There will always be great debate about the 5 best waves in the world and depending on personal preferences and skill, there will always be many different answers.
If you’re an intermediate surfer or haven’t surfed for a while, the Maldives could offer the most perfect waves for you; fun, long and not so heavy. If you’re an experienced surfer, somewhere like Desert Point might be your perfect wave; long, perfect, 8 feet barrels over a sharp reef with the chance of getting a 20 second barrel.
In my professional career, I was able to surf many incredible waves around the world and have spent a lot of time thinking about my favorites. Here’s what I considered when I named my top 5 best waves in the world:
The perfect wave to me has to offer a really good barrel. Don’t get me wrong I love doing turns, but getting barrelled is why we all really surf. No amount of Felipe Toledo airs will ever match the feeling of getting pitted (I actually can’t do airs, but if I could…)
The wave has to offer something special. Length of ride, depth of the barrel, and some good size to take me out of my comfort zone. A wave that makes you not get out of the water until dark. A wave you’ll be talking about over a beer with mates for years. A wave that can really affect your life.
1. TEAHUPOO, TAHITI
Teahupoo is one of the most famous waves in the world today. This short left-hand wave, breaks over very shallow coral creating some of the best and biggest barrels in the world.
Located on the southern coastline of Tahiti’s main island, Teahupoo is about a 2 ½ hour drive from the main airport in Papeete (Capital of Tahiti).
The wave is set on the outside of a coral lagoon and is about a 20-minute paddle from the beach. The watercolor here is as blue as you’ll find anywhere in the world and looking back to the land you’re surrounded by lush green volcanic mountains that run straight into the blue lagoon. It is truly paradise.
Easiest access to the wave is via hiring a boat or jet ski. If you’re paddling out, take an extra board in case you snap one out there. You can tie the extra board up to the buoys in the channel.
Once you are in the line up the take off area is usually split in two spots: “Top of the Reef” and the “West Bowl”. Best swell direction is from the South West, with most experienced and intermediate surfers being able to surf Teahupoo up to 6 feet.
Taking off at the “Top of the Reef” you will be looking for waves which push along the reef and have south in the swell direction. Taking off here under 6 feet isn’t too bad if you select the right wave. The wave is longest from this point and the barrel rides can be up to 8 seconds long.
As you ride the barrel from start to finish, the wave actually bends around the reef, so you will have to change your line continually while making sure you keep your speed. The depth of barrel can be quite incredible but make sure you draw a high line in the barrel to avoid the foam ball bumping you off.
The second take-off spot is the “West Bowl” which is located at the end of the wave. The rides here are much shorter but bigger and more intense. This is the heaviest part of the wave and is only suited to experienced surfers.
The take off is very difficult as the west swells come from a super deep channel and hit the shallow coral reef causing a huge amount of water to break quickly over the reef. To paddle into a wave here you’ll need to pull straight in from take off and exit before the wave closeouts on to the dry coral reef.
Once Teahupoo gets over the 6 feet mark, the wave becomes much heavier and should only be surfed by professionals or very experienced surfers. Over the 12 feet mark is when you need a jet ski to assist you getting into the wave. The wave at this size is just too big and steep to actually paddle into.
Teahupoo may not be the longest wave in the world, but you can easily get your deepest and biggest barrels of your life here. The high frequency that Teahupoo breaks, means a one week visit can result in hundreds of great barrel rides.
Best time of the year: April – October
Best swell direction: South West
Best winds: North East
Best Tides: All tides (I think it’s better on low)
Best Size: 4-6 feet. If you like big barrels then 8 +
Water Temp: 23-25 degrees (board shorts)
Frequency: Breaks on all sizes and picks up a lot of swell. Breaks on most days during best swell season.
Surfing level: Under 6 feet experienced and intermediate. Above 6 feet professional and very experienced only.
Crowds: Gets crowded on most days over 4 feet, but if you get out there early in the morning you can still get this place to yourself.
Closest Airport: Papeete, which is the capital of Tahiti.
Getting there: Teahupoo is about a 2 ½ hour drive from the airport. If you book a home stay you can usually organize to be picked up. You can also rent a car or hire a driver to drive you down from the airport.
Accommodation: Best to stay at the home stays near the break. You can check most of these out on airbnb.com.
2. KIRRA, QLD, AUSTRALIA
Kirra has arguably been Australia’s most famous wave for the last three decades. Located on the Gold coast in Queensland, this long right-hand sand point offers some of the longest and deepest barrels on earth.
