In addition to being a thrilling sport, which boasts some incredibly talented athletes, surfing has a long and spiritual history. With the earliest evidence of people riding waves on top of boards dating back to 12th century Polynesia, its rich history is a part of what makes surfing more than just a sport.
It is an activity which is intimately related to a sense of togetherness between people from all backgrounds and the environment.
Surfing became a professional sport around 1960, and soon became a global sensation. In fact, surfing has now become one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.
According to the International Surfing Association, over 35 million people in the world now enjoy the sport, and it’s not hard to imagine why, when you consider the range of the sport alongside its connection to nature.
Members of the surfing community love the sport for a number of varied reasons.
However, whether they simply enjoy being in the ocean with friends whilst picking up new skills, or are addicted to finding the biggest, most impressive waves to ride as a test of their ability, surfing is an excellent challenge of both physical and mental fitness.
It requires good core strength, coordination and balance as well as the ability to overcome fear and make decisions quickly.
It is no surprise then, that professional surfers are incredibly talented, multifaceted athletes. To give you a glimpse of how impressive these guys are, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best surfers in the world, composed according to their ability, skill, and love of the sport. Be sure to check them out below!
The 10 Best Surfers In The World
Whilst surfing is generally considered to be a male dominated sport, this is not actually the case. In fact, there are records of women surfing dating back to the origins of surfing, and now, female surfers take up some of the major spots on the list of best surfers in the world.
Bethany Hamilton is just one of many incredible female surfers, not only due to her pro surfer status, but also because of the incredible adversity she overcame to get there. At the young age of 13, Bethany was a rising surf star.
However, her career then came to a dramatic halt when she was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark, and unfortunately lost her left arm.
In spite of this incredible setback, it only took one month before Hamilton returned to surfing. By the end of the next two years, she had achieved a national surfing title!
Since then, she has continued to outscore some of the world’s best female surfers, travelled across the globe, inspired many people, and even had a film made about her. She describes being a professional surfer as her calling, and we have to agree!
2. Eddie Aikau
Though not currently alive, there is no way Eddie Aikau could be left out of this list. Eddie was born in 1946, on the island of Maui in Hawaii, but spent most of his life in Oahu.
He was a lifeguard who worked on the North Shore, and supposedly saved more than 500 lives whilst on the job. Accordingly, he received the title of Lifeguard of the Year in 1971.
Aikau never turned down a challenge and definitely wasn’t scared of risk. Whilst he was a lifeguard, she enjoyed surfing some of the biggest waves available on the islands of Hawaii. He was a competitive surfer, and won the 1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship.
Though, that is not to say that he saw surfing as a competition with others, but rather, he focused on his own goals.
He was inspired by surfers such as Greg Noll, John Kelly and Sammy Lee, and hoped to one day be considered amongst them. Aikau managed this feat by surfing a giant swell at Waimea Bay in 1967. Even now, no larger wave has been surfed at Waimea Bay.
Unfortunately, Aikau died at sea, whilst on a cultural expedition. On March 17th 1978, after the canoe capsized, Aikau was last seen paddling his board toward Lanai, in search of aid to help his crew members.
What followed was the largest air-sea search Hawaii had ever seen, but unfortunately, he couldn’t be found.
In addition to his reputation as an incredible surfer, Aikau is remembered for his wonderfully kind and gentle soul, and remains to be an icon in the surfing community. In 1984, the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau was founded to honor him.
3. Frieda Zamba
Freida Zamba is a legend in the surfing community, being a four-time world champion. However, Zamba reached this legendary status against all odds. Born on the East Coast of Florida, Zamba was raised surfing on Flagler Beach, which only presents mediocre conditions.
However, this didn’t stop her becoming one of the most decorated female surfers in history.
Zamba is one of the youngest women to win a pro tour contest, and is actually the youngest surfing world champion ever! She has one a total of four titles, three of which were consecutive.
In addition to bridging the performance gap between female and male surfing ability in the 1980s, Zamba was also an incredibly popular surfer. In fact, she was titled as ‘Queen of the Surf’ in a 1987 article in Sports Illustrated, and was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in 1998.
