Big wave surfers devote their lives to hunting out and surfing some of the most challenging waves in the world.
From giant walls of water that break miles out to sea to 50ft+ beach breaks, big wave surfing has no shortage of variety to challenge its contenders.
Let’s look at our definitive list of the biggest waves in the world packed with giant waves and terrifying slabs that can humble even the most experienced surfers.
The 12 biggest waves in the world
Truly breathtaking waves from all over the world.
On the coastline outside of Nazare lies the beach break, Praia do Norte. During small swells, this beach break produces shallow barreling waves but with large lows arriving from September to March, it’s only a matter of time before Nazare starts to produce gigantic surfable waves.
The oceanography around Praia do Norte is very unique with the large ‘Nazare North Canyon’ funnelling incoming swell into this amazing big wave spot and placing it firmly as one of the biggest waves in the world.
All this magic came together in 2022 for Sebastian Steudtner who broke the world record for the largest wave ever surfed at a whopping 26.21 meters or 86 feet in height.
Head over to Nazare Waves to find out more about this iconic surf spot and the surfers and community that make it so special.
Teahupoo, French Polynesia
Teahupoo often referred to as ‘the end of the road’ is a reef pass in Tahiti, French Polynesia. While it may not be the biggest wave in the world it makes it up for it with its brutal, raw power.
Swell arrives from very deep water before unloading onto Teahupoo’s shallow coral reef with a ferocity that’s truly terrifying to watch.
A powerful left curls across the shallow reef before exploding into as little as 4ft of water leaving surfers with seconds to paddle and catch waves before they get eaten up by the approaching barrel.
The wave was first surfed way back in 1985 by Tahitian Thierry Vernaudon and since then surfers from all over the world have made the pilgrimage to surf this iconic wave.
The reef pass at Teahupoo provides the perfect viewing spot for spectators on boats and jetskis with a view directly into the death-defying tubes.
Jaws AKA Peahi is a world-famous big wave surf spot. It’s responsible for more Wave of the Winter wins that any other spot on the planet.
With a star-studded local crew including the likes of Kai Lenny, Matt Meola, Albee Layer and Ian Walsh it’s no wonder this wave has got all the exposure it has.
Access to the wave requires some serious 4×4 action with the route up and down becoming treacherous after heavy rain.
Previously a tow-in wave Jaws has quickly reverted back to paddle surfing with the names above leading the charge.
Mavericks is a big wave surf spot located just outside of Pillar Point Harbor, not far from the small town of Half Moon Bay.
Surfers like Pete Mel and Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker were instrumental in bringing this wave into the headlights of the surfing media.
A predominant right-hander with the occasional left this wave is not for the faint-hearted with its steep drops and massive waves.
The wave played host to the ‘Titans of Mavericks’ big wave surfing invitational from 1999 to 2016 before the organisation went bankrupt due to a combination of little to no funding and some questionable business decisions.
Sadly Mavericks is responsible for the death of some of the surfing world’s greats including Mark Fu in 1994 and Sion Millosky in 2011.
Cortes Bank, California
Cortes Bank is an awe-inspiring big-wave surf spot in the Pacific Ocean, located 110 miles offshore from the Southern Californian coast.
It’s a large island that rarely breaks the ocean’s surface at low tide. For most of the time, the highest part of Cortes Bank (Bishop Rock) sits only 6ft below the water, creating a rare offshore reef.
Only accessible by boat this huge ranging lineup is exposed to swell and wind from all directions so scoring here requires careful planning and an eagle eye on the wave charts.
When everything comes together massive right-handers open up for any brave waterman willing to take them on.
Most notable of these excursions was in 2001 when Project Neptune comprised of surfers Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach, Ken Collins and Peter Mel all headed out to the break with jetskis and boats.
Mike Parsons managed to snag a 65ft bomb which was the biggest wave ridden in the United States at the time.
It wasn’t until 7 years later that Mike would exceed this by hurling himself down a 75ft wave at Cortes Bank and earning himself the Guinness World Record for the biggest wave ever surfed.