The wave starts off at “Big Groin” (a man made jetty built in the 70’s) and barrels down the point for about 300 metres passing the Pizza Hut on the beach and “Little Groin” (another man made jetty which is now covered by sand.)
Taking off at Big Groin can be quite challenging. The waves hit the shallow sand bank from deep water and it jacks up the size of the wave quickly, creating a very step and ledgy take-off. Combine this with a strong current running down the point and you have a take-off area which is better suited to experienced surfers only.
Once you’ve made the take-off, the wave will pick up speed very quickly down the point. You’ll really need to generate a lot of speed before pulling into the barrel and moving forward on your board will give you that extra speed. In different sections the barrel can be quite heavy and deep with a lot of water moving up the face so using a smaller board will allow you to maneuver these sections better.
Selecting the right wave is crucial at Kirra. Many waves are just too fast, so selecting a wave with not too much of a wall is key. Crowds do get very intense here and combined with the strong current, you’ll really need to spend a few hours in the water to get one or two really great rides.
The sand banks at Kirra change regularly and were better in the 80-90’s before they introduced the “Super Bank” – a man made sand bank, which is formed from pumping sand from the Tweed River around the corner to Snapper Rocks. The influx of sand has created one long bank from Snapper Rocks through Rainbow Bay, Greenmount to Kirra.
Even though Kirra maybe not be as good as 20 years ago, when Kirra does break, you will not find a better right-hand point break in the world.
Best time of the year: January – April (cyclone season)
Best swell direction: South East
Best winds: South
Best Tides: Mid tide
Best Size: 4-6 feet
Water Temp: 25- 27 degrees (board shorts)
Frequency: Very rare. Needs big swell and good banks. Maybe a few time a year.
Surfing level: Experienced and Intermediate. Beginner surfers when it’s under 2 feet.
Crowds: Gets incredibly crowded, but one wave here is worth the 3 hour wait.
Closest Airport: Coolangatta
Getting there: Grab a cab from the airport and you’ll be at Kirra in 5 minutes
Accommodation: Lots of options in Coolangatta from hostels, caravan parks, resorts and apartments.
3. DESERT POINT, LOMBOK ISLAND, INDONESIA
Desert Point has to be one of the world’s longest barrelling waves. This left-hand reef break located on Lombok Island in Indonesia offers barrel rides up to 20 seconds long and at 6- 8 feet, could possibly be the world’s best wave.
The wave is situated at Bangko Bangko which is on the southwest tip on Lombok. There are multiple ways to get there; a surf charter, hiring a speedboat from Bali, catching the ferry from Bali and then driving or flying into Lombok. However you decide to get there, it’s well worth the travel.
The wave breaks over super shallow reef and runs along the point for over 400 metres. The take-off is very easy and most intermediate and experienced surfers can take off here. Once on the wave, the wall extends the length of the reef and generating a lot of speed at the start will be key to finishing the wave.
The first section of the wave allows for a quick turn, but best to relax here and set up the upcoming first barrel section. As the wave barrels down the point, the depth of the barrel is quite amazing and you’ll notice that the wave often grows in size.
The end section is called the “Grower” and it’s where the barrel is the biggest. Many experienced surfers’ just surf this section but you have to be very careful here as the wave ends up closing out on dry reef.
Desert’s can get extremely crowed but if you ride through to the “Grower, ” it will probably one of the best waves of your life.
Best time of the year: April – September
Best swell direction: South West
Best winds: South East (trade winds)
Best Tides: Low to Mid (goes flat at high tide)
Best Size: 4-8 feet
Water Temp: 27 degrees (board shorts)
Frequency: Needs a big swell and breaks few times a month depending on swells. The wave can just turn off depending on the tide movement.
Surfing level: Experienced and intermediate
Crowds: Gets incredibly crowded but wait your turn and you will get the barrel of your life
Closest Airport: Lombok International Airport
Getting there: Lombok International Airport is about 2 ½ drive from Deserts (Bangko Bangko is the town). You can also fly into Denpasar Bali, then car and ferry it to Lombok, The ferry leaves from Padang Bai (East Bali) to Lembar (West Lombok). Once on Lombok it is about a 2 hour drive to Deserts. Hire a boat from Bali or jump on a surf charter.
Accommodation: You can stay right on the point in Losman’s (best option) or about 20 minutes drive away in some new hotels.
