Big wave surfing is a discipline within surfing in which experienced surfers paddle into, or are towed into, waves which are at least 20 feet (6.2 m) high, on surf boards known as "guns" or towboards.[1] Sizes of the board needed to successfully surf these waves vary by the size of the wave as well as the technique the surfer uses to reach the wave. A larger, longer board allows a rider to paddle fast enough to catch the wave and has the advantage of being more stable, but it also limits maneuverability and surfing speed.[2][3]

A surfer at Mavericks, one of the world's premier big wave surfing locations

In 1992, big wave surfers such as Buzzy Kerbox, Laird Hamilton and Darrick Doerner introduced a cross over sport called tow-in surfing.[4] While many riders still participate in both sports, they remain very distinct activities. This type of surfing involves being towed into massive waves by jet ski, allowing for the speed needed to successfully ride. Tow-in surfing also revolutionized board size, allowing surfers to trade in their unwieldy 12 ft. boards in favor of light, 7 ft boards that allowed for more speed and easier maneuvrability in waves over 30 ft (10 meters). By the end of the 1990s, tow in surfing allowed surfers to ride waves exceeding 50 ft (15 meters).[4]

Hazards of big wave surfing edit


In a big wave wipeout, a breaking wave can push surfers down 20 to 50 feet (6.2 m to 15.5 m) below the surface. Once they stop spinning around, they have to quickly regain their equilibrium and figure out which way is up. Surfers may have less than 20 seconds to get to the surface before the next wave hits them. Additionally, the water pressure at a depth of 20 to 50 feet can be strong enough to rupture one's eardrums. Strong currents and water action at those depths can also slam a surfer into a reef or the ocean floor, which can result in severe injuries or even death.[5]

One of the greatest dangers is the risk of being held underwater by two or more consecutive waves. Surviving a triple hold-down is extremely difficult, and surfers must be prepared to cope with these situations.[4][6]

A major issue argued between big-wave surfers is the necessity of the leash on the surfboard. In many instances, the leash can do more harm than good to a surfer,[citation needed] catching and holding them underwater and diminishing their opportunities to fight towards the surface. Other surfers, however, depend on the leash. Today, tow-in surfboards are equipped with foot holds (like those found on windsurfs) instead of leashes, in order to provide some security to the surfer without generating safety hazards whilst the surfer is underwater.[4]

These hazards have killed several big-wave surfers. Some of the most notable are Mark Foo, who died surfing Mavericks on 23 December 1994; Donnie Solomon, who died exactly a year later at Waimea Bay; Todd Chesser, who died at Alligator Rock on the North Shore of Oahu on 14 February 1997; Peter Davi, who died at Ghost Trees on 4 December 2007; Sion Milosky, who died surfing Mavericks on 16 March 2011; and Kirk Passmore, who died at Alligator Rock on 12 November 2013.[7][8][9]

Paddle-in surfing edit

On 18 January 2010 Danilo Couto and Marcio Freire became the first to surf Jaws Peahi paddling, surfing the wave to the left side. They did not have jetski support and used only their shorts and their surfboards. They were the only ones to surf Jaws paddling until 4 January 2012, when it was surfed to the right side for the first time.[10]

On 4 January 2012, Greg Long, Ian Walsh, Kohl Christensen, Jeff Rowley, Dave Wassel, Shane Dorian, Mark Healey, Carlos Burle, Nate Fletcher, Garrett McNamara, Kai Barger, North Shore locals and other of the best big-wave surfers in the world invaded the Hawaiian Islands for a historic day of surfing. Surfers had to catch and survive the wave at Jaws Peahi, on the north shore of Maui, without the use of a jet ski.[11][12]

Jeff Rowley made Australian history by being the first Australian to paddle into a 50-foot plus (15-metre) wave at Jaws Peahi, Hawaii, achieving his 'Charge for Charity' mission set for 2011, to raise money for Breast Cancer Australia.[11][13][14][15]

On 30–31 January 2012, Jeff Rowley and a number of international big wave surfers including Greg Long, Shaun Walsh and Albee Layer spent two days paddle-surfing Jaws, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, as part of their ongoing big-wave paddle-in program at the deep-water reef, further cementing the new frontier of paddle-in surfing at Jaws.[16][17]

On 12 March 2012, Jeff Rowley paddled into Mavericks Left, California, and became the first Australian to accomplish this task. Mavericks is traditionally known as a right-hander wave and Rowley pushed the boundaries of what was possible at the Mavericks left-hander, a task that wasn't without its challenges, requiring a vertical drop into the wave.[18]

On 30 March 2012, Jeff Rowley was a finalist in the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards 2011/2012, in the Ride of the Year category with his rides at Jaws Peahi in Maui, Hawaii on 30 January 2012, placing 4th place in the world of elite big wave surfers.[19][20][21][22][23][24]

