Writer, Surfer
There are some truly big waves in the North Atlantic. Image: CNN

There are some truly big waves in the North Atlantic. Image: CNN

The Inertia

A weather buoy has recorded a wave of 62.3ft (19 metres) that occurred in the North Atlantic somewhere between Great Britain and Iceland. According to the World Meterological Organisation (WMO), this is now the largest wave ever to be recorded by a buoy.

“This is the first time we have ever measured a wave of 19 meters. It is a remarkable record,” said WMO Assistant Secretary-General Wenjian Zhang in a press release. “It highlights the importance of meteorological and ocean observations and forecasts to ensure the safety of the global maritime industry and to protect the lives of crew and passengers on busy shipping lanes.”

The wave occurred in February 2013 but has taken three years to verify. It trumps the previous record holder which occurred in December 2007 (also in the North Atlantic) which measured 60ft or 18.3 metres.

According to data recorded and supplied by the WMO, this wave only holds the record for significant wave height recorded by a buoy. On February 8th, 2000 the “World’s Highest Significant Wave Height By Ship Observation” was a staggering 95.03ft (29.05m). Again this observation took place in the North Atlantic at a longitude/latitude of 57°30’N, 12°42’W.

The buoy that recorded the data was the “K5 buoy” which sits North West of the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Checking the data from the K5 buoy is familiar to many Scottish surfers and other water users such as sailors and fishermen.

Of course, these records apply only to open ocean swells. Given favorable winds and bottom contours, who knows what waves of this magnitude might look like if they made landfall.

What does this mean for big wave glory hunters and surfers? Well, it means that the conditions exist to create giant waves in areas of the planet previously untapped by surfers.

As the son of a fishing boat skipper and lifelong sailor, I grew up with anecdotal tales of giant waves and offshore reefs. My dad and I would spend time poring over his old nautical charts and I went to bed at night imagining the variables that might lead to perfect, giant waves breaking far beyond the comprehension of anything people had ever seen before.

It’s easy to be misled into thinking that technology such as Google Earth and floods of other data streams that saturate our lives have shrunk the mysteries of the world, but it’s really not true. There’s plenty left to be discovered if you have the urge to go looking.


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