The 10 biggest waves ever surfed
As the heavy water community continues to train harder, go bigger and push limits, the list of big waves ridden upscales accordingly. Dive into the record books with us here.
Few waves inspire as much shock and awe as Nazaré's Praia do Norte. The jewel in Portuguese surfing's crown regularly serves up 100-foot (30.8m) walls of water each northern winter, surfers hitting speeds of up to 80kph and knowing that a mistake could see them hit the water with an impact comparable to a car crash.
Since the mid-noughties, the Portuguese fishing village of Nazaré has lured as many big wave surfers as it has sardine, squid and tuna, and once Nazaré pioneer Garrett McNamara first found the record books taming a 23m monster in 2011, it has been the scene of a string of big wave world records, alongside long established heavyweights like Jaws in Maui and Mavericks in California.
While most surfers approach the waves of Nazaré with the abundance of caution you'd expect, Kai Lenny, widely regarded as the most well-rounded waterman in the world, treats the sand bottom peaks as his own personal terrain park, landing numerous flips and spins when strapped in and towing into enormous swells.
“For me, the ocean is a battery pack,” says Lenny. “I get energy from being in the water, and when I’m not, I don’t have that same spark. The light in my eye dims, maybe. I think for my soul itself, there’s no better feeling than riding a wave.”
Lenny has won competitions in every form of ocean board sport from tow surfing to windsurfing to long-distance standup paddling, and his life is so unique that it has inspired Red Bull TV's long running Life of Kai documentary series.
If Lenny is to etch his name at the top of big wave surfing's most prestigious honour roll, the 10 waves below are the ones he needs to supersede. It would be a brave person who'd bet against Lenny, or Nazaré.
Sebastian Steudtner (Germany) | October 29, 2020 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 86 feet (26.2 metres)
Germany is a not-quite landlocked country but it is definitely not known for its waves or surfers, which makes Sebastian Steudtner’s world record even more exceptional. Even though Steudtner suffers from vertigo – far from ideal when staring down at a 90ft drop – he holds the Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever surfed, after riding a 26m behemoth at Nazaré on October 29, 2020.
Three years later Steudtner's benchmark still stands, the surfing world chasing hot on his heels and hoping this winter's El Niño serves up the kind of conditions that make breaking records possible.
Rodrigo Koxa (Brazil) | November 8, 2017 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 80 feet (24.4 metres)
Before Steutdner, Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa held the world record for the biggest wave ever ridden, another Nazaré 80-footer that he conquered in 2017. Brazilian surfers have dominated the men's WSL Championship Tour over the past decade in a movement nicknamed the Brazilian storm, however Brazil has few big wave breaks, making Koxa's success all the more significant, his record a worthy acknowledgement of his dedication to the pursuit of supersized waves.
Garrett McNamara (USA) | November 1, 2011 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 78 feet (23.8 metres)
Discovery of Nazare with Garrett McNamara
Garrett McNamara recalls the email that altered the course of his life.
Garrett McNamara is widely recognised for putting Nazaré on the map as a world-class big wave, and since first venturing to Portugal in the mid-2000s the Hawaiian has dedicated his life to surfing Nazaré. Fostering the sleepy fishing village as a mecca for the big wave community in the process. One of the first to have consistently surfed Praia do Norte on its biggest days, McNamara worked tirelessly alongside the Nazaré community to ensure the necessary safety protocols were developed and put in place. It is fitting that McNamara was the first to set a world record at Nazaré, when he rode a 78ft (23.8m) wave in November 2011.
Mike Parsons (USA) | January 5, 2008 | Cortes Bank, California, USA | 77 feet (23.5 metres)
Most big waves are fickle, and some only appear a few times a year or less. Cortes Bank, where Californian surfer Mike Parsons rode a 77ft (23.5m) wave in 2008, is one of the rarest of gems. Known as the Phantom of California, Cortes is located 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, and requires a flawless swell forecast, a small armada of water craft, and military precision of your mission before you can even dream of surfing it. Getting to Cortes is almost as dangerous as surfing it due to the tricky waters and submerged islands hidden just below the surface, but if everything lines up perfectly, as it did for Parsons and tow partner Brad Gerlach in 2008, you might just catch the biggest wave of your life.
