10 of the Biggest Surfable Waves On The Planet

A Fresh Look At The Biggest Waves That Mother Nature Can Produce

Grant Baker falls five stories down a giant wave at Jaws/Peahi in Hawaii. ©WSL/Cestari

There are more out there, but these are the ten best, ten biggest and ten heaviest waves in the world.

1. Nazarre, Portugal.

Only coming into the big wave collective psyche recently, Nazarre soon rose to prominence as one of the biggest surfable waves in the world. To catch one of the really big ones here, surfers need to get towed in by a Personal Water Craft, but once they have caught the wave it offers possibly the biggest, most thrilling ride in the world.

The wave has picked up some derision from seasoned big wave surfers because it breaks in deep water and thus appears not nearly as dangerous as other big waves that break over very shallow reef. Despite this, there have been some scary situations and a few near drowning’s.

This is what Nazarre looks like!

2. Cortes Bank.

Sitting 96 miles south west of San Pedro, Los Angeles, Cortes bank is a strange beast in the world of big wave surfing. It takes a long boat ride out there, and no matter what the surf and weather forecast is showing, you never really know what you’re going to find out there. When it comes to deep ocean waves and the bathymetry that deep in the ocean, there are always going to be some big surprises for everyone. One surfer who got a big surprise was big wave legend Greg Long from California. Greg suffered a tremendous wipeout in 2012 and was held under water while four giant waves rolled over him – enough time to kill most people – but he managed to hold on and survive.  

3. Waimea Bay, Oahu, Hawaii.

For many years the pinnacle of big wave surfing, Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii is probably the most famous big wave venue in the world. Waimea Bay is sacred in Hawaii, with a long history going all the way back to when Captain Cook landed in the very bay in 1778. It was the first truly big wave surfed in Hawaii, and these days it is the home to the most famous and prestigious big wave contest in the world, the Quiksilver in Memory Of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.

Waimea Bay gets up to forty feet and it is easy for spectators to get right in on the action on the point, as well as to watch the surfing from any points on around the bay. Surfers have died out there whilst surfing in amongst the giant stuff. Popular Californian surfer Donny Solomon drowned while surfing at Waimea Bay in 1995.  

The 2016 Quiksilver In Memory Of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational

4. Jaws, Maui, Hawaii.

For many years Jaws was considered unsurfable, and only a few crazy windsurfers would venture out there to the big and blustery peaks on the North Shore of Maui. Known as Jaws in popular culture, the actual location was named Peahi, which is the Hawaiian word for wave.

In December 2015, Jaws was the venue for the greatest big wave surfing contest in the history of the sport, the World Surf League Big Wave Tour event the Jaws Challenge. Waves of up to forty feet were surfed that day, and the first wave ridden in the morning caused Australian big wave surfer Mark Matthews to separate his shoulder and render him unable to compete. Hawaiian surfer Billy Kemper won the event, while Californian surfer Greg Long and fellow Hawaiian madman surfer Shane Dorian were also standouts in the death-defying conditions.

Watch the 2015 Jaws Big Wave Challenge

5. Mavericks, California.

One of the most feared big wave spots in the world, Mavericks has taken the lives of surfers before, and it will no doubt take more lives in the future. As big waves go, Mavericks, sitting just outside Pillar Point Harbour, near Half Moon Bay, is brutal. It is a tough and relentless wave, hard to surf, and the water is cold. The only way to surf here is to put your head down and paddle really hard, but this is also the route to disaster.

Discovered by Jeff Clarke, a local surfer who surfed it alone for over a decade, Mavericks is now the home of the Titans Of Mavericks Big Wave Event, and Californian surfer Nick Lamb won the 2016 event. Mostly a right-hand breaking wave, surfers have been known to surf the shorter but more intense left-breaking wave off the mavericks peak as well. (link 2)

6. Punta De Lobos, Chile

Situated near the town of Pichilemu, Los Lobos is a very long and winding big wave spot that has a treacherous paddle out and is notorious for strong winds. The south-east winds howl up the Chilean east coast, making for cold water and strong currents, but the same winds help to produce the massive swells that wrap around the Los Morros, the two giant rocks that signify the start of the wave.

