Measuring the size of a wave can be difficult. In most parts of the world a wave is measured from its face: the front of a wave from top to bottom. However, in Hawaii a wave is measured from the back. Typically the back of a wave is about half the size of its face, so if a wave has a 30 foot face, most Hawaiians would call that a 15 foot wave. It is also a known fact most professional surfers downsize the reality. Like for instance, if Kelly Slater tells you he rode a 15 foot wave, chances are it was more like 20. If a well-known big wave surfer like Laird Hamilton tells you he caught a 30 foot wave, more than likely it was 50. This is all ego-based of course and why it’s so hard to say who’s surfed the largest wave. What follows are the 10 most famously ridden gigantic waves.
10. The Legends
Names like Eddie Aikau and Greg Noll (aka “The Bull”). These were some of the first guys to paddle out in macking surf. The guys who helped pave the way for big wave surfers like Brock Little, Richard Schmidt, and Ken Bradshaw. The most prestigious contest in the sport is held in honor of Eddie Aikau, who was lost at sea in 1978. The Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau is held roughly every 4 years when the waves are big enough. Held at Waimea Bay, Hawaii, it takes a very uncommon enormous swell to hold such a contest. Greg Noll became famous in 1957 for surfing huge waves at Wiamea and another life-threatening surf spot known as Pipeline.
9. Mike Parson’s Enormous Ride at Jaws
This wave was videoed using a following helicopter, giving the viewer a unique look at how a big wave builds and jacks-up when it finally breaks. Without the jet ski assist this ride would have been much, much, shorter and arguably much more dangerous. Tow-in surfing was pioneered by Buzzy Kerbox and with that comes controversy. Many claim the noise and exhaust fumes made by jet skis pollute the sport and take away the “soul” of surfing. Others argue having a watercraft capable of racing in and out of dangerous situations helps save the lives of many. Falling on a huge wave is bad enough alone and sometimes dealing with the 2 or 3 other massive waves breaking in the background is just as dangerous. A jet ski can zip in and grab the surfer before he or she is bombarded by the other waves.
8. Ken “Skindog” Collins’ Winning Wave at Puerto Escondido
Located in Mexico, Puerto Escondido is a worldwide famous beach break. The bottom here is layered in sand compared to the more common reef breaks most big waves break on. This makes Escondido slightly less dangerous, but the risk of drowning remains the same. This particular wave won Billabong’s big wave Ride of the Year award in 2007.
7. Mike Parsons’ Bomb at Cortes Bank
Mike Parsons believes a 100 foot wave can be ridden and Cortes Bank is the place that this might happen. Located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, Cortes Bank is a very shallow chain of underwater mountains. These reef-like mountains are as tall as 1/2 a mile and some reach 3 to 6 feet from the water’s surface. Mike was one in a small group of surfers who rode a massive swell in 2001, putting Cortes on the map for big wave riding. Freezing water, giant waves, and mountain tops? No thanks…
6. Manoa Drollet’s 2007 Beast at Teahupoo
(As seen at the 1:53 mark.)
Like Mike Parsons, Manoa has dedicated his life to riding giant waves. Manoa has had more than a couple of historic waves at Teahpoo. This particular wave has to be the tallest. As you may have noticed the cameraman even had to zoom out to keep the entire wave in frame. . It’s easier to both see and read the wave when you are on your frontside with your chest facing the wave, not to mention your stance is a bit more natural. Instead, Manoa is on his backside with his back facing the wave, which makes riding large waves even more dangerous. If you were to ask anyone who surfs if they would rather ride a huge wave frontside or backside, 99.9 percent will quickly answer frontside. Manoa is a madman.
5. Shane Dorian & Mark Healey’s Paddle Wave at Waimea Bay
When it comes to catching huge waves the ones who choose to paddle into them are considered a bit more serious and dedicated. Having a jet ski tow a person into a massive wave allows the rider to catch the wave much earlier and by doing so provides the rider with a much better look into how this wave may break. When a surfer paddles into a huge wave all he or she is thinking of is the drop. Once, and if, they make it to the bottom, then they can start thinking about whether or not they wish to turn or keep it straight and safe. Big waves are all about the drop and paddling into a big wave will always be more intense and dangerous than the tow-in method.
4. Shane Dorian’s Teahupoo Bomb
Shane of course is a very well known, very respected, big wave surfer who most would agree is completely out of his mind. Shane was introduced/pushed into big wave riding by the late Todd Chesser, who passed away while riding giant surf. As you can see from the clip above this wave is basically the ocean folding over on top of itself and Shane struggling not to fall. Whether or not you can notice- Shane is wearing a life vest- a very common thing at such a break. Once again that wave is breaking over a very shallow sharp reef and to fall would mean an almost certain death.
3. Bruce Iron’s Winning Wave at the Eddie Aikau Contest
Almost two completely different rides in one. First the huge drop on the outside and then pulling into the barrel on the shore break. It can easily be said the shore break barrel is more famous. This wave earned Bruce the most prestigious crown in big wave surfing- The Quiksilver In Memory Of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. Only the most respected big wave surfers in the world are invited to compete and to win is every surfer’s dream.
2. Mark Foo’s Last Ride at Half Moon Bay (Better Known as “Mavericks”)
(Located at the 1:15 mark.)
On December 23, 1994 big wave legend Mark Foo drowned to death after wiping out on a 18-20 foot wave (Hawaiian size). Mavericks is located in Northern California where the water is near freezing and very, very, sharky. Mark had caught an overnight flight from Hawaii to catch the massive swell. Some believe the cold water played a factor in his death. The body was soon cremated and on December 30th over 800 people celebrated his life at Waimea Bay, Hawaii. His ashes were placed in the water.
1. Laird Hamilton’s Death-Defying Teahupoo Drop
Pronounced “Cho-Poo” or “Chopes”, this break in Tahiti is arguably the most dangerous wave in the world. It may not stand the tallest, but this wave is very thick and very powerful. Because of the thick sharp reef and extremely shallow water, this particular ride is widely considered to be the most dangerous wave ever ridden. Laird was towed into this wave using a jet ski, as it would be near impossible to safely paddle into such a beast.
The worst wipeouts from the 2009 In Memory of Eddie Aikua Big Wave Invitational.
By Jesse Fleig