The Surfing Handbook only recommends products we like and use, period. Sometimes we get an affiliate comission from links, but this helps us keep the site running!

Oceanography And Marine Science

Biggest Wave Ever Recorded: Unprecedented Ocean Event Explored

The world of big wave surfing has always captivated both surfers and spectators alike. Courageous athletes push the limits of human capability by riding colossal waves, demonstrating not only their physical prowess but also their mental fortitude in facing such immense natural forces. Finding, and maybe riding, the biggest wave ever recorded presents a unique challenge and represents the pinnacle of this thrilling pursuit for extreme surfers.

Embodying the ultimate test in this extreme sport, the record for the biggest wave ever ridden stands as a testament to human courage and persistence. When discussing the largest wave ever recorded, it is crucial to consider both the height of the wave and the incredible skill required to ride it. Garnering worldwide attention, this astonishing feat showcases the seemingly limitless potential of athletes to conquer new heights and redefine the boundaries of what is possible in the world of big wave surfing.

The Largest Waves Recorded in History

Lituya Bay, Alaska (1958)

In 1958, a massive tsunami occurred in Lituya Bay, Alaska, following a magnitude 7.8 earthquake along the Fairweather Fault. This event created the largest wave ever recorded at the time, reaching an astonishing altitude of 1,720 feet (524 meters). The wave was generated by a sudden landslide in the Gilbert Inlet, which displaced a huge amount of water in the bay. The enormous wave swept through the fjord, stripping the surrounding landscape down to bedrock and causing significant damage to the surrounding forest and glaciers.

The Alaskan MegatsunamiThe Alaskan Megatsunami

Nazaré, Portugal (2011, 2017, 2018, 2020)

Nazaré, Portugal, is famous for its colossal waves, which attract daredevil surfers from around the globe. Praia do Norte, located in Nazaré, has repeatedly been home to record-breaking waves, largely due to the unique underwater topography that affects how the swell behaves near the shore. Several Guinness World Record waves have been surfed at Nazaré, including:

  • In 2011, Garrett McNamara set a world record by riding a 78-foot wave.
  • In 2017, Rodrigo Koxa conquered an 80-foot wave, securing his place in the record books.
  • In 2018, Maya Gabeira earned the World Surf League’s biggest women’s wave certificate by successfully riding a 68-foot wave.
  • Most recently, in 2020, António Laureano surfed a 100-foot wave, which made him a rising star in the big wave surfing community.

surfing Nazare portugal, biggest wave ever recorded

Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004)

The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 is another example of a historically large and catastrophic wave event. Generated by a massive undersea earthquake, the tsunami produced waves up to 100 feet (30 meters) in height along the coasts of several countries in the Indian Ocean region. The resulting damage and loss of life were devastating, with over 230,000 people reported dead or missing. This tsunami served as a stark reminder of the destructive power of giant waves and led to improved monitoring and warning systems for future eve


Video of the historic event shows the raw power of the ocean.  Viewer discretion advised:

The Science Behind Giant Waves

Formation of Tsunamis

Tsunamis are giant ocean waves caused by large-scale undersea disturbances, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and underwater landslides. When these events occur, they displace a massive amount of water, generating waves that can travel thousands of miles from the disturbance point. Scientists from monitoring platforms, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, use various tools and techniques to study and predict tsunamis.

These massive waves can reach incredible heights and speeds as they approach the coastline, causing widespread destruction and posing a significant threat to fishing boats, infrastructure, and human lives. The largest tsunami ever recorded reached an altitude of over 500 meters (1,640 feet) in Lituya Bay, Alaska, due to a massive rockfall and displacement of water in 1958 1.

Rogue Waves

In addition to tsunamis, another type of giant wave is known as a rogue wave. These are extremely large, spontaneous ocean waves that form due to a combination of factors, such as wind, currents, and other waves. Rogue waves can be extremely dangerous for ships and offshore structures because of their unpredictable nature and the enormous force they exert.

Rogue waves were once considered a myth, but they have since been recorded by various weather monitoring platforms and are now recognized as a legitimate oceanographic phenomenon. Some scientists believe that rogue waves could be related to specific meteorological influences, such as atmospheric pressure changes or strong winds.

Meteorological Influences

Meteorological factors play a significant role in the formation and behavior of giant waves. Weather patterns, atmospheric pressure, and wind conditions can greatly influence the behavior of waves, from their formation to their movement and energy distribution. By studying these factors, scientists aim to better understand and predict the formation of giant waves, which can be a threat to both human lives and property.

Knowledge of how weather influences waves is especially critical for the safety of fishing boats and other vessels, as large waves can pose significant risks to marine navigation. Additionally, an understanding of meteorological factors that contribute to the development and behavior of giant waves can help provide crucial information for coastal planning and disaster prevention efforts.


  1. Monster waves ?

Notable Big Wave Surfers and Records

Garrett McNamara

Garrett McNamara is an American big wave surfer known for breaking the world record in 2011 by riding a 78-foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal. He held the Guinness World Record for the largest wave ever surfed until it was surpassed in 2017. McNamara has been a prominent figure in the big wave surfing community and has inspired many other surfers to chase massive waves.

Rodrigo Koxa

In 2018, Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa broke the Guinness World Record for the largest wave surfed by conquering an 80-foot wave, also in Nazaré. He was awarded the Quiksilver XXL Biggest Wave Award at the World Surf League’s Big Wave Awards. Koxa’s record has set the bar high for current and future big wave surfers.