Zamba now lives in Costa Rica, living with her family, and provides surfing lessons. Who better is there to learn from?
4. Italo Ferreira
Italo Ferreira is not just one of the best surfers around today, but has one of the most inspiring origin stories. Ferreira grew up in the beachside hamlet of Baia Formosa in Brazil, where the only paved roads were the ones that lead into the local village.
After deciding he wanted to try surfing as a young child, Ferreira was given the foam lid from the box his father kept his fish in. He first started surfing on boards borrowed from his cousin at the age of 12, and quickly became one to watch, as he was discovered by Brazilian surf coach Luiz Campos.
Following that, his surfing career took off. In 2011, he won two rounds of the Junior World Championship, and won the Brazilian championship. In 2014, Ferreira qualified for the World Championship Tour, in which he came 7th and gained the title of Rookie of the Year.
Since then, Ferriera has continued to win competitions. However, his most notable achievement was becoming the first ever Olympic Champion. Ferriera is now a certified surfing legend, with a story likely to inspire many to take up the sport.
5. Stephanie Gilmore
Stephania Gilmore is a world-renowned pro surfer, who has dominated surfing on a global scale over the last two decades. Gilmore began surfing at 10 years old, and quickly gained the junior title in New Wales in 2003.
She has also gained one of the most prestigious recognitions in the world, as at 22, she was awarded the Laureus World Sports Award. She has also won prizes which labelled her the best female athlete in action sports.
In 2007 she won her first world title, whilst still being a newbie in the sport. Following that, she continued to shine in her early stages as a surfer, achieving 4 consecutive titles. She has consistently won world titles, becoming an incredibly decorated athlete.
However, Gilmore also dedicates herself to a number of different vocations. She has travelled all over the world, and collaborated with the Coeur de Foret foundation and World Vision.
The Coeur de Foret foundation works to advocate for the creation of water wells in Senegal, and World Vision supports children in Kenya and Ethiopia. She is also a great advocate for male health awareness.
6. Leonardo Fioravanti
Leonardo Fioravanti is one to watch at the moment, and is potentially the best surfer to ever have come out of Italy. Fioravanti started surfing at four years of age, and his talent was quickly obvious to those around him.
At the age of 8, he had already begun to surf in the Maldives, Australia, France and Brazil.
His early achievements are numerous, from winning the Ocean 4 Teens in 2005, to being selected by the Italian National Team to participate in the King of the Groms.
After learning from some of the world’s best surfers, his achievements just kept coming. He won the under 14 Quiksilver Maider Arosteguy, and the Quiksilver Kind of the Groms in Italy, before competing in the European Under 14 Championship Final and the World Championship.
In 2013 his career looked incredibly promising, after winning several legs of the Pro Junior European Professional Junior Circuit and competing in a World Tour event. Soon after, he was a part of the top 100 ranking list, and thus was able to compete in Hawaii.
However, his career took a turn for the worse when Fioravanti suffered a bad injury. After falling whilst competing, he broke two vertebrae, and risked being bound to a wheelchair. However, like Hamilton, this didn’t stop Fioravanti.
After intense rehabilitation, he returned to surfing only 8 months after his accident, and managed to win the ISA Under-18 world title in California!
If it wasn’t already clear that Fioravanti is a force to be reckoned with, the way he managed to make it onto the full Championship tour in 2019 by beating surf legend Kelly Slater proves his incredible ability and promise.
7. Andy Irons
If anyone deserves a space on this list, it’s Andy Irons. Growing up in Kauai, Andy began surfing at 6 years of age. As a teen, he spent a lot of time trying to recreate the skills of a young Kelly Slater, and soon became recognized for his ability.
Not long after, Irons was recognised as one of the top 32 surfers in the world, and began competing against his idols. However, Irons career was often overshadowed by his mental illness.
Irons was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and had a few experiences with ill health. In 1999, Irons experienced a collapsed lung due to an unintentional drug overdose, and was lucky to be resuscitated in hospital.
