Surfing is a fun sport enjoyed by many. Nothing sounds better than being in the sea on a warm summer’s day, getting some exercise while you splash around and have fun with your friends.
The nice, safe, happy picture we have painted above, is far from the truth about an extreme version of this. It is known as big wave surfing.
Big wave surfing does not take place close to the shore, like normal surfing does, where you can paddle out and enjoy the sun while you wait for the next wave to come. Oh, no.
This version of surfing can take place from dozens to hundreds of miles away from the shore, where they can only be accessed by a boat or even a helicopter.
Many surfers will hire a person on a jet ski, that will take them out in order to catch these monstrous waves. This is also known as tow-in surfing. The waves in these areas reach no less than 20 feet, with most reaching soaring heights that are much higher than this.
It cannot be stressed enough that these waves should only be attempted by highly trained and professional surfers.
The biggest wave ever recorded, that made it onto the Guinness Book of World Records, was in Nazare, Portugal in 2011. The American surfer Garret McNamara rode Praia do Norte, which reached 78 feet.
This was then topped by Rodrigo Koxa, who reached 80 feet in 2017. More recently, however, in 2020, 18-year-old Antonio Laureano has claimed to have ridden a wave in this location that reached 101.4 feet.
How Do They Measure The Height Of Waves?
The World Surf League (WSL) is a private organization that paired up with the Guinness World Records. They hand out awards to world record holders, and they are who awarded McNamara with his record in 2011.
Rather than wait for the WSL to view his footage, Antonio Laureano reached out to FMHUL (University of Lisbon’s Faculty of Human Kinetics) for an independent measurement.
It was these researchers who measured the wave that McNamara rode.
However, they have stated that measuring waves can be tricky, as they are dynamic, so it is hard to find stable zones for measurements.
The way they work out the final measurement is by looking at the height of the surfer as a scale reference and then looking at the highest point of the wave, as well as the trough, the lowest point.
When it comes to setting world records for waves, it can be quite subjective, as the waves are always moving, so it is practically impossible to always determine the exact height reached.
While Antonio Laureano is still waiting for the WSL to analyze his wave, and provide him with his record, the FMHUL state it is the highest wave they have ever recorded.
Where Can You Find The Biggest Waves?
You may be wondering where on earth can you find these monstrosities, and why would someone want to risk their lives surfing them? It is true that many lives have been lost surfing these kinds of waves, big names such as Mark Foo and Donnie Solomon are some of them.
Some of the biggest waves in the world can be found across all continents. Here are some spots where you can find the biggest waves:
Praia Do Norte, Nazare, Portugal
This is where the largest wave recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records took place, by Garret McNamara in 2011, surfing this wave reaching 78 feet.
This wave can sometimes reach heights of 100 feet, and some refer to it as ‘the surfboard breaking machine’.
It is also the biggest wave to have ever been surfed by a woman. Brazilian surfer, Maya Gabiera, rode a 73.5-foot wave here, setting the record for the biggest wave surfed by a woman.
The best time to catch these waves is from October to February, the cold, eerie season that matches this eerie version of the sport.
Due to Antonio Laureano having reached 101 feet in this location, this would make this the biggest wave at this current time.
Mavericks, Half Moon Bay, California
Mavericks is one of the most well-known big waves in the world, and it is here that Mark Foo lost his life.
This is another winter destination for surfers who want to surf the soaring heights of these waves. They can be anywhere from 25 feet, to 60 feet in height.
Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania, Australia
Although Shipstern Bluff is known as one of the most dangerous surf spots in the world, there have not been any deaths yet. There have been plenty of injuries, but no lives have been taken.
It is known to be an extremely difficult wave to master, one of the reasons being the wave within a wave that is created, due to the shape of the reef at the bottom. A barreling wave is also created, one that is big enough to fit an entire bus inside!
This is not the only dangerous part of this surfing location. This area is known to attract orcas and sharks, adding to the danger of this surf.
Jaws/Peahi, Maui, Hawaii
Maui’s most notorious surf spot is known as Jaws or Peahi. This is known as the heaviest and fastest wave in the Pacific Ocean.
The waves produced here can reach heights between 30 and 80 feet. The best time to surf this wave is between November and March, and it is known to be a very unpredictable phenomenon.
Although there have been several close calls, no one has lost their lives surfing this wave.
Dangers Of Big Wave Surfing
It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, these waves can take the life of a surfer in a split second. There are countless life-threatening hazards that come with surfing these kinds of waves.
If a surfer is wiped out during big wave surfing, these waves can push them down from 20 to 50 meters beneath the surface, spinning as they go. Once they have stopped spinning, if they can tell which way is up, they have around 20 seconds to swim to the surface before the next wave reaches them.
Being 20 to 50 meters underwater also comes with dangers, as the pressure at these depths is strong enough to burst someone’s eardrum.
Being wiped out by such a strong wave can also propel a surfer into any rocks that are nearby, reefs, or even the seabed, resulting in serious injuries and death in many cases.
Sometimes, the surfboard leash that prevents a surfer from losing their board can cause more harm than good. They can become tangled in rocks or reefs underwater, preventing the surfer from swimming up to the surface.
These dangers were noted, and some big-wave, or tow-in surfboards have footholds, to prevent these risks.
While most of us will read this and wonder how on earth someone has the guts to go and catapult themselves down a tumbling wave of doom, professional surfers experience the biggest adrenaline rush ever, making them want to excel in this version of the sport.
Much respect is paid to them for being brave enough to attempt this sport.
There are several locations known to have the biggest waves, as we’ve covered in this list, but it appears Praia do Norte, in Nazare Portugal, is the biggest wave to have been recorded at this time.