Posted 9-30-17


It’s starting to get cold in the northern latitudes. The equinox came and went a week ago, which means we are tumbling headfirst into autumn, with winter close behind it. In other words, if you haven’t dusted off your rhino-chaser and started doing breathing exercises yet, you might want to get busy.

This is big wave season we are talking about—prime time for places like Hawaii, Europe, and the Pacific Northwest. After six months of rest, recuperation, and hopefully a bit of training, it’s time to test ourselves once again against the scariest water the north Pacific and Atlantic have to throw at us. Here’s our list of the heaviest waves north of the equator


© 2017 – Helio Antonio

Despite the carnage at last year’s big wave paddle event, a lot of people still write off Portugal’s cartoonish canyon wedge as a novelty tow wave that is more burger than beast. I used to think the same thing, until I paddled around the faro on a gargantuan day last year and realized the hype is real. Nazare is the ultimate big wave beachbreak, an out-of-control, mile-long lineup distinctly lacking in safety zones, where canyon sets wedge 40ft walls into record-setting teepees, and a handful of the world’s craziest big wave surfers try to tow and scratch their way into bottomless sled rides.

This is not the best big wave spot in the world, and to be honest, it’s pretty much impossible to paddle without your own dedicated jet ski/safety team. But it certainly is the biggest, scariest, and most dangerous wave on the planet, where even if you do everything right, you still can end up drowning in front of 10,000 spectators. And if that’s not enough to convince you, consider what a 10ft @15 second swell does at your local big wave spot, then compare that to the 50ft wedges it creates at Nazare. If you want the pinnacle of extreme surfing, this is it.

Conor Maguire at Mullaghmore Head, Ireland. Photo: Courtesy of Conor Flanagan/WSL

I’m not really sure why Mully doesn’t get more credit on my side of the pond. In Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to find a surfer who doesn’t acknowledge the supremacy of Ireland’s craziest slab, but in the US the wave is hardly given a sniff. Mully is basically an uglier, wobblier XXL Teahupoo in freezing cold water under gloomy skies—the most terrifying thing I can imagine—but it rarely garners any sort of recognition in the Big Wave Awards, and is largely ignored by the US media. Maybe the fact that the locals are starting to paddle the wave at size will change that—or maybe Mullaghmore is happy with its status as the most underrated heavy wave in the Northern Hemisphere.


© 2017 – Audrey Lambidakis

Forget the drama, the politics, the contest bullshit—Maverick’s is arguably the heaviest big-wave peak in the world, and everything else is secondary. Mavs is basically just a deep-water slab—but most slabs aren’t paddleable over the 20ft mark (on the face), while guys are paddling Mavs at more than twice that size.

The presence of a well-defined channel makes this freak of nature approachable by just about anyone willing to paddle through shark-infested water for 20 minutes, but getting out there and actually getting a wave are two very different things. Staring into the bowl at Mavs is like staring into the eye of God, if God is some sort of twisted sadist who wants to kick your ass. And that’s just the right. The left is something else entirely.

Kai Lenny Photo: Richard Hallman

This one is a no brainer. Long considered to the unpaddleable pinnacle of heavy water exploits, Peahi was the wave that put tow surfing on the map, and then breathed new life into big wave paddle surfing when guys realized it actually was approachable by arm strength alone. Maui’s most famous export is considered by most to be the best big wave barrel in the world, and that pretty much sums it up in a single sentence. But just in case you need more convincing, its nickname is Jaws.


Okay, so Pipe isn’t a “big wave spot” like the others on this list—but half a century after being pioneered, it is still one of the heaviest reef barrels on the planet, one of the most difficult waves in the world to navigate, and the spot that has injured and killed more people than any other. What it lacks in height it makes up for in heft, not to mention the shallow, unforgiving bottom that breaks bones without remorse. Anyone who doesn’t think Pipeline is “heavy” has never paddled out to the Banzai on a second-reef day, and probably shouldn’t.

Cover shot by Ian Mitchinson.



(C) 2017