I flew halfway round the world last minute for this view. I'd been to Chopes four years in a row before this trip and not seen it bigger than 10ft. So when this swell lit up the charts, myself and Danny Wall sacked everything off and got out the credit cards. Like a rabbit in the headlights, three days later, I was swimming along like a muppet staring straight at Manoa Drollet through my 70mm lens while this thing thundered down the reef. I'd never been that close to a 20ft plus barrel before. I thought it was going to flatten me but then that's what I'd gone there to experience so I hung about and it was sweet - the spit was so violent it blew me into the channel, unbelievable but true. The next day I watched in horror as Danny Wall came up from a beating to take a wave almost as big as this straight on the head, he came up laughing. Also unbelievable, but true! Easily the most incredible waves I've ever experienced.
Mickey Smith, Teahupoo, Tahiti
That's John McCarthy on the wave, they went out there for the last piece of script of an AIB advert, the wind was really calm, their was a good punch coming through in the swell as well, light was rubbish as usual here with low cloud and the Celtic drizzle, ad or no ad they still would've been out there, there was so many big barrels ridden this day. Paul O'Kane is driving the ski, Paul started towing this way a couple of years ago and it seems to work well with the bigger swells: you take a run at it from the backdoor side and just hit the throttle instead of the sling-shot. The reason being that you can see the wave the entire time, instead of having your back turned to it. John can read the wave a lot better too as you can see from this shot he timed it pretty well. This one was a bit of a monster as well so fair balls to him as the wind had just started to blow, all i can say is this day of tow surfing was the most amazing session i have ever seen in Ireland, what they were doing was crazy, there were insane barrels going down.
Aaron, Aileens, Ireland
I don't know if you've ever witnessed Mavericks break? In movies the waves look crazy, but the surfing still makes sense, the late drops and cutbacks, you can relate to what they are doing. However in real life, it just looks like death. The drop is so fast and the wave so thick that it is really baffling how anyone could live through a mistake out there. When you see someone throw themselves over a cliff and free-fall 25ft to the bottom of the monster, then bury a bottom turn, get to the top of the wave, then turn back towards it - all sense of reality is lost - why would you want to go anywhere but away from the mountain of death chasing you? My adrenaline pumps watching other people do this and I'm onshore, a half a mile away. The people out there doing their shit are on a different level to almost any other person in the world and it's amazing to witness.
This particular wave was one of the bigger sets of the day. The vantage point that we shot from was a bit of a hike to get to, but a nicer place to watch from, away from the hoards of people along the beach and jetty. I walked up there a few years ago during the Mav's competition in 2006. It's great because you look directly into the left and can really get an idea for how fast and critical the drop is out there. You can see the drop and shortly after that the wave goes out of view behind the cliff. I think this is Nathan Fletcher, I don't know if he made this wave, he disappeared after he got to the bottom. My girlfriend was shooting all the photos and this one was one of our favorites. If you ever want to see a few sequences from this day, check out our website.
Lucas, Mavericks, USA
This is Waimea Bay, Nov 27, 1959. We considered this day crowded, 12 guys out. Size was between 15 and 25ft. It was the last wave of a set and the conditions were getting stormy. So we all decided to go while we could. It was getting bigger and bigger with outside sets coming through and we all wanted to get in before Waimea started closing out.
As I get older I realize young guys today have little understanding of what big wave surfing was once like. In 1959 Waimea was not surfed that much. No leashes, no life guards, no jet skis, helicopters, and very few cameras. We depended on buddy system. If one of us got into trouble, others would help. All of us were excellent water men. We were a fraternity of big wave riding brothers. Each was a professional in work life, and riding big waves was our thing - our hobby. Of course, we loved it, the rush, with all our hearts. Slightly insane then, since we were on our own. No jet ski life guards as back up, no ESPN, just us and the sea and its giant waves. The surfers left to right: Max Lim, Ted Gugelyk (me), Jose Angel, Jack Webb and Peter Cole.
My friends and I hitchhiked from Paia on the north shore of Maui, got dropped off outside a pineapple field, hiked a little ways, and began to hear a rumble. We knew it was a big north swell, but the wind is what was the most perfect. It seemed to come up from behind us, drop to the water, and rush to fill the wave. Laird Hamilton was reputedly out that day and it was certainly large enough. We walked out to a small rocky outcropping and I snapped this picture of an unknown (at least by me) surfer dropping into a perfect bomb.
Dan 'Mole' Joel and the first really big wave to be ridden at Aileens back in 2005. A lot has changed since this shot was taken, local guys are going so mental out there now, but at this point in time not many people were surfing out there, and definitely not over 10-15ft. Mole nailed a couple of cracking tows in some awkward conditions and this was the best of the bunch. Torrential rain had made for tough conditions shooting at sea, and I was glad to walk away with the situation properly documented. You can see rain drops landing in the water all over the wave in the image if you look closely.
Mickey Smith, Aileens, Ireland
An unseasonal swell was forecast to be heading towards Tafelberg reef at the angle and timing required to make Dungeons roar on November 2007. The forecasters had either reverted to smoking kelp or we were in for some serious surf. Having picked up an unsatisfactorily grainy 10x optical zoom shot of Greg Long plummeting 70 feet down the face of a Dungeons monster on July 30, 2006, I wasn't going to let this opportunity to slide.
To my left, towering above the break, the Sentinel cloaked the greater part of the incoming sets in shadow - bad news to anybody not wielding a big lens and a mirror. Still, the nature of the game dictates shot after shot. It's a simple philosophy. If you don't take the pic, you don't get the pic.
