First things first. This isn’t to be taken lightly cos it certainly ain’t for the feint hearted, and involves major risks. The guys and gals that fearlessly take on these monsters are exceptional thrill seekers who go to astronomical lengths to command and conquer. They push their bodies and their minds to the limits and train hard. Very hard. Surfing has indeed been taken to otherworldly heights by these superhumans… leaving most of us with only dreams of taking on a ridiculously steep face in a mega set at Maverick’s!
What exactly is it?
To be classed as big wave surfing you’re looking at starting around the 20ft mark, and far exceeding the 50ft mark if you’re prepared to travel, risk big and experience utter mayhem.
The big wave surfer favours using a gun, with the paddle in enthusiasts needing to opt for bigger boards than those going for the tow-in option. Tow-in boards have straps, like water skiing. Other considerations include leashes. Some swear by them… others avoid them totally, to dodge the chances of getting tangled and held down in the depths. But leash fans should be aware that there are special beasty versions available, designed and tested to meet the extreme demands of the big wave environment.
There are several famous titans such as Maverick’s, Teahupoo and Jaws and increasing numbers of riders wanna push their limits and prove their skills and bottle against them. If you’re feeling ready to test your nerve you’ve gotta get yourself to one of the spots, so to get the low down on further big waves check them out here.
Alternatively, if you just wanna give your eyeballs a thrill, watch some major Teahupoo footage below! And if you’re far far away from all ‘the greats’ don’t despair - as you’ll see, even places like the chilly Irish coast can sometimes awaken too!
Best Teahupoo shots -
Teahupoo – inside the monster documentary
Big Wave Surfing in Ireland
Tow-in or paddle?
You sure need some guts to turn and paddle into one of the giants, and for years, limitations from guys’ minds and boards halted progress in taming these beasts.
Then Laird Hamilton and Darrick Doerner jazzed things up in the early nineties, by pioneering the tow-in trend. This method utilises jet-skis to propel the surfer into the monster. Whether you love or hate this development, it can’t be denied that it’s played a big part in accelerating the heights surfers can now easily attempt to undertake -in both the paddle and tow-in arenas. Watch Riding Giants for a good background on all this (find out more in our movies section).
Otherwise, below are a couple of clips showing the difference between paddling in and being towed in. Enjoy.
Paddle in session at Jaws
Tow in surfing in Portugal
As you’re probably aware, the dangers of big wave riding are real, and formidable. The sheer force of wiping out can leave surfers with nasty injuries and if you’re unlucky enough to experience a multiple hold-down, you could be looking at a dangerously close touch with death. For some real life accounts, watch on:
Maya’s big wave story…
Greg Long talks about his Near Death Drowning Experience:
Our safety must for the big waves is really simple – Possess expert level surfing skills. Even with this requirement ticked off though, you’ve then got to have the determination to train to ensure you have increased body strength, stellar lung capacity and a zen-like mind to keep any fear in check.
Below are a selection of clips on how to prepare, but before you look, check out this neat article on the ten-commandments of big wave surfing.
Jet ski practise - Before daring to go anywhere near a real monster practise tow-ins extensively first... Watch Mercedes Maidana in action here.
Mark Visser shares his tips in these little beauts.
Training for big waves
How to hold your breath:
Shane Fontanilla talks drown proofing for big waves:
For a motivational look at world class big wave training, click on!
Get some insight into what goes down at a Surf survival course:
For tips and tricks whatever wave size you’re aiming for, click and search here.
Given the number of surfers worldwide, there aren’t actually many crazy fools both ready and willing to take on the real beasts. And good job too… if we all took it up, there’d be plenty more injuries and tragedies occurring. The best of the best know exactly what they’re doing and that they’re not infallible. Watch some of the experts at play below, or find and follow your fav heroes in our riders section.
Shane Dorian’s best wave:
Mark Healy going left at Maverick’s
Peaking – Peter Mel @ Maverick’s:
If that’s captured your interest, follow the main comps. For the pros that take the big wave route there are several each year including Mavericks, Jaws, the Eddie and the BWT aka Big wave Tour through WSL (World Surf League). Keep up with the ‘when and where’ in our events section.
Lastly, once you can ride these monsters you’ll probably want to record your awesomeness. For some tips on mounting a GoPro to your gun, watch big wave surfer Jamie Sterling’s tutorial.
Peaking - Peter Mel @ Maverick's:
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