25 Dangerous Surf Spots That Even Pros Are Scared Of
These are the world's most dangerous surf spots, and they are talked about in elite surf circles in hushed, reverent tones.
25 Dangerous Surf Spots That Even the Pros Are Scared Of
Surfing any wave is an accomplishment — from delicate undulations that barely top a foot, to legendary walls of water that max out at well over 30 feet. But there are some surf spots that are reserved exclusively for the professionals, if they are even surfed at all.
These are the world's most dangerous surf spots, and they are talked about in elite surf circles in hushed, reverent tones. From the shark-infested waters of South Africa to the powerhouses off the coasts of California and Mexico, there are waves around the world that will leave you humbled by the sheer force and magnitude of nature.
When these waves roll in, even the most respected and veteran surfers hold their breath (and say a little prayer). We rounded up the 25 most dangerous surf spots around the world that can make surf legends give a little gasp and go weak in the knees.
Location: Oahu, Hawaii
Highlights: Oahu's North Shore is the ultimate when it comes to surfing in Hawaii — maybe even the world. The shallow water and coral reef creates one of the most dimensionally perfect barrels on the planet.
What Makes Pipeline So Dangerous
Unfortunately, the reason for its perfection is also the reason for its deadliness. Pipeline’s shape and shallow reef creates heavy waves that can be (and have been) killers.
Often, when the waves do not turn deadly, they have instead caused career-ending injuries.
Highlights: Teahupoo comes with the reputation of being one of the heaviest waves in the world. Most days, this swath of electric blue water sweeps seamlessly over a gorgeous and brightly colored reef, known to the locals as the "End of the Road."
What Makes Teahupoo So Dangerous
The semi-circular angle of the reef creates a unique shape of the wave. Sometimes, Teahupoo can transform into a megabeast that is wider than it is tall, which can often look like a wall of water rushing at you.
These waves can be either the best surf of your life ... or the worst.
Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Highlights: Tarqua is a beach break that sits at the entrance of the Lagoon of Iddo in Lagos. This wedging peak makes for a really fun, great ride. The community of local surfers around Tarkwa is also particularly special. It's an atmosphere of celebration, support and a passion for the sport.
What Makes Tarkwa So Dangerous
In a word? Pollution. Sadly, Tarkwa sees millions of gallons of raw sewage and industrial waste pumped into the ocean near the bay each year.
It's not uncommon to surf past garbage and, once in a while, a dead body. No, thanks!
22. Shipsterns Bluff
Location: Tasmania, Australia
Highlights: This secluded corner of southeastern Tasmania is known for its depth of the ocean floor, which produces a wave that changes its form as it breaks. It is often regarded as one of the most unpredictable spots to surf.
What Makes Shipsterns Bluff So Dangerous
The unpredictability of the wave, for one. Secondly, the frigid Antarctic waters can swell up to 25 feet in height.
Often, these waters are also teeming with great white sharks, which is not the most welcome surfing company.
21. El Gringo
Location: Arica, Chile
Highlights: El Gringo also goes by the nickname, "The Chilean Pipeline," thanks to the perch barrel shape of the wave. It can be found on an outer island about a mile out to sea. Waves can hit as high as 15 feet or more.
What Makes El Gringo So Dangerous
The coast of Chile is known for its urchin-infested waters, but it gets even pricklier at El Gringo. Not only that, the last section of the wave tends to break on dry reef, which is why you'll see many surfers entering the wave with helmets on.
The entry process is an undertaking in itself — surfers have to stand on a rock in front of the breaking wave and wait for a calm moment.
Location: El Granada, California
Highlights: Some of big-wave surfing's best moments have happened at Mavericks, just off the coast of Northern California's Half Moon Bay. Swells can be as high as 30 feet and more. Those who have surfed it are staunch devotees. Plus, surfing Northern California means that the waters will be far less crowded because the water temperature is much colder.
What Makes Mavericks So Dangerous
The waves that break at Mavericks can travel for days across deep water before breaking on the shallow reef and crashing with a deafening boom. Waves come in fast and are unpredictable.
This area is also home to The Cauldron, which is a deep hole in the ocean floor that creates intense surges with each swell.
19. The Cave
Location: Ericeira, Portugal
Highlights: It may be one of the heaviest waves in Europe, but The Cave provides one of the most perfectly shaped waves on the planet.
What Makes The Cave So Dangerous
Sea urchins and a very shallow reef are two reasons why The Cave is such a dangerous spot to surf.
You'll see only professional surfers here, and most of them are heading into the waves wearing helmets.
Location: Western Australia
Highlights: Cyclops is one of the least surfed waves in the world, due to the fact that it can only be accessed by boat. It is also one of the newest waves on the international surf map. The change of depth is intense, which causes Cyclops to explode in giant bursts of energy and to take on a shape like no other wave in the world. Its oval barrels is what gives it its Cyclops name.
