Biggest waves in the world: history and where to see them

Nautical Channel
20 Abr 2023
NEWS | Sport, Surf

What may be for many one of the most risky and unsafe things, for others is a challenge and a dream to surf the biggest waves in the world.  

Moreover, there are professional competitions called "Big Waves" where the biggest waves are surfed and are only available to a few, because there are only a few surfers who dare, even if they are professionals.  

In these competitions, they need the help of another motor boat, usually jet-ski , because the waves are so big that it is impossible to catch them manually.

What is the world's biggest wave?

The world's largest wave ever surfed, which holds a Guinness record, could be seen at Nazaré beach in 2020

The 37-year-old German Sebastian Steudtner surfed on October 29, 2020 a 26.21m high wave at one of the most famous beaches in Portugal.  

The last 3 records occurred in the same location, 26, 24 and 23 meters respectively, since 2011 they hold that record.

From October until approximately February, the biggest waves in the world can be observed there perfectly. That is why there is a surfing championship called precisely, Giants of Nazaré.  

From November to March, one of the events of the World Surf League Big Waves is also held in Nazaré.

Steudtner is an old hand at surfing the biggest waves, as in 2010, 2015 and 2021 he was the winner of the WSL Big Wave World Surf League award and became the first European to win the most prestigious award in big wave competitions. 

Nazaré is said to possess the deepest marine gorge in the world.

This "canyon of Nazaré" (as it is called) has a depth of 5,000 meters.  Due to the differences in depth between the gorge and the continental shelf (surface of a

submarine bottom close to the coast), together with the current of the sea, this gives rise to large waves, which many consider to be the biggest in the world.

4 highest and biggest waves in the world 

JAWS Waves (Hawaii)

Maui is one of the islands that make up the Hawaiian archipelago which consists of 19 islands and islets. The biggest waves ever seen on this island are found in the northern part, specifically in Pe'ahi, where the "jaws" are formed.

As in Nazaré, this is the second location where another of the championships that make up the WSL Big Wave World Surf League is held. This tournament is called Quiksilver JAWS Big Wave Challenge. The name JAWS is the colloquial name given to the waves that originate on this Hawaiian island and is undoubtedly one of the largest in the world, specifically, in our ranking is the second.

This location was discovered around the nineties and has become one of the most challenging places for surfers.

In the winter season, which is when you can usually enjoy the best waves, it reaches a height of 20 meters.

Mavericks Waves (California)

Mavericks is another of the most dangerous places to surf, located in northern California just outside Pillar Point Harbor. Undoubtedly, this location is one of the best known and is said to be one of the first places where surfers went to surf the biggest waves in the world.

There are many movies and documentaries that tell this story. The story of a Jeff Clark, a well-known big wave surfer that since the 70-80s, when he was just a kid, discovered these big waves.  

And is that before the popularization of Nazareth and Maui that are undoubtedly currently the most popular, everyone dreamed of surfing the Mavericks. Although it is quite a risky adventure, not only because of its big waves but also because of its cold waters and sharp rocks.

Teahupo'o Waves (Tahiti)

Teahupo'o is located south of the French Polynesian island of Tahiti, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, one of the most remote places in the world. Due to its position in the middle of the South Pacific without any large block that can prevent the movement of currents and waves.

Like Nazaré, Teahupo'o has a spectacular seabed and reef that promotes large waves due to the steep slope.

Its waves usually usually exceed 10 meters high, is not the largest in the world, which is why it is home to one of the championships of the Championship Tour of the World Surf League. Unlike Nazaré and Maui is not the Big Waves league but the normal championship, so we can see that indeed the height of its waves is lower.

Of course, these waves are considered one of the most dangerous in the world. This is due to the shallow depth (40-50cm) of the coral-covered reef that has claimed many lives.

In addition, the reef is very close to the coast, so Teahupo'o was added to the list of the 'Top 10' Deadliest Waves in the surfing world.


Mullaghmore waves (Irland) 

Mullaghmore is located in Sligo, a province of Connacht in Ireland. Along with Portugal, it has one of the biggest waves we can see in Europe. It was also in October 2020 when one of the biggest waves was seen in this area due to a strong tropical storm.

Connor Mcguire an Irish surfer benefit from the consequences of tropical hurricane Epsilon and came to face and surf waves of 18 meters high.

Normally the waves in Mullaghmore are not so big, so this surfer took advantage of the moment when the waves were twice as high as they usually are.

Not only has this happened in 2020, similar stories have been experienced in 2014 and 2012 thanks to the origin of various storms. Due to Ireland's location in the Atlantic there are occasions when we can visualize these large waves.  

Although they usually do not have the biggest waves in the world, they have a dangerousness and conditions quite different from other beaches due to its climatology, cold, rains and storms is something that is usually counted on surfing these waves.

These waves are also very similar to the one in Tahiti, so it also poses a risk. Some call it the Teahupoo of Europe.

A rather unpredictable and thick left wave, with many lumps and overhangs that also breaks against the reef.

If you are passionate about surfing and risk you can visit these emblematic places to enjoy this sport.

However, as we have mentioned, many of them are too risky if you do not have enough experience.

But that doesn't stop you from traveling through these landscapes if you have the chance and enjoy these iconic views.

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