Punta de Lobos, Chile
Punta de Lobos is a left-hand point break that works all the way from 3ft+ to 30ft+. Pro surfer Ramon Navarro calls this wave home and we really can’t blame him.
Breaking just outside of two rock pillars it makes for quite the lineup and the waves easily match the surroundings.
On smaller days Punta de Lobos is a fast barreling left which opens up into a long wall that’s perfect for turns and manoeuvres.
As the swell rises the break pushes further back out to sea with the take-off zone positioned dangerously close to rocks in front of you.
Punta de Lobos is considered to be one of Chile’s best waves, its varied lineup is complimented by the fact it’s one of the few surf spots where you can escape the dreaded south westerly winds that blow almost daily in this area.
Mullaghmore Head, Ireland
No list of the biggest waves in the world would be complete without this Irish monster. Mullaghmore Head rarely breaks but when it does it produces slabbing take-offs followed by death-defying drops and epic rides.
Mullaghmore’s very exposed to any swell rolling in from the North Atlantic but this also leaves it exposed to the wind making finding a surfable window quite the art.
Local and travelling big wave surfers will carefully scour the charts looking for any potential respite in storms that might give them the small chance they need.
When it arrives, massive powerful lefts break across a boulder bottom with treacherous cliffs directly in front of their take-off spot.
Despite these challenges, some of Ireland’s best surfers regularly head here to try and tame Mullagmore’s angry swells.
Check out our guide on how surfers survive in giant waves for an insight into the equipment and skills these individuals need to ride giant walls of water.
The Cribbar, England
The Cribbar is a big wave spot in England’s surfing capital Newquay.
It only breaks a few times a year through Autumn and Winter. It needs at least 8ft of swell to get going and can be surfed in the 30ft+ range.
The long paddle out and sharp jagged rocks on the inside mean it’s strictly for the UK’s best surfers but you’ll regularly see a crowd watching from the cliffs above.
Margaret River, Western Australia
Margaret River may well be WA’s most famous wave. A high-performance right-hander plays host to the annual WSL World Tour every year.
Even though it works on small swells Margaret River is famed for the large rolling chunks of water that come straight out of the deep before unloading on the reef.
Main Break plays host to most of the surfing with the option of going right or left. The left-hander is a rolling wall that breaks into deep water making it a bit more approachable than the right which can close out onto dry rock at the end of the wave.
Belharra is a reef break near a small fishing town called Saint-Jean-de-Luz nestled in the north of the Basque Country.
First surfed in the early 90s, Belharra quickly solidified itself as one of Europe’s go-to spots for big wave surfers.
The wave is created by an underwater plateau covered by seagrass. When swell and wind conditions align this plateau acts as the perfect reef for large incoming swells.
Located 2.5km offshore it’s best surfed with a boat and jet ski support over 30ft, below this you’ll regularly see a lineup of surfers on guns just waiting to paddle into the next set of waves.
Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania
This mutant of a wave sits in a very isolated part of Tasmania making it even more terrifying than it already is.
Breaking in front of a gigantic cliff this reef break slabs to create massive mutant waves, not for the faint-hearted.
While it may not rival some of the biggest waves in the world on this list it more than makes up for it with power.
The shape of the reef creates steps in the waves that surfers need to navigate as they try to escape the jaws of the barrel behind them.
On large days these steps can turn into 6ft air drops mid-wave making for quite the spectacle.
The Right, Western Australia
The Right is a giant slabbing barrel 1.6km out to sea. It’s an unforgiving gladitroial arena of broken boards and near impossible rides.
First surfed back in 2007 by a group of bodyboarders The Right quickly grew in infamy. Since then it’s been surfed by many of the world’s top big wave surfers with notable stand outs like Taj Burrow, Kelly Slater and Mark Matthews.
The waves aren’t the only danger here either, you’ll be sharing the ocean with some of the biggest sharks in the world, most notably the Great White.
Cruise over to our guide on surfing and sharks for a closer look at the apex predators we share our oceans with.