The World’s Top Five Surf Spots
From its origins on the remote islands of Polynesia, surfing has become an international craze that drives its devotees around the world in search of the perfect wave. Out of the planet’s 372,000 miles of coastline we’ve selected these five spots as the best places to catch a break, but be warned these are strictly for the serious surfer...
5 - Nazare, Portugal
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Portugal might not be the place that leaps to most people’s minds first when thinking of surf destinations. But the gigantic Atlantic waves that pummel the coastline near Nazare have really put the once sleepy fishing village on the international surfing map.
The world record for the biggest wave ever surfed has been set at Nazare’s Praia do Norte three times in the last decade. The most recent occasion was in 2017 when Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa rode an incredible 80 foot wave.
It’s clear this spot is just for the top surfers, but beware if you’re thinking about going to watch them, the waves at Nazare are so big that they can endanger even the spectators on the shore.
4 - Teahupo’o, Tahiti
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Captain James Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to witness surfing when they spied the locals riding the waves around their ship off the coast of Tahiti back in 1769.
Even now Tahiti is still one of the world’s top surf destinations. The mighty reef break at Teahupo’o (“the place of broken skulls”) is the island’s most revered and feared wave, reaching up to 23 feet before crashing into a shallow shoreline.
In August 2000 American Laird Hamilton created history at Teahupo’o by catching what has been called “the heaviest wave ever ridden”. Check out the surf documentary “Riding Giants” to witness the moment.
3 - Uluwatu, Bali
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Known for its 11th century Hindu temple on the cliffs above the beach, and the crowds of surfers worshiping the waves below, Uluwatu is the most legendary surfing destination on Bali (the “Island of the Gods”).
Uluwatu came to international attention following the release of the 1971 surf documentary “Morning of the Earth”. Before long young surfers from around the globe were making pilgrimages to the beach hidden away beneath the temple. The Balinese believe that their gods have rewarded the surfers’ devotion by blessing Uluwatu with perfect waves.
Uluwatu offers consistent surf spread across five different breaks and is recommended for experienced surfers only.
2 - Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa
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Serious surfers generally consider South Africa’s Jeffrey’s-Bay (J-Bay) to be home to the best right hand break in the world.
The area around J-Bay was brought to prominence by the celebrated filmmaker Bruce Brown in his classic 1960s documentary “Endless Summer”, which followed two Californians in their pursuit of sun and surf around the world. Surfers who came in the wake of Brown found J-Bay to be even faster than the waves at the nearby beaches that had featured in the film.
Bay contains ten different surf spots, the most famous of which is Supertubes, a very fast break over 300 metres in length. Visit in July when the annual World Surf League event is on to see how the best surfers handle one of the world’s most iconic waves.
The waves aren’t the only thing to watch out for here though. In 2015 Australian surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by, and successfully fought off, a great white shark while competing at J-Bay.
1 - Pipeline, Hawaii
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The start of surfing’s rise to international prominence can be traced to 1885, when three teenage Hawaiian princes took a break from their boarding school in California to go catch some waves on their boards down in Santa Cruz.
Thanks to the Beach Boys and others, California went on to become heavily associated with surfing. But there’s no doubt that it is Polynesia, and especially Hawaii, that remains the sport’s spiritual home. It’s said that in ancient Polynesia the man who could surf best was made chief of the tribe. If that’s right there’s no doubt which wave the wannabe chiefs of the Hawaiian island of Oahu would have had to prove themselves on - the legendary Pipeline.
The North Shore of Oahu is a paradise for surfers, with around 36 world-class breaks packed into a seven mile stretch, but Pipeline stands out as the most famous and dangerous. The waves there reach up to 20 feet and form enormous hollow tubes for surfers to ride at great speeds whilst trying to avoid crashing into the spires of lava that spike up from the cavernous reefs below. It’s a terrifying combination which has seen Pipeline dubbed “the deadliest wave in the world”.
Every December the world’s top professionals test themselves against the break in the Billabong Pipeline Masters, which is the final event of both the Triple Crown of Surfing and the World Surf League Championship Tour. Even now Pipeline in Hawaii is still the place where the best modern surfers come to try to claim their crown.