Mar 07 2008
Surfers don’t often think of themselves as spectators, especially when the surf’s good, you’re going to go surf. It’s why I would make a crappy surf photographer. I’d rather be out there surfing. Still we all appreciate watching a good wave, here’s a collection of the biggest and most impressive. Surprisingly, they’re all very accessible and worth the trip. When I was living in San Francisco, I saw Maverick’s break a few times and watched the 2006 Mavericks contest from the bluff.
Where: Jaws, Maui, Hawaii
Why: Jaws is the polished, blue water, sunny big wave with the claim to the heaviest and biggest in the world. Because of the size and speed of the waves it is almost exclusively a tow-surfing spot. But the tow surfing allows surfers to exploit the wave to its fullest, pulling giant carves of 50 ft faces and pulling into 20 ft. barrels. Beauty can be deceptive, Jaws and Mavericks rival each other in degree of heaviness with many surfers claiming Jaws takes the title. The wave is similar to Mavericks in that it breaks close to a mile offshore. There’s a high over-looking bluff to watch from.
When: Winter. The same giant swell that pound the California coast, generally hit Hawaii first in their march across the Pacific.
Where: Ghost Trees (Pescadero Point), Pebble Beach, CA.
Why: Ghost Trees, a relatively new big wave spot, ranks up with Mavericks and Jaws for the heaviest, biggest waves in the world. Think 50 ft waves breaking, grinding, and throwing massive barrel less than a hundred yards from a jagged rocky coast. The line-up is littered with boils and exposed rocks sits just inside of the impact zone. Peter Davi, a Santa Cruz local, lost his life on the big swell of December 4, 2007. You will never be closer to giant breaking waves in your life.
When: Ghost Trees beaks on the same big winter swells that Mavericks break on. November to March.
Where: Mavericks. Half Moon Bay, CA.
Why: Mavericks put California on the map for big waves. Previous to Mavericks, surfers thought Hawaii was the only place to go for big waves. It’s ranks as one of the biggest, heaviest waves on the planet. It’s cold, often windy or foggy, and the inside is littered with huge rocks named the “graveyard.” Oh yeah, a board was bitten by a large great white there a few years ago. Mark Foo, a Hawaiian big-wave legend, died there in 1994. There’s an annual Mavericks Big Wave Contest held every year. Mavericks breaks close to a mile out from the shore. The best viewing place for the waves is a bluff overlooking waves. And even though you’re almost a mile back, it doesn’t diminish the impact of a 6 ft surfer hurling down the face of 60 ft wave one bit.
When: Winter. If you’re lucky and time it right, you could see Ghost Trees and Mavericks break on the same swell.
Where: Waimea Bay, Oahu, Hawaii
Why: Although, the waves of Waimea Bay are a step down from those of Mavericks or the other big wave spots, Waimea is the original big wave. Greg Noll and a handful of surfers first surfed the spot in 1957. It remains the North Shore’s big wave proving ground and is middle of winter surf Mecca-the North Shore. On a big winter swell, packs of locals and pros paddle out through the crushing shorebreak and fight to surf the waves. Annually, the Quicksilver Eddie Aikua invitational big wave contest is held when the surf is determined to be large enough (because of the strict criteria, the last time the contest was held was 2006). During a big swell, the Kam Highway will be packed with cars and people watching the surf at Waimea.
Where: Pipeline, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
Why: Every surfer should go see Pipeline break. While not as big as Waimea and technically not a big wave spot, Pipeline is one of the heaviest most impressive sights in surfing. It is ground zero for the professional surf scene in December. Every pro in the world is on the North Shore, and any surfer who wants to try to prove themselves paddles out here. Proving yourself at Pipeline earns the respect of the surf world. It’s also one of the best arena to see surfing in its greatest glory. 20 ft waves pound the reef less than 20 yards from the beach.
Honorable mentions go to Sunset Beach (practically anywhere on the North Shore!), Newport Wedge, Puerto Escondido (Mexico).