There’s a lot of great surfing around the globe, but if it’s big waves you’re after, there are a few places where Mother Nature does it better. From Tahiti to Ireland, these are some of the most monstrous breaks on the planet.
With a name meaning “To sever the head” or “place of skulls,” it’s not surprising Teahupo’o is considered by most to be the most dangerous break in the world. Located on the southwest coast of Tahiti in French Polynesia, the break is the white whale of surfers around the globe, featuring waves with faces starting at 20 feet, a body as heavy as a concrete building and a playground that empties into a razor sharp reef only a few feet deep. In 2008, pro surfer Ian Walsh was filmed catching the biggest Teahupo’o wave of the season and the footage was used in the famed Red Bull energy drink commercial that aired around the globe.
But even for the pros, it’s a deadly endeavor and can result in a variety of serious injuries. Local pro surfer Briece Tarea was killed in 2000 just a week before competing in the annual Teahupo’o WCT event.
Vast, monster and fearsome are just a few of the adjectives describing the waves found in Nazare, Portugal, which has become a major destination for big-wave surfers. Atlantic winds and the underwater Nazare Canyon combine forces to create the massive, 100-foot walls of water sought out by surfers looking to test the limits of the human body and Mother Nature. In 2013, pro surfer Maya Gabeira almost drowned after being consumed by the wave and several unsuccessful attempts to rescue her by jet ski.
Former WCT competitor Eric Rebiere is one of the few to have successfully ridden the waves at Nazare, but when looking over the course of his career, says it was the most challenging. Rebiere told SURF Magazine, “It’s the wave that’s most captivated my imagination the last few years. It’s a beach break that is in a whole league of its own.”
Dungeons, South Africa
Situated on the Cape Peninsula outside of Hout Bay a few miles from Cape Town, this cold stretch of water breaks a mile away from one of the most shark infested waters in the world. With waves ranging up to 70 feet and the threat of a shark attack at any given moment, it’s no wonder Dungeons (I mean, the name alone is threatening) has struck fear in the heart of many surfers.
Pro surfer Grant “Twiggy” Baker told National Geographic, “Besides the sheer size and power of the wave that makes it so intimidating, it’s the location in Hout Bay, surrounded by huge cliffs that plunge to great depths around it and house some of the biggest sharks known to man that makes it downright terrifying!” The Annual Big Wave Africa Contest has been hosted at Dungeons since 1999.
Peahi (“Jaws”), Maui
Peahi is located off the North Shore of Maui beneath a set of steep, 300-foot cliffs; however, the ferocity of the waves has earned the site the more commonly used moniker of Jaws. The unique location of the reef creates the much-desired clean formation of left-directional and barreled waves which reach up to 70 feet. However, the waves at Peahi create such long hold downs, some surfers don’t attempt riding the waves without built in airbags to help with resurfacing.
Professional surfer Mark Healy told National Geographic, “It just moves faster and hits harder. Rescue situations with the jet skis are very difficult because the liquid avalanche ends in a 300-foot cliff.” Aside from the dangers of the waves themselves, overcrowding has created tension among locals angered by novice surfers and onlookers. Landowners have blocked paths to the ocean and even set old vehicles on fire to quell overpopulation, so visitors beware.
Meaning The Great Summit in the Celtic language, the ominous nature of the area’s waves are only further emphasized by the stormy, cold nature of Ireland’s coast (complete with snow-capped mountains in the back drop). Waves reach nearly 70 feet, but because it breaks in a series of hollow ledges, riders who are brave enough are treated to longer rides and some seriously huge barrels.