António Laureano

António Laureano is a Portuguese surfer who made history by surfing the largest wave ever ridden by a European in 2020. Laureano achieved this feat on a 100-foot wave in Nazaré, continuing to solidify the legendary status of this iconic surf break.

Are these the largest Waves ever surfed? | Nazare 2020: The Beast AwakensAre these the largest Waves ever surfed? | Nazare 2020: The Beast Awakens

Maya Gabeira

Maya Gabeira, a Brazilian surfer, set the Guinness World Record for the largest wave surfed by a woman at 73.5 feet. Gabeira’s record-breaking wave, also surfed in Nazaré, exemplifies her talent and fearlessness in pursuing the sport’s most extreme challenges.

Other Big Wave Awards

  • Kai Lenny: A Hawaiian surfer who has excelled in disciplines such as stand-up paddleboarding, windsurfing, and kiteboarding as well as big wave surfing. Lenny has won multiple awards in the surfing world.
  • Pete Cabrinha: Known for his pioneering efforts in both big wave surfing and kiteboarding, Cabrinha has been an influential figure in developing innovative gear for extreme water sports.
  • Carlos Burle: A Brazilian big wave surfer who has made a name for himself by riding massive waves, including a 68-foot wave at famous surf spot Mavericks in California.
  • Makua Rothman: A Hawaiian surfer who won the 2015 World Surf League Big Wave World Championship and has continued to push the limits of big wave surfing.
  • Aaron Gold: An accomplished big wave surfer from Hawaii who holds the Guinness World Record for the largest wave paddled into at 63 feet.
  • Shawn Dollar: A Californian surfer known for winning the 2010 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Award and earning a Guinness World Record for paddling into a 61-foot wave.
  • Benjamin Sanchis: A French surfer whose fearless approach to big waves has earned him recognition, including a nomination for the 2014 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Award for riding an estimated 100-foot wave at Nazaré.

Surf Breaks and Big Wave Surfing Locations

Nazaré, Portugal

Nazaré, located in Portugal, is home to some of the world’s largest waves. The infamous Praia do Norte beach is a popular spot for big wave surfers due to its unique underwater canyon that funnels powerful swells toward the shoreline. In 2011, Hawaiian surfer Garrett McNamara set a world record by riding a 78-foot wave in Nazaré.

Cortes Bank, California

Cortes Bank, situated off the coast of California, is a submerged seamount that produces massive waves. The location is roughly 100 miles southwest of Los Angeles and is known for its unpredictable and heavy surf. The powerful waves at Cortes Bank are created by swells moving over the shallow bank, making it one of the most challenging big wave surfing spots in the world.

Teahupo’o, Tahiti

Teahupo’o, located in Tahiti, is known for its powerful and fast-breaking waves. The legendary reef break is famous for its heavy, hollow, and sometimes dangerous swells. Teahupo’o has become a popular destination for big wave surfers, particularly during the annual Billabong Pro Tahiti, one of the world’s most prestigious surfing competitions.

Jaws, Hawaii

Jaws (also known as Pe?ahi) is a big wave surf break located on the north shore of Maui, Hawaii. This break is notorious for its massive swells, often reaching heights of 80 feet or more. Big wave surfers from around the world gather at Jaws to experience the adrenaline rush of riding these enormous waves. Its remote location and massive swells make it a challenging and thrilling spot for experienced surfers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Largest wave in history?

The largest wave in history was recorded after the 1958 Lituya Bay mega-tsunami in Alaska, reaching a colossal height of around 1,720 feet (524 meters). This event resulted from a massive rockslide caused by an earthquake, generating an enormous displacement of water and a wave of unprecedented size.

Location of tallest surfing waves?

The tallest surfing waves can be found in several locations around the world. One of the most renowned spots is Nazaré, Portugal, where surfers ride waves that can reach up to 80 feet (24 meters) in height. Other popular big wave surfing destinations include Jaws in Maui, Hawaii, Mavericks in California, USA, and Teahupo’o in Tahiti.

Largest Lake Superior wave?

Lake Superior is the largest and deepest of the North American Great Lakes. The largest recorded wave on Lake Superior occurred in October 2017, with wave height measurements reaching 28.8 feet (8.8 meters).

Biggest Gulf of Mexico wave?

The biggest recorded wave in the Gulf of Mexico took place during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. During this tropical storm, a wave was measured at a staggering 91 feet (27.7 meters).

Has a 100-foot wave occurred?

Although there is no incontrovertible evidence of a 100-foot (30 meters) surfable wave, the prospects of such a wave occurring are not entirely impossible. Measuring the exact height of waves is difficult, but Antonio Laureano rode a 100 foot wave at Nazare in 2020.

Storm waves size limit?

The maximum size limit of storm waves is not well-defined, as ocean conditions depend on various factors, including wind speed, duration, fetch, and bathymetry. However, researchers have discovered that wave heights tend to increase with wind speeds, especially when storms occur over extensive open water regions. It is, therefore, plausible that under ideal conditions, storm waves could reach significant heights, although predicting an absolute size limit remains a challenge.

Hayley Gordon

Hayley Gordon has been surfing for over 20 years. Riding both shortboards and longboards, she's traveled the world to surf but mainly sticks to her two home locations of San Diego and Long Island.

Related Articles

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Back to top button
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x