It’s a terrifying wave, and a set-up that allows the spectators to watch from the cliffs as the surfers attempt to outrun the giant waves as they pour down the shoreline. Chile has a few local big wave surfers who are specialists out there in the big Los Lobos swells. Ramon Navarro is one such surfer who has taken his Lobos skills to other big wave locales around the world. 

Punta De Lobos is now home to the World Surf League Big Wave Tour event, the Quiksilver Ceremonial. This event has run before and the defending champion is Makuakai Rothman from Hawaii.  

The Quiksilver Ceremonial at Punta De Lobos!

7. Dungeons, South Africa.

Nestled under the Sentinel Mountain in Hout Bay, Cape Town lies the giant beast known as Dungeons. For ten years it was home to the Red Bull Big wave Africa surfing event, a contest that saw four events run in that decade and careers made during that period. Discovered and surfed first by two local surfers Pierre De Villers and Peter Button in 1984, the surf spot lay dormant and unridden until the first event took place in 1999. Over that period of time much knowledge of big wave surfing was learned, and the culture grew in South Africa, with winners of the event being Sean Holmes, John Whittle, Greg Long and Grant Baker.

Dungeons is also home to a massive seal colony, and as a result is frequently visited by Great White sharks who pop in to watch the show and have some seal pup breakfast. There have been many sightings, but the sharks do seem to be well fed. 

Former Big Wave World Champion Twiggy Baker on a big one at Dungeons.

8. Todos Santos, Mexico.

This big wave spot off Baja, Mexico, has also had quite an illustrious career, starting off with Californian professional surfer Taylor Knox winning $50k in 1998 for the K2 Challenge. It has always been a favourite hideaway for Californian surfers in the mood for something a little bit bigger and more exciting than the crowded beach break surf that they generally surf, so a deep water reef break provides all that more thrills and spills needed.     

Todos Santos is also home to the World Surf League Big Wave Tour event the Todos Santos Challenge, the most recent version won by Australian professional surfer Josh Kerr.

A right-hand breaking wave with a couple of exposed rocks and shelves, Todos is reserved for the big wave expert only. Being down in good old Baja, there is not too much in the way of safety despite what the surfers bring in with them, so it is not one of the safest big wave venues around. 

The Todos Santos Challenge

9. Teahupo’o, Tahiti.

The Place Of Skulls is the most dangerous and terrifying wave on the planet, and at times it gets so big that it becomes totally unrideable unless towed into at full speed by a Personal Water Craft. Surfers have lost their lives out there, and it is a constant threat whenever the waves get above ten feet and injuries are commonplace.

The wave breaks over a razor sharp coral bottom, and is home to the World Surf League Championship Tour event the Billabong Pro Teahupo’o.

The biggest day of surfing here happened on the Code Red swell of August 2011 when the event had to be put on hold and the best big wave surfers from all over the world flew in to surf the waves that were at times in excess of forty feet. Some of the waves surfed that day were the biggest and most dangerous waves ever attempted by surfers, and many of the rides became winners in the Big Wave Awards of that year, including Ride Of The Year and Wipeout Of The Year.

This is what Teahupo'o looks like!

10. Puerto Escondido

Known as ‘the biggest and best beach-break in the world’ Puerto Escondido is unique in the fact that it breaks purely on a sand bottom, and thus breaks in various places along this Mexican beachfront. It breaks 50 meters from the water’s edge, and surfers tend to not attach their boards to their feet with leashes, as they simply get washed in after every big wave, and retrieve their boards from the beach.

The waves at Puerto are renowned for their enormous barrels, and the only way to ride many of the waves is to simply ride inside the tube and hope to come out the other side.

When the forecast for Puerto looks favorable, many Californian and Hawaiian surfers make the journey in the hope of catching one of the big sets, and the fact that it all takes place in bath-warm water makes it that much more accessible.

Puerto Escondido is home to the World Surf League Big Wave Tour event the Puerto Escondido Challenge, but they have yet to run this event. The waiting period for this event is May 15 to August 31.   

The Puerto Escondido Challenge.