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 takes 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 get away of the powerful white water. 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 to eye impossible killer rides in the 1940's. In the 1960's, waves like Pipeline and Waimea increased the popularity of paddling in to new wave heights. Going over the falls was the daily menu.

Laird Hamilton is the first professional big wave surfer. 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, takes on the entire big wave spots of the Hawaiian Islands, in helicopter style.

Laird is 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.

In 2000, Laird Hamilton surfs what is considered the heaviest wave of all time. The "Millennium Wave" was ridden in the reef of Teahupoo, in 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 55 best big wave surfers of all time is an exclusive extreme surfing club. From Jaws to Mavericks, Puerto Escondido, Punta Lobos, Ghost Trees, Belharra, Shipstern Bluff and Todos Santos, these riders have set up a new scale in the definition of 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
George Downing
Brad Gerlach
Gerry Lopez
Grant Twiggy Baker
Grant Washburn
Greg Long
Greg Noll
Ian Walsh
Jamie Sterling
Jay Moriarty
Jeff Clark
Jeff Rowley
Jose Angel
João de Macedo
Kai Barger
Keala Kennely
Ken Bradshaw
Ken Colllins
Koby Abberton
Kohl Christensen
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