He did, however, return to surfing, and felt as if the sport offered him salvation. He quickly rose the ranks again, sharing centre stage with Slater. After winning a world title twice, Irons became a surfing legend.
Although, it wasn’t long before the pressure began to add up, and Irons began partying excessively. After winning multiple competitions whilst intoxicated, his career began to end. This slow decline was abruptly ended by his death in 2010, at the age of 32.
However, Irons remains an icon for so many people who struggle with mental health troubles and addiction, and he is still remembered as an undisputed king of surfing who managed to crush the overwhelming odds against him.
8. Gabriel Medina
Gabriel Medina is probably one of the most popular surfers of this century.
Born in 1993 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Medina began surfing at 8 years old. By 11 years of age, he managed to achieve his first trophy after winning the Rip Curl Grom Search in Buzios. This was just the beginning of what is still proving to be an incredible career.
In 2009, Medina became the youngest male to ever win an open age professional contest at the Maresias Surf International. In 2011, this trend continued, as he became the youngest Brazilian surfer to be able to take part in the Championship Tour.
Medina has brought Brazilian surfing to the forefront, by being the first Brazilian surfer to win a world title and the Triple Crown of Surfing.
After winning a second world title, Medina is a rival of surfing champions, such as Kelly Slater and Italo Ferreira.
However, he has also made another long term goal come to fruition, by founding a turf training centre located in Brazil. His goal is to give back to the community and develop future Brazilian champions, by offering free training to selected participants.
9. Carissa Moore
Carissa Moore is more than just an established surfing powerhouse. Moore is an incredible world champion who strives to champion other young women, and help them achieve their dreams.
At the age of 5, Moore started surfing with her dad in Honolulu, Hawaii, the place she was born.
At the age of 12, she decided she wanted to become a professional surfer, and started collecting her wins, and achieved top spots at the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships.
She managed to gain a record number of NSSA amateur titles, and went on to become the youngest champion at a Triple Crown of Surfing event.
In 2010, thanks to her achievements within the World Surf League, she was named Rookie of the Year.
Moore became one to watch on the world tour, and actually managed to dethrone the defending champion Stephanie gilmore. She was the youngest person, regardless of gender, to ever win a surfing world title.
After more successes in 2013 and 2015, Moore had become a sensation. However, Moore has openly admitted that her performance-driven personality has made losses difficult. Moore has tried to mentally adjust her perspective, and says her big goal is to be able to compete without experiencing the roller coaster of emotions.
Recently, Moore has returned to her winning ways by becoming victorious in the first surfing events within an Olympics. After, she managed to bag her 5th world title, and has been recognised by many publications as one of the most impressive surfers, and one of the most inspiring women, in the world.
The way she speaks so openly about the difficult sides of competing continues to inspire many women to follow their dreams despite setbacks. Moore has stated that she believes that the world can be made a better place, through women sharing their stories, and offering encouragement to each other.
With this in mind, Moore has founded a charity focused on giving women the opportunity to learn about surfing.
10. Kelly Slater
Finally, this list wouldn’t be completed without including the greatest surfer of all time, Kelly Slater. Slater began surfing at the age of five, and by ten, had begun winning events. He became a professional surfer in 1990, though struggled within world rankings for the first two years.
However, this didn’t last long, as in 1992 he won his first professional tour event at the Rip Curl Pro, and went on to secure his first world title, becoming the youngest surf champion ever at the age of 20. In 1994, Slater famously dominated the world tour, securing the champion’s crown multiple consecutive times.
After a short break from professional surfing, Slater returned in 2002, becoming second within the world rankings shortly after. Incredibly, Slater managed to bag his 11th world title in 2011, taking the title of both the youngest and the oldest surfer to have won the championship.
However, his competitive legacy isn’t the only thing Slater will be remembered for. He, and a team of engineers at his company, Slater Wave Co., brought wave pool technology to life in 2015. This technology is an incredible leap forward, and will continue to reshape the landscape of competitive surfing for generations to come.