What Makes Cyclops So Dangerous
The waves are impossible to paddle, which means you will need to take a boat to get there. One wrong move and the waves will send you hurdling head on into a bed of rocks.
And don’t forget: Western Australia is one of the most remote places in the world, so if anything does go awry, you are hours from the nearest hospital.
17. Desert Point
Location: Lombok, Indonesia
Highlights: The far Southwest coast of Lombok — where the island sticks out in the shape of a boot towards Bali — is where you can find Desert Point. Large ground swells from the south produce some of the longest left-hand barrels in the world.
What Makes Desert Point So Dangerous
The wave itself isn't as dangerous as the risk of malaria and the overcrowding of the region. Those are what make this part of the world higher risk.
That and the fact that any medical help is hours away.
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Highlights: Surfing South Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially at Dungeons. This surf spot can host up to 45-foot swells that come in from the South Indian Ocean. Dungeons is also the host of the annual Big Waves Contest.
What Makes Dungeons So Dangerous
The waters around South Africa are known for being shark-infested, and Dungeons is no different. The size and power of the waves are also incredibly intimidating.
The stretch of water is vast, which also creates the possibility for sneaker waves that can catch a surfer off guard.
15. First Point
Location: Malibu, California
Highlights: First Point is located right next to the pier in front of the lagoon in Malibu. It's ideal for longboards, with gentle, waist-high waves.
What Makes First Point So Dangerous
Gentle waves turn deadly when the waters are packed with everyone in town. That's what happens when you get perfect waves that aren't too powerful — everyone wants to try their hand (or feet) at them.
What that creates is an overcrowded canvas, where the odds of hitting another surfer are almost guaranteed.
Location: Maui, Hawaii
Highlights: Just off the North Shore of Maui, underneath the towering cliffs, lives Jaws (aka Peahi). The wave was discovered by windsurfers but has evolved to become a paddle-in surf spot among the professionals. It’s fast and hard, but a favorite among the top dogs in surfing.
What Makes Jaws So Dangerous
The velocity of the wave is what makes it so fun, but it’s also what makes it so dangerous.
At the other end of the wave is a sheer cliff wall, so if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, it can be a perilous, maybe even deadly, ride.
13. One Palm Point
Location: West Java, Indonesia
Highlights: Where can you find a left-hand barrel that runs for almost a mile? One Palm Point, just off the coast of West Java. It's a gorgeous wave that is chased by only the most daring and experienced.
What Makes One Palm Point So Dangerous
If you do make it out to One Palm Point, you'll likely see surfers in customized body armor suits and full-on helmets. Why? It's because the mega wave crashes down onto dry reef for the entire ride.
What's more, the nearest medical facility is half a day's travel away.
Location: Pais Vasco, Spain
Highlights: Surging off the coast of northern Spain, Agiti is known for its huge waves that taunt even the most experienced of surfers. Big waves are rare, but when the conditions are just right, this epic surf spot explodes to life, breaking in a small bay that is only 650-feet wide.
What Makes Agiti So Dangerous
The rocky cliffs that surround the Bay of Biscay create dangerous conditions that have been the cause of numerous shipwrecks over the years. Imagine what the conditions can do to just a single human on a lonely surfboard.
The waves break close to shore, some breaking on massive submerged rocks.
11. St. Leu
Location: Reunion Island (a French territory)
Highlights: Back in the day, St. Leu was once a thriving surf spot, known for the first Rip Curl Search event and the left-hand reef point that produced gorgeous waves.
What Makes St. Leu So Dangerous
Sadly, the surf industry here has been all but abandoned thanks to the sheer volume of sharks in the water.
Granted, many surf destinations come with the risk of sharks, but St. Leu happens to have an exceedingly high concentration, which has led to many shark attacks over the years.
10. Cape Fear
Location: Sydney, Australia
Highlights: Twenty miles south of Sydney, off the coast of Cape Solander, Cape Fear is actually a small wave in comparison to some of Australia's other big breaks. It was the site of the Red Bull Cape Fear competition, which was held in August 2014.
What Makes Cape Fear So Dangerous
Cape Fear is one of the heaviest waves in the world and breaks close to shore, meaning riders of the wave could find themselves headed face first into the cliffs that surround the bay.
The wave itself is only surfable up to 10 feet, and yet it can provide the perfect conditions for a disastrous ride.
9. New Smyrna Inlet
Location: New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Highlights: The waves at New Smyrna Inlet don't even come close to comparing with the world's biggest waves. In fact, the waves here hardly ever climb past 6 feet. They are some of the most laidback waves to ride in warm water that is easy to reach. It’s what lies beneath these waves that makes it so intimidating.
