10 Waves Reserved for the Bravest Surfers on the Planet
Big wave surfing is one of the most dangerous sports on the planet. Here are the waves that give it that reputation.
Big wave surfing used to be confined to the Hawaiian Islands. For years it was thought that breaks like Waimea Bay were the only places to get consistent huge surf.
That changed in the 80s and 90s as California, and other parts of the world were explored and big waves were uncovered all over.
Since then big wave surfing has exploded across the planet. The following waves sit at the top table of big wave spots, there are more, but these are the must-surf places for any chaser of giant surf in 2014.
[part title="Mavericks, California - The Cold Water Goliath"]
Named after the dog of one of its pioneers, Mavericks is the world class big wave that most thought could never exist. Situated in Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco, Mavericks shocked the world when it was revealed after pioneer Jeff Clark, had surfed it alone for years. Before it’s unveiling no one thought big waves existed outside of Hawaii and definitely not in California.
Since then it has become the premier cold water big wave spot in the world. Pacific swells jack up on the pinnacles of rock that form the sea bed, and throw huge barrels and triple story drops for the experienced.
It’s not a place for the faint hearted, Great White sharks are common, it breaks a couple of miles offshore and hitting cold water during a wipeout feels a lot worse than warm water.
Watch the Video of Mavericks:
[part title="Peahi, Hawaii - Big Wave Surfing’s Everest"]
Peahi, better known by its nickname Jaws, is the ultimate in big wave surfing. Situated off the north west coast of the Hawaiian island of Maui it is perfectly placed to draw in the biggest swells on Earth out of the North Pacific.
Pioneered by legendary waterman Laird Hamilton and a handful of friends it revolutionised big wave surfing’s use of jet skis to tow into waves that cannot be paddled into.
Its location makes it one of the few places in the world that could legitimately produce the elusive 100ft wave, and thus it is seen as the ultimate challenge for any self-respecting big wave charger.
It comes with dangers though, and the long ‘hold downs’ led to the creation of the now common built in airbags that can be inflated in particularly bad wipeouts to help a surfer back to the surface.
Watch the Video of Peahi:
[part title="Dungeons, South Africa - The Sharkiest Big Wave"]
Dungeons sits on the Cape Peninsula just outside of Hout Bay and just a few miles from Cape Town. It is a cold and forbidding stretch of water that faces directly into the roaring forties and the great Southern Ocean. It is never short on swell in the winter, but the weather makes it one of the more fickle big wave spots.
On top of the weather, the wave breaks a mile offshore, next to a seal colony in some of the most shark infested waters on Earth. Great Whites are common in the area, and if dealing with some of the biggest most powerful waves in the world wasn’t enough the constant playing of the Jaws theme tune in the back of any surfers mind just doubles the suspense and fear.
Watch the Video of Dungeons:
[part title="Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania - The Most Remote Big Wave"]
The most photogenic big wave, Shipstern Bluff, or ‘Shippies’ sits below a spectacular cliff, shaped unsurprisingly like a ship’s stern. Facing into the mighty Southern Ocean it is regularly massive in the southern hemisphere winter, but it is rarely surfable.
When the conditions come together though it is a very special wave with a ‘step’ in the face which needs to be navigated prior to the big wave surfer getting a huge tube. It’s this added extra and the fact that it’s just so photogenic that has propelled ‘Shippies’ into the big league of big wave surfing.
Watch the Video of Shipstern Bluff:
[part title="The Cortes Bank, California - The Mythical Offshore Giant"]
Some 150km off San Diego is a 20km long underwater mountain range known as the Cortes Bank. Treacherous for shipping, but in prime place to create mountainous surf, the Cortes Bank became the focus in the search for the 100 foot wave.
Big wave legends like Mike Parsons and Brad Gerlach came close, and although it produced surf in the giant range the magic one hundred footer has not be ridden yet.
Logistics mean that it is rarely ridden. The wind needs to be totally calm and it’s an overnight trip on a boat to get there. But get it just right, with no wind and it has the potential to break all records for the biggest wave ever ridden.
Watch the Video of the Cortes Bank:
[part title="Nazare, Portugal - Europe's Biggest Wave"]
Nazare in Portugal has always had a reputation for producing small to medium sized heavy waves, but not until relatively recently has it entered the top flight of big wave spots. It has been thrown into the limelight thanks to Hawaiian hell man Garrett McNamara.
He spotted the unique way an offshore canyon focuses swell on the coast and saw the potential that the wave could produce the biggest surf ever ridden. He was correct and on more than one occasion potential 100ft swells, the holy grail in big wave surfing, have appeared. But although it has been ridden in the 60-80ft range the elusive world record hasn’t quite been hit.
Watch the Video of Nazare:
[part title="Belharra, France - The French Big Wave Mecca"]
The French Basque coast focusses swell out of the Atlantic along a deep water trench that almost points directly at the reef break Belharra. Situated as it is at ST Jean De Luz, where France meets Spain, it gets impressive swell and thus when monster surf is forecasted it is one of the go-to places in Europe.
Its position tucked in the corner of The Bay of Biscay also means it is usually fairly calm from a wind point of view which is essential.
Belharra gets seriously big, but whilst it has huge size, it doesn’t have the colossal tube rides that others on this list have. This makes it a serious challenge, and with serious consequences, just not quite as heavy as some of the other contenders on this list.
Watch the Video of Belharra:
[part title="Aileens, Ireland - The Celtic Mavericks"]
Beneath the Cliffs of Moher sits a sleeping giant. Aileens is the most exposed big wave spot in the North Atlantic. The west coast of Ireland regularly gets the biggest waves in Europe and Aileens stands tall among them. Whilst the location is spectacular, its exposure is often its undoing.
For perfect big waves you need an offshore wind, and sitting as it does in the path of all weather, too often the surf, which is often giant, gets ruined by strong onshore winds. That hasn’t stopped a hardy crew living there and waiting for it to break, and when it does, it matches anywhere on the planet.
Watch the Video of Aileens:
[part title="Mullaghmore, Ireland - Europe's Most Consistent Big Wave"]
Just 100 miles north of Aileens is Mullaghmore Head in Co. Sligo, Ireland. Like Aileens it gets huge amounts of swell from the North Atlantic, but unlike Aileens winds are more regularly offshore making it surfable a lot more often. It also breaks a little differently to a lot of the waves on this list, making it extra special.
Rather than being a huge peak, it is a series of very hollow ledges, making for much longer rides, and potentially huge tubes. Overlooked by a small coast road it is not unusual for hundreds to line the cliffs to watch. There is a huge local scene of big wave chargers who base their lives around riding this wave.
Watch the Video of Mullaghmore:
[part title="Teahupo’o, Tahiti - The Ultimate Challenge"]
Teahupo’o, 'The End Of The Road' or simply ‘Chopes’ is the most fearsome wave on the planet. Breaking over a barely wet coral reef on the southern edge of the main island of Tahiti, ‘Chopes’ as it is affectionately known is unique amongst big waves. Whilst other waves grow in height with size, Teahupo’o grows in every direction.
As swell increases it gets bigger, thicker, rounder and much much heavier, the only number that goes down is the depth of water it breaks in. All of this makes it the most dangerous wave on the planet and the ultimate all round surfing test, not simply for size, but for all round power.
When it gets big you need skill, a good wedge of cash to get there and a complete disregard for your own safety.