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Biggest Waves Ever Surfed



1,740 feet. That’s the height of a wave created in 1958 when an 8.3 earthquake in Alaska jarred a massive chunk of dirt and ice from Lituya Glacier. Measured by the high-water mark on the hills nearby, the “splash wave” is easily the biggest wave ever recorded. Had the splash been predictable (and occurred after tow-in was invented in the mid-90s), the wave might have been rideable. We’ll never know. What we do know, however, is the monster waves that man has surfed, or at least sworn he has surfed. Check out the biggest waves ever surfed.

Height (Face): 85 Feet

Where: Outside Log Cabins, North Shore, Oahu

Who Rode It: Ken Bradshaw

When: January 28, 1998

If a surfer rides a wave and no cameraman is there to capture it, did the feat really occur? Not according to Guinness World Records, which has never featured Ken Bradshaw’s Hawaiian monster within its listings. Still, this mythical beast is a thing of more than just lore; other surfers in the water swear it happened and so does Bradshaw, a Texan tow-in pioneer who rode some 20+ monsters on that “Big Wednesday.” Some of those monsters are featured in the 1999 Imax film Extreme - just not the one that would have, at least officially, mattered most.

Height (Face): 78 Feet

Where:  Praia do Norte, Nazare, Portugal

Who Rode It: Garrett McNamara

When: November 1, 2011

Most people don’t think of surfing when they think of Portugal. Perhaps soccer comes to mind, or maybe Christopher Columbus. Just off the coast of central Portugal, however, exists a 5,000-foot-deep gash in the continental plate that makes up the seabed. When swells hit this exceptional geological feature, called the Nazare Canyon, huge waves tower over the cold Atlantic. For the past several years, big wave surfers like Garrett McNamara have been towing into these waves. In fact, just last year, McNamara caught an exceptional exception at Nazare. In May, Guinness World Records confirmed that Garrett McNamara set the largest wave record, a title he holds today.

Height (Face): 77 Feet

Where: Cortes Bank, California

Who Rode It: Mark Parsons

When: January 5, 2008

On January 5, 2008, storms in the Pacific Northwest pushed swells across the ocean and into Cortes Bank, a shallow seamount located 100 miles off San Diego. There, the water surged, creating a 77-foot freak. Local big wave legend Mike Parsons was ready for it; he and a pack of elite surf pals had been tracking the storm for days. When he rode it out, he had officially taken down the largest wave ever surfed. But Parsons says his wave wasn’t even the largest wave surfed that day – he saw his friend Greg Long ride a wave that must have been 80 feet tall from trough to crest. But while Parsons’ wave was photographed, Long’s will never exist in any form but memory.

Height (Face): 70 Feet

Where: Jaws (Peahi), Maui

Who Rode It: Pete Cabrinha

When: January 10, 2004

Legend has it Peahi was first called “Jaws” in 1975 when a  group of locals noticed the tame offshore Maui break without warning grow from “a day at the beach” to “last day on earth.” Those pioneers made it out of the water alive – they didn’t dare ride Jaws at its most monstrous. But since the advent of tow-in surfing in the mid-90s, things have changed. Today, Peahi might be considered the capitol of big wave surfing, with riders regularly towing over the reef that endows the break with its power. On January 10, 2004, that break was more powerful than usual. In an interview with Time, Pete Cabrinha says there had already been ten “horrific wipeouts” before he took his turn at the wave. Unlike many of his peers that day, Cabrinha rode out the bomb, winning a Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Award and planting his exploit in the Guinness World Records.

Height (Face): 68 Feet

Where: Mavericks, Half Moon Bay, California

Who Rode It: Carlos Burle

When: November 21, 2001

Look up “surfing” (or “danger,” for that matter) in the dictionary and maybe you’ll see a photo of Mavericks. For decades surfers stood atop the bluffs at Pillar Point watching the waves curl half a mile offshore. It wasn’t until 1975 that a human, 17-year-old Half Moon Bay local Jeff Clark, paddled out alone into the steely waters and successfully rode several left-breaking waves. No photos ever came out of that inaugural run, though Clark estimates the crests topped out at more than 20 feet – a height still considered massive today. On November 21, 2001 Mavericks was generating waves 3-times that height. Brazilian Carlos Burle was there to take advantage, successfully riding out what was then believed to be the biggest wave ever surfed.

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