Date: August 17th, 2000
Location: Teahupoo, Tahiti
Moment: Laird Hamilton tows into what is widely regarded as the heaviest wave ever surfed.
There are a select few things in surfing’s history that really stand out as defining moments. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring was Laird Hamilton’s wave at Teahupoo, Tahiti, on August 17th, 2000.
Now named the Millennium Wave, the backless monster that Hamilton towed into was, at the time, by far the heaviest wave ever surfed. And it changed things, to say the least.
Sometimes, all it takes is one person to try something, if only to prove it’s possible. Much like Jay Moriarty’s infamous Iron Cross at Maverick’s, Laird’s Millennium Wave turned the surfing world on its head; it was a seemingly impossible wave made possible. Not only was it so much heavier than any thing else ridden before it, it was one of those moments that eventually lead to the kind of big wave surfing we see today. No matter your opinion of tow surfing or Laird Hamilton, the combination of the two sparked a movement that pushed the sport to greater heights that its ever been before.
The ride itself lasted just a few seconds, but the ramifications of it have reverberated through today. “It was to the point where I almost said, ‘Don’t let go of the rope,'” said Darrick Doerner, the man driving the ski. “When I looked back, he was gone.” As Hamilton let go, the entire south Pacific folded over on itself, dwarfing his 220-pound frame. The wave exploded on the shallow reef that lies beneath Teahupoo, and a foam ball of massive proportions erupted. Everyone watching held their breath for what seemed like an eternity. Impossibly, Laird appeared out of the mist, casually rode off the back, and straight into history. Sitting in the channel afterwards, he cried. “You know, when you go to Tahiti, the line between what’s paddle-able and what’s not is very defined,” he said. “It’s more defined that anywhere else in the world. It simply becomes un-paddle-able very quickly – it’s amazing how clear that line is.”
And nowhere was it clearer than on that day in Tahiti. The Millennium Wave pushed an already-teetering stone down a hill; the tow-movement truly gained steam after that day. And since then, even though the focus has adjusted to paddling big waves, the size of waves people are paddling into would, before the Millennium Wave, have been deemed impossible.
“That was part of it,” Hamilton told Surfline on the ten-year anniversary of the ride heard ’round the world. “Riding the unrideable. We’d already done that by towing into other waves, and there was no way that wave could have been ridden without towing in. It was also a barrier-breaking moment. It showed both me and others that waves like that can be ridden – and they have been by a lot of people since then. You have to believe in the unbelievable.”