known far and wide as the biggest and most dangerous wave that the South African coast has to offer, the 30 mile-per-hour right-hand juggernauts are out to erase anything that gets in their way. 

The reef is such that the waves break unevenly, leaving little room for error when a new scenario is thrust upon a wave rider. Even more so than that, the wipe-out is just as dangerous as the swirl because of the uneven terrain. Surfers can easily get swept in the undertow and be dragged under the weight of the ocean as the wave pulls back. 

Pico Alto, Punta Hermosa, Peru

Peru, and most notably Punta Hermosa, is the spot where the Pico Alto roams. Known as the tallest and biggest wave on the South American shore, you can spot Pico Alto in all its terrifying glory from afar. 

For the most part, the wave is known to be right-hand, but this wall of water has been known to turn the other direction as well and deliver left-hand waves from time to time. 

In order to get to a good spot from where a surfer is able to catch the Pico Alto, riders have to take a long paddle to the eye of the upcoming storm. 

Before the wave rises from the sea line, an eight-foot swell violently takes to the reef with no regard for human life. 

Ghost Tree, Pescadero Point, California

Pescadero Point’s Ghost Tree is one of the most famous Californian waves on the record books to date. Not only that, but the wave is one of the most interesting phenomena because it is known to break right around the Pebble Beach Golf Course. Imagine concentrating on a swing and looking up to see that the sky has turned to water. 

The Ghost Tree is a forceful right-hand wave and stands as one of the deadliest liquid forces on the planet, as it can throw surfers directly on the rocks that make up the nearby beach shore. 

The reef is not even all the way, so surfers can expect a couple of unpredicted, potentially life-threatening bumps in the road.

Cortes Bank, San Diego, California

The San Diego Cortes Bank is another Californian water-breaking goliath that breaks 110 miles off the city. Because the terrain is constantly in flux, and the sea levels can change with the moon, it stands as a very unpredictable terrain, to say the least. 

It’s a spot unlike any other because it’s the apex of where the winds and currents crash into each other at full force. 

Cortes Bank has a lot of history to its name. The spot became a surfing destination way back in 1961, when Harrison Ealy managed to pull off a successful stunt of surfing a big wave at Bishop Rock. 

A decade later, in 1973, surfer Ilima Kalama nearly lost his life when the Bishop Rock storm swallowed up the boat that he was on. 

However, it wasn't until the early 1990s that the spot started producing 80 and 90-foot waves. Surfer George Hulse has stated on multiple occasions that it was the first time that he actually sat down and wrote his will before taking on the Cortes Bank.

Surfing legend Mike Parsons set the Guinness World Records in 2000 and 2001 for riding the biggest wave up to that point at Cortes.

Notable Big Wave Surfers

Some of the most notable big wave riders include

  • Ken Collins,
    -1st Surfing Magazine Airshow Series (1999)
    -1st Surfing Magazine Airshow Series (2000)
    -1st Vans Airshow Series (2001) 
  • Maya Gabeira
    -Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Award (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012)
    -ESPY Award (Best Female Action Sports Athlete (2009)
    -Teen Choice Awards 2010

  • Peter Mel
    -1st O'Neill Cold Water Classic, (1997)
    -1st Billabong Pico Alto Copa Burn (2011)
    -1st place, Crowned Big Wave World Tour Champion (2012)
    -1st place, Mavericks Invitational (2013)

  • Shane Dorian
    -Fourth overall on World championship tour (2000)
    -Surf Industry Manufacturers Association "Waterman of the Year" (2012)

A Few Words Before You Go…

Riding the biggest waves in the world is more than just big wave surfing and a race of who can get to the largest wave or become known as the big wave surfer. Sometimes, it’s easy to get blinded by that spot among the Guinness World Records and spend all the time in the world on the banks of the north shore of California waiting for the next big swell to reveal itself and give birth to some of the largest waves in existence. 

Big wave surfers chasing giant waves know that there is a difference between a big wave and a monstrous wave. The heaviest wave is not always the tallest; the deadliest waves in the world are the ones that take unexpected turns. The pursuit of the biggest surfable waves has resulted in many broken boards, yet the most intrepid among us still seek them, while the rest, even here at OMBE, can’t help but marvel at their majesty.

Written by
Jeremy Dean
surf coaching