What Makes New Smyrna Inlet So Dangerous
In a word? Sharks. New Smyrna Inlet has the local nickname, "Shark Bite Capital of the World."
What's more, New Smyrna Beach has one of the only rideable waves in Florida, which means that you'll be competing with literally every other surfer in the state for a chance to ride a wave.
8. Cortes Bank
Location: 100 miles off the coast of Southern California
Highlights: Cortes Bank is one of those surf breaks that you need to see to believe. It's rumored to hold the biggest surfable waves in the world depending on the conditions and time of year. That said, getting there is no easy feat, so you have to be completely devoted to the cause — and you have to be pretty darn good at surfing.
What Makes Cortes Bank So Dangerous
It's a tumultuous part of the ocean, where shipwrecks are more than common, lingering not far beneath the surface of the water. Many of these shipwrecks have rebar sticking up like spires, and the waves crash perilously close.
Not only that, sharks are not uncommon in these parts, and there is absolutely no land in sight for miles.
Location: Nazare, Portugal
Highlights: It is, without a doubt, one of the largest waves in the world. Expect walls of water nearly 70- to 80-feet high, crushing Guinness World Records over the years.
What Makes Nazare So Dangerous
This wave has recently been removed from the Big Wave Tour, and most surfers have stopped trying to conquer it. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, it’s also important to note that the waves break on the edge of a very deep underwater canyon.
There is almost no room for error, and nowhere in the area is considered to be a “safety zone.”
6. The Wedge
Location: Newport Beach, California
Highlights: It doesn't get much more quintessential surf culture than Southern California. Located at the southeast end of the Balboa Peninsula, it produces massive waves that make it internationally known for surfing and bodysurfing. It can produce waves up to 30-feet high.
What Makes The Wedge So Dangerous
The Wedge is created from the intersection of the beach and the manmade jetty on the west side of the Newport harbor entrance. With a swell coming in from the right direction, you're looking at mega waves.
The screaming crowds that come to watch the daredevils attempting to tackle the swells makes this one of the most adrenaline-pumping surf spots in the world.
5. Mullaghmore Head
Location: County Sligo, Ireland
Highlights: Ireland may not be the traditional surf spot, but Mullaghmore Head breaks the mold. It's often compared with waves like Teahupoo and is described as Ireland's ultimate big wave. And non-surfers love it for the white sandy beaches and the beautiful rolling hills.
What Makes Mullaghmore Head So Dangerous
First of all, you're battling the Irish elements, from wind and rain to absolutely freezing water. But the waves are also incredibly unpredictable and among the heaviest in the world.
The left-hand waves run down over a rocky seafloor and face staggering cliffs as well.
4. Mexico Pipeline
Location: Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca
Highlights: Known as the Mexico Pipeline, the waves just off the coast of Puerto Escondido's Playa Zicatela can reach as high as 15 feet and come in set after set. Puerto Escondido does not have an underwater or onshore bathymetric feature and is a bucket-list wave for international surfers.
What Makes Mexico Pipeline So Dangerous
Mexico Pipeline may just be one of the heaviest waves in the world. Making the paddle out is an accomplishment in itself. Be prepared to watch the majority of surfers wipeout.
The ocean drops off hundreds of feet very close to shore, which means surfers are facing vast, open ocean swells. The perfect barrel shape of the wave can be the ride of your life, but it also can chew you up and spit you out.
Location: Tavarua, Fiji
Highlights: What's incredible about Cloudbreak is that the shape of the wave becomes more and more perfect as it grows. It's a crowd-pleasing wave in one of the earliest surf spots in the history of the sport.
What Makes Cloudbreak So Dangerous
It's fast. Really fast. In fact, Cloudbreak increases in speed as it forms, and the swells often end up pounding into the coral reef from many different angles.
This can make it unpredictable for even the most professional of surfers.
2. Waimea Bay
Location: Oahu, Hawaii
Highlights: Surfers chasing big waves will always have Waimea Bay on their bucket lists. These massive breaks and wave walls can reach up to 60 feet. The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational is held during years when the waves grow beyond 25 feet.
What Makes Waimea Bay So Dangerous
The outer waters surrounding the bay are very deep and do not have any outer reefs, which make it look deceptively calm.
When things start to sound off in Waimea, the bay turns into a churning, soaking machine where water fills in each side of the bay and creates a massive rip current to pull into the center.
1. The Box
Location: Southwestern Australia
Highlights: What surfers love about The Box is that it is one of the most consistent spots on the planet. The waves are a result of a low pressure from the southern Indian Ocean and a high pressure from the West. This leads to very regular and consistent waves, making it a prime spot to host events like the Margaret River Pro.
What Makes The Box So Dangerous
As consistent as the waves at The Box may be, they are also relentless.
The Box is a wave that breaks on a rocky slab that touches it, and if you aren't steady on your board, a tumble off could be disastrous.