Every surfer's ideal wave is different. "A bunch of factors come into play when you're looking for great surf," says Pat O'Connell, pro surfer and star of The Endless Summer II. "It depends on who you're with, your ability, and your state of mind." For some, remote, powerful, long barrels like those you can find at Skeleton Bay in Namibia are a must; for others, it's all about the more social or mellow waves at Malibu or Waikiki. Then there are the hard-charging surfers who chase storms to find big breaks in the middle of the ocean.
To help compile this list, we worked closely with some of the best surfers including O'Connell; contributing editor Laird Hamilton; former world champion Shaun Tomson; big wave surfer Rusty Long; World Championship Tour competitors Fred Patacchia, Jeremy Flores, and Tiago Pires; and other pros, local crews, and national and regional surfing associations. They gave us recommendations that we held up against established resources — like Matt Warshaw's Encyclopedia of Surfing — and popular books and movies. The resulting list is filled with surf spots that we wouldn't hesitate hopping on a plane to explore for a week or more.