Banzai Pipeline, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii:
Banzai Pipeline, otherwise known as “Pipe” or “Pipeline” is one of the most famous and revered surf spots in the world. It is without a doubt a highly advanced spot in terms of skill level, where the winter season waves hitting Oahu’s North Shore can tower ten’s of feet overhead. The break characteristics of Banzai Pipeline can be easily understood as being essentially a reef shore break type of wave. This means that the waves at Pipeline break upon a reef surface, and also upon the relative shoreline surface meaning that the wave breaks into very shallow water.
A break like this drastically raises the stakes of surfing it, since a fall or a bail on a big wave at Pipeline will often smash a surfer into the sharp reef with a force so powerful it can break bones and even kill people sometimes. One of the major reasons that “Pipeline” is referred to with the word “pipe” at all, is that the break structure is very pipe-like, very tubular, allowing for surfers to get deeply barreled in the heart of the breaking wave. Banzai Pipeline is definitely on of the most impressive surf spots in the world for this reason, and others.
Mavericks, Northern California, USA:
Although Mavericks doesn’t necessarily have the biggest breaks in the world, the wave there carries so much mass and inertia that it is definitely one of the scariest big wave locations on earth for many surfers. On top of that, the waves at Mavericks off the coast of Northern California tend to be very dark, murky water that can add anxiety to the mix while paddling out. The murky water is also a bit unsettling while surfing Mavericks when you realize that this is a spot where Great White Shark sightings and incidents are actually quite common overall in this region.
Located near Half Moon Bay in California, Mavericks is a very risky spot for an additional reason that has to do with the fact that the rip currents and undertow currents can become quite strong at Mavericks, and there are also sharp rocks located all around the spot. This is a surf location that is legendary among pros, and also has a dark history in terms of killing multiple famous surfers throughout time. Both Mark Foo and Sion Milosky lost their lives while surfing Mavericks; a testament to the extreme power of this surf spot.
Teahupoo, Tahiti, French Polynesia:
Probably the heaviest and most massive wave break on the planet, Teahupoo is certainly one of the most iconic surfing spots on earth. This is a surf spot that generally requires that riders get towed into the wave by a jet ski, which shows the extreme speed and power of this colossal break. Teahupoo on Tahiti, French Polynesia is the type of wave break that after you’ve seen it once, you will never forget its characteristic shape and intimidating, awe-inspiring power. It breaks consistently in a giant tube shape, with a several-foot thick wave lip that carries more weight and inertia than most waves on earth. It also breaks in relatively shallow water, which means that Teahupoo is among the most formidable waves that can be found anywhere.
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico:
Puerto Escondido is essentially one of the biggest and tallest breaks on the planet, attracting a wide variety of surf competitions from multiple leagues and professional organizations. When Puerto Escondido, which is found at Oaxaca, Mexico, is experiencing major wave swell activity, the breaks can become so massive that only the most seasoned, veteran big wave surfers will head out there. This is a wave that breaks into a narrow bay or inlet area, and when the conditions are right it can achieve a pointed peak break pattern that can reach several meters tall at the peak.
Jaws, Pe’ahi, Maui, Hawaii:
Jaws on Maui, otherwise known as Pe’ahi, is an additional Hawaiian surf spot that has reached legendary status over the years. This is another Hawaiian spot that relies on winter season waves to find the biggest breaks of the year, and similar to Banzai Pipeline, Jaws can also see very tubular-shaped waves that make for excellent waves for big wave riders that like to get deeply barreled back inside the closed shroud of the breaking pipe-like wave.
Some of the most famous surf competitions in history have been held at Jaws, and additionally it is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet with all of Hawaii’s brilliant ecology out on display surrounding Jaws. Jaws is another spot on our list that tends to require a tow-in when the waves are really big, but paddling in can become possibly at lower times of the season.
Supertubes, Jeffrey’s Bay, “J-Bay”, South Africa:
Located about 75km away from Port Elizabeth in South Africa, Supertubes, also known as Jeffrey’s Bay or J-Bay is another high profile surf location internationally. J-Bay can definitely toss up some massive waves, but one of the biggest risk factors in terms of surfing at Supertubes is related to Great White Sharks. In fact, 2015 saw a high profile shark attack during a competition at J-Bay, where professional surfer Mick Fanning ended up being attacked by a White Shark only about two minutes into the final round of the event.
J-Bay can see big waves around twenty feet high during certain points in the season, and can actually be very inconsistent depending on the time of year. The word Supertubes refers to J-Bay’s ability to toss massive tube breaks that can sometimes be sustained for upwards of 300m, which is a very long way for a wave to sustain itself before crashing. This is a major reason J-Bay is a favorite spot for many professional surfers out there.
Cloudbreak, Tavarua Island, Fiji:
Cloudbreak on Fiji is one of those famous surf spots that is especially tropical in nature, similar but not at all the same as Teahupoo on Tahiti. Breaking onto a small Fijian island known as Tavarua, the Cloudbreak waves are awesomely huge, sometimes generating waves as high as fifty feet tall. Many prominent big wave competitions have been held at Cloudbreak over the years, and in addition to surfing, Cloudbreak is also a favorite location for scuba diving, sea kayaking, snorkeling, and others. Cloudbreak is definitely one of the more beautiful surfing locations in the world, and its bright blue water is a major attraction for many surfers of varying skill levels.
Among the most insane, massive, monster wave breaks on the planet, Nazare in Portugal is beyond powerful. It is the absolute epitome of intense big wave surfing, and when Nazare is at its most powerful only the very best riders in the world will even dream of attempting it. In this way, towing into the huge break at Nazare is one of the only options for reasonably approaching this vast break.
Nazare is another spot that tends to generate a kind of triangle-peak on the top of the wave break, and it tends to smash down right in the center of the wave progression, rather than breaking from one side or the other. One of the most amazing records ever set at Nazare was by famous big wave surfer, Garrett McNamara who managed to surf an incredibly large 78 foot high wave break from crest to trough.
Punta Hermosa, Peru:
In terms of being a relatively remote surf spot compared to the rest of the planet, Punta Hermosa in Peru is a wildly beautiful surfing location that tends to generate amazing right-to-left, or at least side-to-side breaking patterns throughout each season. With its teal or aqua colored water, Punta Hermosa definitely has a unique and attractive aesthetic, but that pretty water color actually serves to hide a dangerous factor in terms of surfing Punta Hermosa.
This factor is, yet again, the heightened presence of Great White Sharks in the area which can make this spot very dangerous at the right, or wrong, time of year/season. The ocean off the Peruvian coast is typically full of White Sharks, and this is definitely something to be conscious of when planning to surf at Punta Hermosa.
Trestles, San Diego County, California:
Many people who surf might consider Trestles in San Diego, California, a kind of backyard or everyday location, but Trestles is actually quite diverse and interesting in terms of the many different breaks that can be found there along the coast. Trestles is essentially sectioned off into different kinds of breaks, that vary in size, difficulty, speed, and other factors.
That helps to make it a majorly popular surf spot in the USA, since it is appropriate for surfers of all skill levels during different times of the year. Although Trestles is not really a “big-wave” location, it is still a great spot that is capable of generating some very clean and approachable tubular waves that are effective in holding their barrel for long distances.