In the early 90s, surf pros like Laird Hamilton and Darrick Doerner pioneered tow-in surfing, using jet skis to drop them into the perfect position to ride some of the heaviest waves on the planet. This allowed them to go where no surfer had gone before, and opened a world of white-knuckle possibilities to the sport of surfing. Here are the biggest, baddest waves ever surfed.
Nazaré – Portugal
Consisting of three sections (Praia – along the beach, Sitio – an old village on top of a cliff, and Pederneira – another old village on a hilltop), Nazare is home to just under 16,000 people, but crucially boasts beaches with huge waves. Everything changed for this small town in November 2011 when American surfer Garrett McNamara landed in the area and surfed what was then the biggest wave ever, a stunning 78 feet high. Surfers continue to flock to the region on Portugal’s west coast including German-Austrian Sebastian Steudtner, whose ride there won the Biggest Wave award at the XXL Big Wave Awards.
Jaws – Hawaii
Jaws is a classic big-wave hotspot for thrill seekers, and one of the places where tow-in surfing developed 25 years ago. The likes of Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and Darrick Doerner surfed the Pe’ahi Monster in the north of Hawaiian island Maui using this method, and the craze has continued to develop ever since. Aaron Gold went back to basics when he tackled Jaws’ waves earlier this year, stunning the surfing world by paddling the biggest ever.
Teahupo’o - Tahiti
Riding the waves of Teahupo’o in Tahiti is an aspiration for nearly all surfers, given its stunning beauty. It’s possible for many people too, as the water is less gnarly than other places on this list, often reaching heights of between five and seven feet. That’s not to say it doesn’t throw up a few monsters though – and in 2013 Tahitian demi-god Raimana van Bastolaer was brave enough to take off on what many regard as the heaviest wave in the world.
Ship Stern Bluff – Australia
This globally-renowned big-wave surfing location sits on the south eastern coast of Tasmania in Australia, and is spoken of in hushed tones within the surfing community due to its wild and dangerous nature, given the prevalence of great white sharks in the region. If that wasn’t sketchy enough, it features a host of intricate inner formations (known in the surf trade as “steps”), giving it a unique appearance and adding to the challenge of surfing it.
Mavericks – California
This surf spot 30km south of San Francisco is a popular winter destination for some of the world’s best big-wave catchers. Given its hazardous – and sometimes deadly – nature, only a few riders are willing to take a risk on Mavericks’ waves, which routinely crest at over 25 feet and top out at over 60 feet. Unusually, waves that break are regularly recorded on the Richter Scale, and this is due to an oddly-shaped underwater rock formation. For years the location was thought too dangerous for surfing, until in 1975, 17-year-old Jeff Clark paddled out alone to face the break and caught multiple left-breaking waves, becoming the first documented person to tackle Mavericks head-on. It now hosts an invitational surfing contest each year, known as Titans of Mavericks.