Around 09:30, one of the last waves in a set came in strong and left, set to break in light and one of the tow guys was drawing his circle, pulling an unnamed rider to his meeting with whatever it is one meets after plunging to a seemingly ghastly and inevitable demise at the bottom of the drop. The jet-ski, the surfer, the wave, the viewfinder, the mountain and the sea merge in those moments tracking a ride. I guess it's why I still take a digital to the beach. Some day, the perfect ride and perfect wave are bound to come together.
Mike Golby, Dungeons, South Africa
You can't get as consistently barreled here as you can at Shipsterns - it's a bigger patch of reef and so it's more random. Due to its exposure the swell size is more consistent than round to the east but that means it's also more exposed to the wind and is harder to score clean. This new discovery is super-secret but it is somewhere in the south of Tasmania closer to Hobart than the other recent (well publicised but also secret) discovery. It looks really similar to me but is it shallower and more sketchy than Shipsterns because it would be easier to get caught in the impact zone. But Shippies is probably a more intense wave because of how thick it can get.
James Holmer-Cross, Secret, Southern Tasmania
West Oz Secret
This place is now one of the more famous bombies in Australia. Photographing it involves almost a mile long paddle out to sea over ridiculously deep and sharky water. It was a flawless morning, glassy, sunny and pumping, so I dived in and ran the gauntlet getting out there. The bodyboarders were putting on a crazy show paddling and the tow guys were having fun surfing. All in all it was a pretty rad experience, one of many that Oz has to offer the up for its wanderers.
Mickey Smith, Secret, Southern Australia
The surfer is Jason Ribbink at Dungeons in South Africa, towed in by his partner Gigs Cilliers. It was quite a stormy day early winter '08 with a large, lumpy swell and light onshore wind. There were some 20 foot bombs coming through at the back and some smooth walls on the inside (like a 10-15 point break), but due to the unruly conditions it was impossible to paddle into the waves. Twiggy Baker was also being towed by Greg Long as far as I can remember. I had to leave shortly after this shot was taken but it was quite privilege though to sit and watch/shoot them surfing quadruple overhead waves like two foot beach breaks, snapping and carving it up like the true masters they are.
Miles, Dungeons, South Africa
Known exclusively to local San Diego surfers as "Big Wednesday," December 5th was a day to remember. The surf was unparalleled in recent Southern California history and brought with it the opportunity for surfers to leave their mark on Mother Nature. I was armed with an Olympus E-3 and Zuiko Digital telephoto lenses and watched from the shoreline - no way was I going to strap on my fins and put the E-3 into the Ikelite underwater case and paddle out. The early morning sunrise provided adequate light for some good images and drew in would-be surfers with their coats and cups of coffee. The greatest part?Everyone would cheer when someone dropped in on a 30+ foot wave, then go silent during the ride. Then as a surfer gradually bobbed up after a killer fall, the cheering (and relief) would again resume.
The photo is the early morning of Dec 15 2004. The beginning heats of the Quicksilver Eddie Aikau and that is Clyde Aikau, Eddie's younger brother and favorite surf partner who won the first Eddie back on February 21, 1987. I was there for that one too. I got him to sign this shot for me, classic. This was a 20 to 25ft day, probably one of the better days at the bay. This is Eddie was won by Bruce Irons with a backside barrel into the shorebreak.
Mark Brown, Waimea, Hawaii
I had been surfin in Lahinch on a March morning of 2008 but the swell had been closing out the bay. It was cold and mushy. I decided to take a look at the cliffs to see was there anything going on as there was a couple of likely looking caracters lurking around with jet-skis. The cliffs themselves are very impressive with the waves rolling in but you dont appreciate the size of the swell or the cliffs themselves until you see a couple of guys paddling around trying to pick their spot. Few believe this guy paddled into this wave but he did just that. He had been positioning himself for about 40 mins before this swell rolled in and I think it was going to catch him one way or the other. The battery on my camera died five minutes later. I didn't know at the time who the guy was but after some detective work from we found out it was Rusty Long. I would say he enjoyed his trip to West Ireland.
Emmett, Aileens, Ireland
In late July 2008 the Red Bull Big Wave Africa opened at Dungeons, South Africa. It was an insane paddle competition with jetskis only attending as safety.
We had just come round into position and set waves started coming through again after some long lulls. Everybody was watching in awe as some guys had to ditch their boards and swim down for the kelp. The two mad men who decided to go for this particular wave were James Taylor (on the inside) and Twiggy Baker (in the green vest).
This wave claimed James, whilst Twiggy rode it effortlessly right through to the inside. The jetski driver was going mad (notice the fist claiming and cheering), whilst the videographer on the back tried to keep cool. Cheers from all the boats behind us could be heard clearly, as if we were in a stadium at a World Cup Rugby match. The sound of the crashing waves was overwhelming and gave me a feeling of butterflies in my stomach - I would never want to find myself in a position where I could get mashed by a beast of a wave like this one. The other media boat, the jetski and the other surfer on the left chucking his board all put the size of the wave into perspective.
Dungeons in Hout Bay, Cape Town is a very unpredictable and insane wave, with surprising sections. The set-up is quite scary and intimidating with surprise sets swinging very wide engulfing everyone. Every year I make sure I am free and with some negotiation I managed to get on one of the media boats, all amped to go take some incredible photos of the event.
The light was not amazing, overcast, but luckily no rain and little wind. Often in the current we would drift from the channel into the impact zone of the final section. We were discussing where we should be sitting to get the best shots when out of nowhere sets started rolling through. We tried and failed to race for the channel but had to straighten out and leave the boat in neutral as we faced the monster coming towards us. I was quite nervous as to if we were going to make it, next thing we start ascending the wave and launch about four metres into the air. After downing a Red Bull and still rather shaken after what had just happened, I managed to take lots more awesome pictures, this one being one of them.
Pierre Hugo, Dungeons, South Africa