Surferpedia - The Wiki Encyclopedia of Surfing

Big wave surfing is a discipline in surfing where riders paddle into waves which are at least 20 feet high, on surfboards known as guns or rhino chasers. The bigger the wave, the faster it travels, and the bigger the surfboard needed to catch it. A larger board allows a rider to paddle fast enough to catch the wave and has the advantage of being more stable, but it also limits their maneuverability.

This discipline in surfing was the genesis of the cross-over sport known as tow-in surfing. While many riders participate in both sports, they remain very distinct activities. Tow-in Surfing is only for the most experienced of big wave surfers.


In a big wave wipeout, a breaking wave can push the rider down 20 to 50 feet below the surface. Once they stop spinning around, they have to quickly regain their equilibrium and figure out which way is up. They may have less than 20 seconds to get to the surface for a breath of air before the next wave hits them. Additionally, the water pressure at a depth of 20-50 feet can be strong enough to rupture one's eardrums. Strong currents and water action at those depths can also slam a surfer into a reef or even the floor, which can result in severe injuries or even death.

One of the greatest dangers is the risk of being held down by two or more consecutive waves without the chance to reach the surface for air. Surviving a triple hold-down is extremely difficult.

Despite these hazards, very few big-wave surfers have ever died in the practice of the sport, with the notable exception of Mark Foo, who died surfing Mavericks. Todd Chesser who died at Alligator Rock on the North Shore of Oahu on February 14th, 1997 and Donnie Soloman died exactly a year later at Waimea Bay.

Big wave surf breaks[]

  • Waimea Bay, Hawaii
  • Mavericks, California
  • Ghost Trees, California
  • The Wedge, California
  • Teahupoo, Tahiti
  • Jaws, Hawaii
  • Shipstern, Tasmania, Australia
  • Pico Alto, Peru
  • Dungeons, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Sunset, Cape Town, South Africa

Big wave surfers[]

Big wave surf films[]


  • Matt Warshaw: Maverick's: the story of big-wave surfing, Chronicle Books, ISBN 0-8118-2652-X

Bruce Jenkins 'North Shore Chronicles'

External links[]