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What Are the Largest Waves Ever Surfed?

   February 27th, 2019   Posted In: Articles   Tags:

The Largest Waves Ever Surfed!

When it comes to big swells, every seasoned surfer longs for the “holy grail” wave that trumps all others that have come before. Just the mere thought of slaying a massive aquatic dragon with a sword made of fiberglass and resin stokes the desire to sate this primal thrill in the minds of thousands of surfers all over the globe, and many have taken this obsession to great lengths in order to fulfill their quest to conquer an immense wave.

The trouble with compiling a list of the biggest waves ever surfed is complicated, since many of the claims have not been verified, and opinions differ on what constitutes a “surfed” wave. For instance, was the wave surfed to completion, or only partially ridden? Was the surfer towed or did they manually paddle out?

But hey….we’re not here to judge; today we’re taking a look at the TOP TEN waves ever ridden — listed by size — to present you with our list of the biggest waves ever surfed:

#10: 61 feet – On December 21, 2012, Shawn Dollar snagged the Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed using the traditional “paddle-in” method (instead of being towed) at Cortes Bank, an open-ocean break almost a hundred miles off the coast of Southern California.

#9: 63 feet – Aaron Gold swiped Shawn Dollar’s Guinness Record on January 15, 2016, when he paddled into a 63-foot behemoth at the break known as “Jaws” off the coast of Maui, Hawaii.

largest waves ever surfed

Aaron Gold and his 2016 wave in Maui. Pic courtesy of Surfer Mag.

#8: 66 feet – Eleven years prior to Shawn Dollar’s record-setting ride, surfer Mike Parsons was towed into a 66-footer at Cortes Bank in 2001. Mike’s ride was still overshadowed by Shawn’s due to being towed as opposed to paddling out.

#7: 68 feet – Also in 2001, surfer Carlos Burle won the Billabong XXL Big Wave Award for tackling a 68-footer at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay in Northern California.


#6: 77 feet – Not content with leaving well enough alone, Mike Parsons returned to Cortes Bank in 2008 to successfully break his own 2001 record, receiving certification from Guinness as the largest wave ever surfed using a tow.

#5: 78 feet – Parsons’ record was broken three years later in 2011 when Garrett McNamara surfed a wave just one foot taller half a world away at Praia do Norte beach near the fishing village of Nazaré, Portugal, making him the new Guinness World Record holder for the largest wave surfed with a tow. Get used to this location; every single one of the Top Five within our Top Ten were accomplished at Praia do Norte, which appears to be the only place in the world where rideable waves over 100 feet high can be found.

largest waves ever surfed

Benjamin Sanchis riding the 108 foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal. Pic courtesy of Surfer Today.

#4: 80 feet – In 2017, Rodrigo Koxa of Sao Paolo, Brazil, traveled to Nazaré to successfully ride an 80-foot behemoth, winning him the XXL Big Wave Award and the Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed. This record still stands today since it is the largest wave verified by Guinness, so our Top Three include monstrous titans that — while seen by dozens of eyewitnesses — still remain unconfirmed by Guinness.

#3: 100 feet (estimated) – Intent on beating his 2011 record, Garrett McNamara returned to Praia do Norte in 2013 where he surfed a wave estimated by numerous spectators to be approximately 100 feet high. Due to the absence of Guinness confirmation, Garrett was unable to be certified for this ride which would ties the height of the wave in our #2 spot.

#2: 100 feet (estimated) – Carlos Burle, the big wave rider at #7 on our list, set his sights on nabbing a Guinness record for himself in 2013. He left California behind and headed to Portugal where he rode an estimated 100-foot wave to completion at Nazaré. Despite the numerous reports of this incredible feat during an autumn storm swell, it is still awaiting confirmation by Guinness.

#1: 108 feet – In 2014, French native Benjamin Sanchis took on what many agree is the tallest wave ever surfed. Witnessed by dozens of people standing atop the clifftop fort at Nazaré, this wave was estimated by several independent sources as a 108-foot killer wall of water. However, due to the fact that he failed to ride the wave to completion, Ben’s performance was deemed by Billabong as a “partial ride,” excluding him from receiving the XXL Big Wave Award.

There you have it, our list of the largest waves ever surfed! With each swell, surfers from all over the world are in the water at Nazaré and other locations across the globe eager to snag a Guinness World Record for themselves, so stay tuned as we promise to keep you posted as we watch for waves up to 109 feet and beyond!

Geno Seay is an outdoor and travel writer based on Roanoke Island on the beautiful Outer Banks of North Carolina. He has written for several travel blogs and maintains a social media presence with his travel buddy, Jared, documenting their global adventures under the moniker “The Shoestring Vagabonds.” When not writing or traveling, Geno can be found surfing in the Atlantic, stand-up paddleboarding on Roanoke Sound or playing disc golf in Kill Devil Hills. He resides in the town of Manteo with his maps, surfboards, and refrigerator full of local craft beer.

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One Comment

  • Bryon B-board says:

    In Rodanthe trying to find where the best shore break is. Something that barrels and breaks close to the beach if that exists.

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