If you choose to ride a wave it means you’re putting your life at risk, regardless of what you ride, and even on small days. That said, there are surf spots that command respect because they are a notch above the rest in terms of danger and the prospects of severe injury or death. I’d made a list in a long abandoned blog and felt that it was time to update the list…. Only to find that many of these haven’t changed because fear is something that does not waver much in life.
So here we go.
15. Frontón – Canary Islands
One of the most high performance bodyboarding waves on the planet is also one of the most treacherous. Either left or right, this place demands respect. Sure, people have seen the beautiful lineup, but the reef is shallow and can tackle 15-foot surf to ask the question, do you feel lucky?
14. Luna Park – Australia
I once asked current bodyboarding world champion Jared Houston what were some of the scariest spots he’d ever surfed and he said Luna Park. Although not as popular as other big wave spots, just one look and you see it’s a cold water maelstrom begging for flesh.
13. Waimea Bay – North Shore of Oahu
After people were able to tackle huge Makaha, they pondered about Waimea. It wasn’t until Greg Knoll and a bunch of other crazy people decided to dance with Lady Luck that this wave showed what big wave riding was originally about, going big or going home. During huge swells, 40-50 foot sets have been known to close out the bay and it is a wave that can punish you in a variety of ways, from pitching full throttle on the takeoff, to that treacherous inside shorebreak that can easily handle double overhead closeouts to reward you for your effort.
12. Cave Rock - South Africa
I remember the caption from a bodyboarding magazine as if it was today. The picture? A perfect 8 foot right hand wave. The text: 14 shark attacks in 14 weeks. Although South Africa is notorious for shark attacks, few places put surfers as much at risk as Cave Rock. The temptation is high, but the consequences can be dire with many a fatal attack recorded in this pristine and beautiful break.
11. Dungeons – South Africa
Big Waves AND Sharks. Plus, the place is called DUNGEONS. Seriously, this is for people who like Russian Roulette AND Surf. It packs a punch and a bite in more ways than one, being a true Great White breeding ground.
10. Cortes Bank – Pacific Ocean
This is NOT California. 100 miles off the coast is NOWHERE. Yet this sea bank represents an island that would rather play at being a reef. The potential of big waves here is as high as it gets. Pretty much if you have the right wind, that place can handle anything thrown at it. The challenge are the conditions, since it is so exposed and so far off, catching it just right is the biggest hurdle. Oh and you know HUGE SURF. But people have ridden it and it still creeps me out. It has a generous amount of seals, also known as Great White food not to mention the fact that you’re in the open ocean, so who knows what the hell is swimming around that lineup?
9. Ghost Trees – California
Seriously, someone is an expert at naming ominous surf spots. Located in California, this huge right hander means that you will get misty lineups and huge waves. I’m pretty sure the PWC ban still remains, but this place could tackle huge waves and unfortunately claimed a couple of lives in the process.
8. Shipstern’s Bluff – Tasmania
It’s all about the notorious step at Shipstern’s. It’s not enough you’re riding waves that are in the 15-20+ foot range, you have to negotiate a step that can either line you up perfectly for the ride of your life or absolutely destroy you. Plenty of people have also found out how easy it is to get injured at this place. Oh and did I mention the step? Yeah. That step is nasty.
7. Pea’Hi AKA “Jaws” – Maui
Pretty much the biggest barrels you can get in the world are at this world-renowned Maui break commonly known as JAWS. Pushing big wave riding to the extreme, Pea’Hi is the rare big wave that allows riders to get barreled if they’re willing to pull into a wave where a MAC Truck can easily fit through. Wipeouts here are often described as “violent” and when you see the amount of water that is moving, you can’t help but believe every single word, while still insisting that it’s better to watch from shore.
6. El Gringo – Arica, Chile
There are few if any waves on the planet that have injured more people in contests than El Gringo. With a heavy right hander that can give you the biggest ramps to air off, and a left hander that ends up on borderline dry and jagged reef. A couple of year’s back Ripcurl held a standup surf contest and there were about 4 injuries. They haven’t been too keen to return, and for good reason: it is one mean ass wave.
5. Nazare – Portugal
When you see waves the size of ten-story buildings breaking, you stand in awe on the cliff next to the break. That anyone thinks it’s a good idea to head out on the big days shows just how hard big wave surfers are pushing it. I mean, just look at the picture and tell me you think that’s a good idea.
4. Teahupoo – Tahiti
Perfection meets destructive force. Teahupoo is the type of wave you draw in your notebooks. It is unreal, beautiful, and completely intimidating. Sucking at times 12 and 15 ft. below sea level, and with lips as thick as the biggest waves many people have ridden in their lives, Teahupoo is a hydro-kinetic freak of nature that has injured countless people and I think the only spot I know of that has killed surfers from the impact on the reef alone.
3. Mavericks – California
One of the premier big wave spots in California, Mavericks has murky, cold, brown water, sharks, a sketchy paddle out and shall forever be known as the spot where Mark Foo, a very well known and well liked big wave surfer, lost his life. People have been left hanging on the rocks gripping to not be taken by the surge. It is a place not to be taken lightly. Even so, Jeff Clark used to surf this place alone for years. What a hellman.
2. Banzai Pipeline – North Shore of Oahu
Everyone who has ever ridden a wave knows Pipeline. It is one of the most photographed waves on the planet and as beautiful as it is deadly. Last time I did this list, I put Mavericks in front of Pipeline. Taking a closer look at the death toll and the close calls the break has had in the last year alone, it got bumped up to #2 on the merits of reef caves, unpredictability, power, and deadliness.
1. Shark Island – Cronulla, Australia
Pound for pound, this shall forever be the scariest wave I think I’ve ever seen, simply because it is an unpredictable monster and you’re throwing the dice on every single ride. Super Shallow, super sketchy, a nasty end bowl called Surge, and has severely injured many riders. Although other spots have taken more lives, the Island is notorious for showing you a line that looks like heaven only to dump you into hell on the rocks.
So what do you think of this list? Anything else you'd like to see me list it up? Then drop a comment and let me know.
Peace, love, and air maki rolls.