It’s that time of year again—the time when the seasons start changing and blobs form consistently south of the border. The North Pacific has been asleep for over a month now, and the North Atlantic is on its way out. Meanwhile, the South Pacific is just about to kick things off with the first major run of waves for the Americas—and over in the Indian Ocean, WA and Indonesia are already a few swells deep.
Winter below the equator means different things to the XXL crew than it does up north. The focus seems to be more on thick, below-sea-level slabs than it does on tall, deep-water bombies—although there are a few of those out there for the dedicated paddler. Either way you look at it, there’s enough heavy water to go around this time of year. The only difference is that the storms birthing these monsters come from the south.
Here’s a list of five of the heaviest waves in the Southern Hemisphere—beasts from below that haunt our dreams between May and September.
Africa’s biggest, ugliest, scariest wave lives in Cape Town, South Africa—along with Africa’s biggest, ugliest, scariest sharks. This outer reef behemoth breaks half a mile out to sea, is open to the elements, and is as cold as it is sharky. A former stop on the Big Wave World Tour, Dungeons is considered one of the most difficult big wave paddle spots on the planet, and is where guys like multiple-time big wave world champ Grant “Twiggy” Baker cut their teeth. Heavy, bru.
The perfect lefthand reef pass at four to six foot, Teahupoo becomes something else entirely when it hits the eight- to ten-foot range—a perfect, backless freak of a wave that effectively redefined what was paddleable back in the late 1990s. But the really scary thing is that it doesn't stop at that size.
Unlike most reef passes that max out once they go beyond triple overhead, Teahupoo is still surfable when it hits the XXL range—from behind a ski, that is. Laird Hamilton’s tow wave at the turn of the millennium was the starting point for today’s big wave tow frenzy, but was eclipsed year after year by bigger, thicker, darker nightmares. Despite the discovery of dozens of mutant slabs around the world over the past 20 years, huge Teahupoo still rules the roost when it comes to surfing below sea level.
Originally a bodyboard wave, the righthander at Cape Solander near Sydney, Australia, was forcibly taken and renamed by the Bra Boys—which is a heavy enough legacy in and of itself. The fact that Ours is a stepped-out slab that detonates mere feet from a rock shelf simply makes the wave an even gnarlier proposition—especially once it moves into the tow range.
Red Bull’s Cape Fear event held at Ours in 2016 was essentially a non-stop highlight reel of near-fatal wipeouts, and two years later there are still many people scratching their heads trying to understand how no one died that day. The heaviest surf contest of all time? If beatings are any indicator, then arguably so.
There are some slabs that are paddleable to a certain size and then become tow waves when they get too big to approach on arm strength alone—and there are others that don’t even start breaking until they are too big to surf without a ski.
The Right is the ultimate example of this latter group. Virtually unpaddleable even by bodyboarders (only a few have tried), this righthand slab in Western Australia took the world’s breath away when it was revealed, and continues to do so every time it breaks. More lip than face, The Right is so thick that the barrel can actually look small in relation to the size of the wave—but don’t let that deadly mirage fool you.
The Right is as heavy as slabs come, and is often in the running for tube of the year at the Big Wave Awards.
Sure, Cloudbreak may only go XXL once every few years—but when it does, it is the best big wave paddle barrel in existence, and for that reason alone it makes the list. A tricky lefthand reef point that can offer fickle, perfect barrels, Cloudbreak is located out to sea from Tavarua and Namotu Islands in Fiji, and turns into something completely different when it moves into the XXl range.
Some call it Thundercloud, others simply call it scary, but either way, it’s a sight to behold—especially when you are seeing it from the middle of the lineup. Someday someone will ride the best wave in history at gigantic Cloudbreak. Until then, the wave will continue to feature heavily in every big wave paddle surfer’s wet dreams and night terrors.