10 biggest waves ever surfed

Carlos Burle and Rodrigo Koxa at Praia do Norte in Nazare, Portugal in 2017

© Hugo Silva

Who has surfed the biggest waves ever?

Few waves inspire more awe and fear than Nazaré on a big day. This wave in Portugal can reach more than 100 feet in the winter season, which means surfers are riding at around 50 miles per hour, with force comparable to a semi-truck collision. It’s where the majority of big wave world records have been set.

Most professional surfers don’t want to ride this wave because the consequences of a fall could be fatal.

Then, there’s Red Bull athlete Kai Lenny, widely regarded as the most well-rounded waterman in the world, who has landed a full rotation air on one of these waves.
He has won competitions in every water sport from tow surfing, to windsurfing, to long-distance paddling. His life is so unique that it inspired a multiple-season series, Red Bull’s “Life of Kai.”

“For me, it’s like 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.”

While Lenny does not have the record for the biggest wave, it’s a sought-after distinction for big wave surfers, who are recognized at the Red Bull Big Wave Awards. Below is a list of the ten biggest waves ever surfed.

The 10 Biggest Waves Ever Surfed

1. Sebastian Steudtner (GER) | October 29, 2020 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 86 feet (26.21 meters)

Germany is not a country known for producing top-tier surfing talent, making Sebastian Steudtner’s world record even more exceptional. Even though he suffers from vertigo, which could be tricky when looking down at a 90-foot drop, he holds the Guinness World Record for biggest wave ever surfed. He set the record on a cold winter day at Nazaré on a wave measured at 86 feet.

2. Rodrigo Koxa (BRA) | November 8, 2017 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 80 feet (24.38 meters)

Carlos Burle and Rodrigo Koxa at Praia do Norte in Nazare, Portugal in 2017

© Hugo Silva

Before Sebastian, Rodrigo Koxa had the world record for the biggest wave ever surfed, an 80-foot wave at Nazaré. Brazilian surfers have dominated competitive surfing over the past decade in a movement commonly referred to as the Brazilian storm. However, Brazil has few, if any, true big-wave breaks. So Rodrigo had to dedicate himself to this pursuit.

3. Garrett McNamara (HAW) | November 1, 2011 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 78 feet (23.77 meters)

Garrett McNamara is widely recognized for “discovering” Nazaré as a premier venue for big wave surfing, and is one of the first ever to have attempted a ride at this dangerous location. A lifelong surfer born in Hawaii, he worked for years alongside the local community in Nazaré to ensure that there were safety protocols in place. He recognized the danger of this wave more than anyone, and still set the first record for biggest wave surfed at Nazaré in 2011 on a 78-foot wave.

4. Mike Parsons (USA) | January 5, 2008 | Cortes Bank, United States | 77 feet (23.46 meters)

Most big waves are fickle, and some only appear a few times a year or less. Cortes Bank, where California surfer Mike Parsons surfed a 77-foot wave in 2008, is one of those rare waves. Known asthe phantom wave of California, it’s located about a hundred miles off the coast of San Diego. It’s just about as dangerous to get there as it is to surf it, due to the tricky waters and shallowly submerged islands hidden in the ocean.

5. Maya Gabeira (BRA) | February 11, 2020 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 73.5 feet (22.40 meters)

5 min

Maya Gabeira Returns To Nazaré

After two years Maya Gabeira overcomes her pains, traumas and the dreaded waves of Nazaré, Portugal.

Resilience is a common theme among big-wave surfers, who are well aware that no amount of training can prevent freak accidents and human error. But no one knows this better than Red Bull athlete Maya Gabeira, who nearly died surfing Nazaré. Her triumphant recovery and incredible achievement of surfing a 73-foot wave in 2020, at the same place she almost lost her life seven years earlier, was documented in Red Bull’s “Return to Nazaré.” The wave she fell on was so big, it would have been a world record then, and still one of the top five biggest waves surfed today.

6. Francisco Porcella (ITA) | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | October 24, 2016 | 73 feet (22.25 meters)

Redemption stories are the bread and butter of the big surfing world. And Francisco Porcella’s 73-foot wave in 2016 at Nazaré is no different. No stranger to scary wipeouts and back breaking injuries, Francisco persisted and returned to surf massive moving walls of water another day. Even after his record-breaking wave, he continues to challenge himself at Nazaré, and puts his life in danger in search of the indescribable thrill.

7. Yuri Soledade (HAW) | Peahi/Jaws, Maui, Hawaii | February 25, 2016 | 71 feet (21.64 meters)

Yuri Soledade sem medo de ser feliz em Jaws

© Arquivo Pessoal/Bidu

Yuri Soledade, born in Brazil, but now a resident of Hawaii, had to hide his surfing from his parents as a child because they thought it was for lazy people. In an interview with Red Bull, Yuri shared some of the obstacles he had to overcome in his youth to achieve what he has today. Although this is not the biggest wave on the list, at 71 feet, it is the first one that includes a barrel section, which adds a level of technical difficulty to this ride.

8. Sebastian Steudtner (GER) | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | December 11, 2014 | 71 feet (21.64 meters)

Sebastien Steudtner in Nazare, Portugal in 2014

© Jeff Flindt

Sebastian Steudtner, who moved to Nazaré to give himself the most opportunities to surf big waves there, is highly dedicated to this spot. As a result, he holds both the first and the eighth positions on this list.

9. Justine Dupont (FRA) | February 11, 2020 | Praia do Norte, Nazaré, Portugal | 70.5 feet (21.48 meters)

Justine Dupont surfs the greatest wave of her life in Nazaré, Portugal

© Rafael G. Riancho / Red Bull Content Pool

February 11, 2020 was a momentous day for women in big wave surfing. Red Bull surfer Justine Dupont rode a 70-foot wave at Nazaré, on the same day as Maya Gabeira’s 73-foot wave. Although events like Red Bull Magnitude are helping to ensure there are more women in big-wave surfing, it is still not as common for women to pursue this specialized discipline as it is for men.

10. Pete Cabrinha (HAW) | Peahi/Jaws, Maui, Hawaii | January 15, 2004 | 70 feet (21.33 meters)

Pete Cabrinha was already over 40 years old when he towed into a 70-foot wave at Jaws in Maui, Hawaii. He is a champion kitesurfer and windsurfer who walked away from competition when he won championships in each respective discipline. He did the same thing after winning an award for biggest wave ever surfed, and only returned to attempt it again years later on a foil board.

Conclusion

Big wave surfing is not only the most death-defying discipline within surfing, but it attracts some of the most resilient personalities. Most big wave surfers are not regular competitors at the top surfing contests. It is also one of the only disciplines where women compete alongside men for the same awards, and where women have made a mark on the top of the rankings. Red Bull athletes Maya Gabiera and Justine Dupont are two of the best big wave surfers in the world. And events like Red Bull Magnitude are helping to ensure that there will be many more women who follow in their footsteps.

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