Big wave surfing world records edit

Male edit

German surfer Sebastian Steudtner broke the record in October 2020 off the coast of Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal, when he surfed through an 86-foot (26.2 m) wave.[25][26][27][28]

Female edit

According to Guinness World Records, Australian Laura Enever holds the women's big wave record, surfing a 13.3-metre (43.6 ft) wave in Oahu in January 2023 to break the world record by 30 centimetres.[29][30][31][32] However, the record is not without controversy, as she wiped out at the base of the wave, and it has even been claimed that Justine Dupont rode a 75-foot (22.9 m) wave (although she, too, is said to have wiped out), although this claim has not been ratified by Guinness.[33][34]

Big Wave Surfing Contest edit

Surfing at The Eddie on February 25, 2016

The oldest and most prestigious big wave contest is The Eddie, named after Oahu north shore Hawai'ian lifeguard and surfer Eddie Aikau. The competition window is between 1 December and the last day of February annually.[35]

Another big wave surfing contest hosted by Red Bull is held at Jaws Peahi, with invitation of 21 of the best big wave surfers in the world. The waiting period for the contest is from 7 December to 15 March. Some of the known invitees to the contest include Jeff Rowley, Albee Layer, Greg Long, Shane Dorian, Kai Lenny, Ian Walsh.[36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46]

From 1999 to 2016, Mavericks was a premier big wave contest. The first year's results were first place, Darryl Virostko ("Flea"); second place, Richard Schmidt (surfer); third place, Ross Clarke-Jones; and fourth place, Peter Mel. This contest was last held in 2016, and has been indefinitely cancelled by the World Surf League.

Beginning in 2014–15, the World Surf League (WSL) has sanctioned the Big Wave World Tour (BWWT). On 28 February 2015, Makua Rothman became the first WSL BWWT Champion with 20,833 points outscoring the runner-up, Gabriel Villaran of Peru, by almost 7,000 points.[47][48][49][50][51]

On 11 November 2016, Paige Alms of Maui was crowned the first women's big wave surfing champion at Jaws on Maui during the Pe'ahi Women's Challenge which was part of the Women's Big Wave Tour #1 held 15 Oct – 11 November 2016, at Haiku, Hawaii.[52][53][54][55][56] This was the first big wave surfing contest ever held for women.[52][53] The results were in first place Paige Alms (Hawaii), second place Justine Dupont (France), third place Felicity Palmateer (Australia), and tied for fourth place Keala Kennelly (Hawaii), Emily Erickson (Hawaii), and Laura Enever (Australia).[52][56]

Big Wave Surfing Awards edit

Since 2005, the world's best big wave surfers gather in "Surf City" Huntington Beach, California, for the annual World Surf League (WSL) Big Wave Awards hosted by surfer Strider Wastlewski. The gala ceremony is currently held at the Pasea Hotel and Spa and nominated surfers are awarded for their greatest rides of the past year and the big wave community is celebrated.[57]

The event raises the bar every year, with $350,000 in prize money allotted across seven categories:

  • "XXL Biggest Wave"
  • "Biggest Paddle Wave"
  • "Tube of the Year"
  • "Best Overall Performance"
  • "Women's Performance"
  • "Wipeout Award"
  • "Ride of the Year".

The seven winners are given top honors and a TAG Heuer watch for another WSL big wave season.[58]

WSL Big Wave Championship Tour champions edit

WSL Big Wave Championship Tour champions

Year WSL Men's Big Wave Tour WSL Women's Big Wave Tour
Name Points Name Points
2021   Lucas "Chumbo" Chianca (BRA)
2018   Grant Baker (ZAF) 16, 305   Keala Kennelly (HAW) 12,100
2017   Billy Kemper (HAW) 27,140   Paige Alms (HAW) 10,000
2016   Grant Baker (ZAF) 25,018   Paige Alms (HAW) 12,500
2015   Greg Long (USA) 21,266
2014   Makuakai Rothman (HAW) 20,833
2013   Grant Baker (ZAF) 2,459
2012   Greg Long (USA) 2,155
2011   Peter Mel (USA) 1,472
2010   Jamie Sterling (HAW) 2,509
2009   Carlos Burle (BRA) 2,443

Notable big wave surfing spots edit

Australia edit

United States (Mainland) edit

Oceania edit

Europe edit

Latin America edit

Caribbean edit

Africa edit

Notable big wave surfers edit

Big wave surfing movies edit

See also edit

References edit

  • Warshaw, Matt. Mavericks: the story of big-wave surfing, Chronicle Books, ISBN 0-8118-2652-X
  • Warshaw, Matt. "The Encyclopedia of Surfing." (2003).
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External links edit