Justine Dupont (France) | January 13, 2023 | Cortes Bank, California, USA | 75 feet (22.8 metres)
More than 100 miles off the Californian coast lies Cortes Bank, surfing's wildest frontier. In early 2023 Justine Dupont, Lucas Chianca and a cross section of the big wave surfing fraternity's finest boarded their armada of boats, PWCs and rescue craft and set off to the fickle open ocean wave that breaks atop the crest of a subsea mountain.
The results of the day, as seen in the Almost Eddie Swell recap, were spectacular and it was Dupont who stole the show, her 75ft (22.9m) monster now under review for a Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever ridden by a female.
Maya Gabeira (Brazil) | February 11, 2020 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 73.5 feet (22.4 metres)
Maya Gabeira returns to Nazaré
After two years Maya Gabeira overcomes her pains, traumas and the dreaded waves of Nazaré, Portugal.
Gabeira's recovery was far from immediate, as documented in Red Bull TV's Return to Nazaré. The wave she fell on was so big it would have been a world record at the time, but in 2020 her heroic comeback was completed when she rode a 73ft (22.3m) wave to put her name in the record books at the same beach that almost claimed her life seven years earlier.
Francisco Porcella (Italy) | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | October 24, 2016 | 73 feet (22.3 metres)
Redemption stories are the bread and butter of the big wave surfing world, and Francisco Porcella’s 73ft (22.3m) wave in 2016 at Nazaré is no different. After a string of scary wipeouts and back-breaking injuries suffered at waves like Teahupo'o and Jaws, Porcella's spirit for chasing massive moving walls of water remained intact. Even after his record-breaking Nazaré wave, Porcella continues to challenge himself in waves of consequence, from Europe to the Pacific, whether in Fiji or at home in Hawaii.
Yuri Soledade (Brazil) | Peahi/Jaws, Maui, Hawaii, USA | February 25, 2016 | 71 feet (21.6 metres)
Yuri Soledade, born in Brazil but a resident of Hawaii, had to hide his surfing from his parents as a child because they thought it was for lazy people. Soledade has shared, in several interviews, how he had numerous obstacles to overcome as a youth to achieve what he has today. Although his 2016 Jaws ride is not the biggest wave on this list, it's the only one that includes a successfully ridden tube, which adds a level of technical difficulty to this ride far beyond simply successfully riding a wave of 71ft (21.6m).
Sebastian Steudtner (Germany) | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | December 11, 2014 | 71 feet (21.6 metres)
German surfer Sebastian Steudtner moved to Portugal to maximise the opportunities he'd get to surf big waves at Nazaré. The fact Steudtner holds both the first and the eighth positions on this list is testament to a successfully accomplished mission.
Justine Dupont (France) | February 11, 2020 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 70.5 feet (21.5 metres)
February 11, 2020, was a momentous day for women in big wave surfing. Justine Dupont rode a 70ft (21.5m) wave at Nazaré, on the same day as Maya Gabeira’s 73ft (22.3m) wave. While events like Red Bull Magnitude are helping to encourage more women to pursue big wave surfing, it's inspirational women like Dupont and Gabeira who are pushing the cause harder than anyone.
Biggest Paddle Wave | Aaron Gold (USA) | January 15, 2016 | Jaws, Hawaii, USA | 63 feet (19.2 metres)
"When the wave came, it was coming in fast, and I needed to get moving," Aaron Gold told the world while onstage in California to receive the WSL's Biggest Paddle Wave Award at the 2016 WSL Big Wave Awards. "I committed 100 percent to the wave, and the rest is history. I didn't even realise what I had done until everyone told me how crazy it was."
"This wave picked me up beautifully, and I never looked back," Gold continued. "It was truly meant to be, and I'm stoked to have achieved a new Guinness World Record for that ride."
Biggest Female Paddle Wave | Laura Enever (Australia) | January 22, 2023 |Outer Reef, Hawaii, USA | 43.6 feet (13.3 metres)
In early 2023, Championship Tour surfer-turned-big-wave-fiend Laura Enever paddled her way into the Guinness World Records, making the drop on a 43.6ft (13.3m) beast of Oahu, Hawaii.
“I knew it was big when I paddled into it," Enever told the WSL after the record was announced. "When I took off, I looked down, and I knew it was definitely the biggest wave I've ever caught. I knew it was the wave of my life, the whole way it all came together and the way I committed, backed myself, told myself to go, and trusted I could do it. The ride was such a breakthrough for me and a moment that will be special and monumental in my surf career."
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