Laird Hamilton: the pioneer of professional big wave surfing

Big wave surfing is the ultimate celebration of extreme surfing. Challenging deadly waves in harsh weather and ocean conditions requires a very serious approach.

Big wave surfers are not interested in performance. Forget perfect cutbacks, stunning floaters or breathless aerial antics. The profile of a big wave rider is the result of several unparalleled personal characteristics.

Fear is always present in a 50-foot wave. Fear is the best way of managing the risk of paddling for a huge wave face, which doesn't tell you what is going to happen and how it is going to break.

Monster waves tend to move quickly and force surfers to stay out of the powerful whitewater. Big waves are lethal even for the most experienced extreme riders. The best big wave surf spots in the world have claimed several lives in the last decades.

Malik Joyeux, Sion Milosky, Moto Watanabe, Mark Foo, Donnie Solomon, Todd Chesser, Dickie Cross and Peter Davi have passed away in extreme surfing conditions. Wipeouts, severe coral reef injuries and drowning are the most common causes of death in big wave surfing.

The pioneers of big wave surfing started spotting impossible killer rides in the 1940s. In the 1960s, waves like Pipeline and Waimea increased the popularity of paddling into new wave heights. Going over the falls was on the daily menu.

Laird Hamilton is probably the first professional big wave surfer of all time. The waterman from Maui defies fast, hollow and high waves with a full-time training and previous preparation. Hamilton, the father of tow-in surfing, has already ridden all big wave spots in the Hawaiian Islands.

Laird was born with the gene of defying danger. He designs and prepares his own surfboards and wetsuits. Wherever heavy waves break, Hamilton is there to ride them: Mavericks, Cortes Bank, Dungeons. You name them.

In 2000, Laird Hamilton surfed what has been considered the heaviest wave of all time. The "Millennium Wave" was ridden in Teahupoo, Tahiti, and set a new standard for big wave surfing.

Garrett McNamara is one of the toughest big wave challengers. After riding a spectacular 78-foot wave in Nazaré, Portugal, the Hawaiian waterman entered the Guinness World Records with the biggest wave ever surfed.

The list of the 55 best big wave surfers of all time is an exclusive extreme surfing club. From Jaws and Mavericks, to Puerto Escondido, Punta Lobos, Ghost Trees, Belharra, Shipstern Bluff, Nazaré and Todos Santos, these riders have set a new scale when it comes to define giant waves. They are:

Al Mennie
Andy Irons
Anthony Tashnick
Ben Wilkinson
Bob Pike
Brock Little
Buzzy Trent
Carlos Burle
Chris Bertish
Danilo Couto
Darrick Doerner
Darryl Virostko
Dave Kalama
Dave Wassel
Eddie Aikau
Frank Solomon
Gabriel Villaran
Garrett McNamara
Brad Gerlach
Gerry Lopez
Grant "Twiggy" Baker
Grant Washburn
Greg Long
Greg Noll
Ian Walsh
Jamie Sterling
Jay Moriarity
Jeff Clark
Jeff Rowley
Jose Angel
João de Macedo
Kai Barger
Keala Kennelly
Ken Bradshaw
Ken Colllins
Koby Abberton
Laird Hamilton
Laurie Towner
Mark Foo
Mark Healey
Mark Mathews
Mark Visser
Maya Gabeira
Mike Parsons
Nathan Fletcher
Pat Curren
Peter Mel
Ramon Navarro
Richie Fitzgerald
Ross Clarke-Jones
Shane Dorian
Sion Milosky
Zach Wormhoudt