6 60-foot waves you’ve never heard of

Santa Maria comes to life in February this year.
Santa Maria comes to life in February this year. Photo: Neves/WSL

It seems strange that surf breaks that can hold waves as big as 60 feet high can still go unnoticed, yet these six big-wave breaks are hardly known, except by the hardy group of locals who surf them regularly.

Santa Maria, Santander

Tucked behind the Isla Santa María in the Spanish port city of Santander, Santa Maria has been a treasured big-wave spot since the 1970s in Spain, but more or less unknown elsewhere in the world. This is due to a combination of its relative fickleness—it needs a sort of rare combination of big northwest swell and easterly winds—and the protective nature of its locals. A thriving surf scene and tight takeoff spot added to sharp rocks and huge waves has meant visitors have found it very difficult to infiltrate Santa Maria’s massive gems. Photographers have also been actively discouraged. Yet when the huge Atlantic swells roar into the Cantabrian coast, Santa Maria reveals itself as a truly world-class big-wave location.

Prowlers, Ireland

Over the last decade, Ireland has proven to be one of the great big-wave frontiers. Waves like Mullaghmore and Aileens, and surfers like Fergal Smith and Tom Lowe, have put the Emerald Isle front and center in big-wave surfers’ minds. However, one wave that has remained under the radar is Prowlers, located on the west coast of Northern Ireland. “I’d tell you where it is, but I’d have to kill you,” said U.K. surfer Andrew Cotton, who pioneered the break in 2010. “Again, the potential is huge, but getting it good is very tricky, as it is so far offshore. But we’ve kept it secret for a reason: We all want to go back.”

Sunset Reef, Cape Town

Sunset breaking in the middle of the Bay. Photo by Shutterstock
Sunset breaking in the middle of the Bay. Photo: Shutterstock

Cape Town’s big-wave credentials have mainly been focused on the deep-water wave known as Dungeons. This fearsome, sharky wave hosted a Red Bull Big Wave specialty event for many years and was on the original list for the Big Wave World Tour (BWWT). However, only a few miles to the east, just near the town of Kommetjie, lies the more consistent and navigable, but no less large, big-wave spot of Sunset Reef. This break handles waves of 60-foot faces or more and has a select crew of locals charging it every time it breaks.

El Buey, Arica

El Buey is a deep-water wave located off the town of Arica, which lies at the northernmost tip of Chile’s 4,000 miles of coast. Arica rose to prominence in surfing terms in 2007, when Andy Irons won the Rip Curl Search WSL contest at the shallow ledge of El Gringo. However, the wave that breaks 500 meters farther out was largely ignored. Chile has a big-wave heritage, and the southern break of Punta de Lobos has hosted a BWWT event, but it is El Buey, or “The Ox,” that might hold the most potential. Open to the Pacific’s large summer storms, there is no limit to the size it can hold. Last August, one swell saw a slew of monster waves ridden—and wiped out on (see above)—finally alerting the rest of the world to the promise of El Buey.

5. Ghost Trees, Pebble Beach

The wave breaks just a few 100 metres behind the 18th Hole's flag. Photo by Shutterstock
The wave breaks just 100 meters behind the 18th-hole flag. Photo: Shutterstock

Ghost Trees is one of the heaviest big waves in the world, without a doubt,” Australian Justin “Jughead” Allport tells GrindTV. “I broke my leg in two places surfing there when the lip landed on it. There’s a good reason why guys stay well clear of that place: It’s diabolical.” Ghost Trees might be the most highly visible of these “unknown” waves, being located directly in front of the 18th hole of the famed Pebble Beach Golf Course on the Monterey Peninsula, but despite a few high-profile sessions—one featuring Laird Hamilton—its inaccessibility and the close rocks that line the break have meant that Ghost Trees, regardless of the fact that it holds waves as big as 60 feet high, still remains in relative big-wave obscurity.

6. Papatowai, New Zealand

Kyle Davidson tackles Papatowai. Photo by Corey Scott/ Oakley Big Wave Awards
Kyle Davidson tackles Papatowai. Photo Scott/Oakley ASL Big Wave Awards

Papatowai, located on New Zealand’s South Island, is regarded as the Kiwi version of Mavericks, and for good reason. It is a cold-water reef that offers wave faces of up to 60 feet that mainly focus on an intense shallow section of the reef called “The Bowl.” Doug Young is Papatowai’s equivalent of Mavericks’ Jeff Clarke, having pioneered the break 15 years ago and still riding the biggest waves on every swell. He has twice won the Biggest Paddle-In title at the Oakley ASL Australasian Big Wave awards, but despite his heroic efforts, Papatowai still remains one of the least well-known big-wave spots on the planet.

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