Senior Editor

Big waves are something that are just now starting to make their big break into the competitive surfing world. And it makes sense–the vast majority of the non-surfing world can connect much more readily with Laird’s Millennium Wave or GMac’s Nazare monster than with two foot Huntington slop or eight million consecutive air-reverses. From Cortes to Mullaghmore, here are five of the biggest, heaviest, scariest Waves Ever.


1. Cortes Bank sits barely submerged about a hundred miles west of San Diego, on the outer limits of California’s Channel Islands chain. The shallowest part of the bank is the top of Bishop Rock, which sits anywhere from 3-6 feet from the surface depending on the tide. Way back in 1961, Oceanside’s Harrison Ealey pulled up his man-pants and became one of the very first – if not the first person (opinions vary on the matter) – people crazy enough to surf the wave that breaks above it. Shawn Dollar broke Shane Dorian’s world record for biggest paddle-in wave with his 61-foot behemoth. Chris Dixon wrote a book dedicated to this wild place that everyone should read, entitled Ghost Wave.

Shawn Dollar’s record-breaking paddle in, Cortes Bank 

2. Nazare became the centre of a debate shit-storm when GMac surfed what was, no matter what your opinion, a really gigantic lump of water. Consisting of three sections (Praia – along the beach, Sítio – an old village on top of a cliff, and Pederneira – another old village on a hilltop), Nazare is home to  just under 16,000 people, the best beaches in Portugal, and some really big waves. About a half mile off the coast sits the mouth of largest underwater canyon in Europe, which funnels long-period swells directly towards the town and its residents, some of whom, you can bet, think that the bunch of wild men that show up every winter to surf there are insane. Keep your ears perked for whether Benjamin Sanchis’s butt-puckeringly big wave is the new record.

Garrett McNamara’s record-breaking tow in, Nazare

3. Jaws has been, and always will be, a bit of a benchmark for big-waves. Every year, all the biggest names in big-wave surfing flock there to high-five, surf giant waves, and evade death’s watery clutches. Also known as Peahi, Jaws trips the ocean onto the north shore of Maui, where spectators watch from the cliffs above. Up until Shawn Dollar’s Cortes Bank wave, Shane Dorian held the world record at Jaws for his paddle wave that measured in at a ball-crunchingly big 57 feet.

Shane Dorian’s 2011 record-breaking Jaws wave

4. Teahupoo is one of the most dangerous waves on earth. Located on the southwest coast of picturesque Tahiti, Chopes is a backless monster that dumps its weight onto a shallow reef. Teahupo’o actually is loosely translatable to “sever the head,” or “place of skulls.” Whatever the direct translation is, it’s got nothing to do with puppies or the melodious tinkle of children’s laughter. Since Laird’s famous Millennium Wave, there have been five recorded deaths and countless injuries.

Laird Hamilton takes on Teahupoo

5. Mullaghmore comes from the Irish saying, “An Mullach Mor,” meaning “The Great Summit.” Touted as one of the best big-wave surfing destinations in the world, the village is steeped in history from Celtic legends to IRA bombings. It’s cold, it’s stormy, and it’s one of the most visibly stunning places on the planet. The tallest wave ever recorded there climbed to 67-feet, and was spawned by something aptly named “The Viking Storm.”

Peter Conroy at Mullaghmore


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