4. MUNDAKA, SPAIN
Mundaka is Europe’s most famous wave. The world’s most famous left-hand river mouth is located in the Basque country, which is in the northwest region of Spain and 1 ½ drive south of the French boarder.
The wave breaks up to 300 metres along a sandbar and if the banks are good, can rival the barrels of Desert point. The take-off area is set next to the harbor of Mundaka and amongst the lush green hills of the Basque country.
Paddling out through the Mundaka harbor is the easiest way to access the take-off area. The take off area can be very crowded and with the river pouring out next to it, there can be a strong current going out to sea.
Taking-off is usually quite easy before the wave hits the shallow inside banks. The wave breaks quick and heavy along the bank and offers multiple barrel sections when the conditions are at there best.
Conditions have to be just right for this to break; it needs a big north-west swell with south-west winds and while Mundaka breaks quite frequently through the winter season, the sand movement determines the quality of the wave.
While Mundaka is less frequent then Desert Point, on its day Mundaka can rival any of the best waves in the world.
Best time of the year: October – March (Winter)
Best swell direction: North- North West
Best winds: South West
Best Tides: Low tide coming up
Best Size: 4-6 ft (depends on bank)
Water Temp: 12-15 degrees (4/3 steamer, maybe booties on cold days)
Frequency: Needs large swell, good banks and right tide. It can break a couple of times a week during winter, but rarely breaks in summer.
Surfing level: Experienced and intermediate surfers
Crowds: Gets incredibly crowded. Give the locals some respect and you may get a wave.
Closest Airport: Bilbao
Getting there: Bilbao is about a 30-minute drive from Mundaka. You can hire a car or get a taxi there.
Accommodation: Mundaka has limited places. There are a few small hotels there and you can rent apartments on airbnb.com. You can also stay in Bakio, which has more accommodation options and a fun beach break about 15 minutes west from Mundaka.
5. HT’s or LANCES RIGHT, INDONESIA
HT’s (Hollow Trees) which is also known as Lances Right, is located on the south-eastern coast of Sipora Island in the Mentawai Islands in Indonesia. This right-hand wave breaks over a shallow reef and offers some of the deepest tubes in Indonesia.
Getting out to the island can be hard as it’s located 165 km from the closest airport in Padang on North Sumatra. You can get to the island by either a slow ferry (12 hours), fast ferry (3- 4 hours ) or by a surf charter.
The wave breaks very frequently during the dry season between April – October and is one of the most consistent waves in the Mentawai Island chain.
Depending on the tide and size of the swell, the take-off spot can change. On high tide or during smaller swells, the take-off spot in the middle of the reef offers a shorter ride. When the tide is low or the swell is large, another section called the “Ledge” breaks further up the reef and while the take-off is much harder, the ride is much longer. Regardless where you take-off, you can still get an incredible barrel.
Once on the wave, the wave will quickly start barrelling along the reef so you’ll need to generate a lot of speed before pulling-in. Once in the barrel you can get extremely deep but the size of the barrel changes as it moves down the reef, so you’ll have to make little adjustments as you go down the line.
The reef is super shallow and if you don’t make the wave, chances are you’ll end up on the reef. This can get pretty nasty at low tide so be careful as you’re a long way from a decent hospital.
One day of surfing Ht’s could net you 50+ amazing barrels. Life doesn’t get much better than sitting in the channel after a full day of surfing, sipping a cold Bintang on your charter boat and watching the last waves roll through on sunset.
Best time of the year: April – Oct (dry season)
Best swell direction: South West – South
Best winds: North- West
Best Tides: All tides (I think it’s better on low tide)
Best Size: 4-8 feet
Water Temp: 25- 27 degrees (board shorts)
Frequency: Very consistent during the dry season, picks up a lot of swell and handles anything from 3 -10 feet
Surfing level: Experienced and intermediate surfers
Crowds: Gets very crowded now with a lot of surf charters and land camps in the area. You can still get lucky if there is not many surf charters in the area.
Closest Airport: Padang, Sumatra
Getting there: HT’s is on the Island of Sipora, which is about 165 km from Padang. You will need to get a ferry from Padang to either Tuapejat or Sioban (the fast ferry is 3-4 hours, overnight ferry 10-12 hours). From Tuapejat or Sioban, you’ll need another boat to take you to the break (about 2 hours). Or you can jump on a surf charter.
Accommodation: Best to organize a surf charter (usually 10 day trip). The boats leave from Padang harbor and they’ll usually pick you up at the airport. You can also book a land camp and they’ll also organize all transportation out to the islands.