The World’s Biggest Surf Locations

Close-up view of dark blue wave breaking

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Ever wondered what Nazaré, Jaws and Teahupo’o have in common? They are all home to the heaviest and largest waves on the planet! We take a look at some of the most dangerous waves in the world; discover their size, their danger and their most significant rides! Read on and be prepared to be scared:

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A post shared by Andrew Cotton (@andrew_cotty) on Jun 30, 2020 at 5:40am PDT

Nazaré, Portugal

Nazaré's Praia do Norte has bagged many epic titles including the Guinness World Records largest wave ever surfed, as well as the largest wave ever ridden by a female surfer. Read up on WSL’s top pro female surfers for further inspiration!

It is part of the WSL Big Wave Tour and has seen many famous surfers ride its astonishingly frightening face.

However, Nazaré wasn’t always a playground for surfers. In fact, its waves were first conquered by local bodyboarders and a handful of international athletes including Mike Stewart, the sports nine-time world champion.

Wave Size at Nazaré

The biggest wave ever surfed at Nazaré is 80 ft tall. Just absorb that for a moment; doesn’t feel quite comprehensible. Rodrigo Koxa accomplished this outstanding achievement during the WSL Big Wave Awards in 2018.

However, not to scare you further, but the big wave spot has been known to grow to 100 ft in height.

Why Is Nazaré Dangerous?

Well, as the previous paragraph brought to light, Nazaré’s main danger comes down to its sheer size. It comes to no surprise that it is not a break that a surfer can humanly paddle.

Meticulous training is required, as well as a safety team. Tow-in surfing is the only way to catch and survive the waves at Nazaré, and without the support and skills of jet skiers, it would not be possible.

Most Defining Moments:

Nazaré is famous for being the largest surf ever ridden by both men and women, which is one memorable way to get this incredible location on the map.

Other famous incidents at Nazaré include the horrendous wipe-out of our British big wave rider Andrew Cotton who in 2017 broke 12 vertebrae in his back during the traumatic incident. Undeterred by this terrible accident, Cotton is determined to carry on surfing.

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Teahupo’o, Tahiti

Teahupo’o is a relatively recent discovery and is for the bravest of the brave. Teahupo’o is a truly unique wave which is feared for its thickness and shallowness before its size.

It was first surfed in 1985 by a very brave local Tahitian called Thierry Vernaudon who paddled out on a smaller swell than we may associate it with today. Now, surfers tow-in using jet skis to catch waves during the bigger swells of the break.

Wave Size at Teahupo’o

During a big swell, Teahupo’o typically reaches around 30 ft. However, the surf often reaches just under 10 ft and grows to around 23 ft

Why is Teahupo’o Dangerous?

Teahupo’o is regarded as the most dangerous break on the planet. It isn’t necessarily the largest of the wave breaks on this list, but it is one of the shallowest and heaviest. With a sharp reef only metres under the surface, one small fault can be led to severe injury.

Not only are you in threat of being shredded under the water, but the waves are thick and fast, making them incredibly challenging.

Most Defining Moments:

Being one of the most intense waves in the world, Teahupo’o has had many defining surf moments in its short existence.

One of big wave surfing’s most prominent pioneers, Laird Hamilton solidified its danger and named his achievement the “heaviest wave” to be ridden when he pulled off the ‘Millennium Wave’ in 2000.

Keala Kennelly was the first female surfer to tow-surf the break in 2005 during the Billabong Tahiti Pro contest when she smashed a 10 ft barrel.

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A post shared by Laird Hamilton (@lairdhamiltonsurf) on Dec 12, 2019 at 12:58pm PST

Jaws, Hawaii

Also known as Pe’ahi, Jaws was founded in 1975 by three surfers, John Roberson, John Lemus and John Potterick. As they curiously watched the break, they realised that the swell rapidly changed to more significant and more drastic waves.

The impressive size of Jaws attracts surfers from all over the world and it is referred to as one of the ‘largest, heaviest, and fastest wave of the Pacific Ocean’. Jaws has become one of the top destinations for both windsurfing and big wave surfing.

Depending on the size and conditions, surfers paddle or tow-surf to catch one of its colossal waves.

Wave Size at Jaws

The wave size at Jaws tends to range between 30 to 80 ft. The height of the waves notoriously reaches beyond 60 ft from December to March.

Why is Jaws Dangerous?

Jaws is dangerous because it is enormous and unpredictable. A tiny variation to the swell size can have a dramatic effect on the temperament of the wave in a small time frame.

Not making the drop at Jaws is known for its violence because the lip is thick and weighty. The one positive aspect of the wave is that it doesn’t hold surfers down as long as other substantial wave breaks.

Most Defining Moments:

Jaws is well established in the surf world and is one of the most impressive breaks for surfers to ride. Its magnitude was put on the map in the 1990s when Dave Kalama, Darrick Doerner, Buzzy Kerbox and Laird Hamilton developed tow-in surfing. Furthermore, Hamilton, Kalama, and Doerner all feature as a stunt double in James Bond Die Another Day while recording a scene at Jaws.

In 2001, Chris Bertish from South Africa became the first person to paddle into a wave at Pe’ahi through his own arm power. In 2017, Ian Walsh scored a perfect 10 here during the WSL Championship Tour. Feeling impressed? Read more about the most memorable surf moments of the WSL in our blog!

A big wave breaking into white water

These are just a handful of the biggest waves across the world, other famously big and dangerous surf destinations include:

• Mavericks, California
• Dungeons, South Africa
• Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania
• Mullaghmore Head, Ireland
• Belharra, France

Which of the planet’s biggest waves would you love to see and why? Why not let us know on our social media channels: we would love to know your thoughts!

Are you feeling inspired to get some practice in this summer? Here at Wetsuit Centre, you can buy wetsuits online and choose from our extensive range of surfing and watersports suits and equipment!