5 of the Best Reef Breaks on the Planet

Matt Rode

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Updated 789d ago

Of all the different types of waves, reef breaks are the most likely to maximise your barrel count. Sure, beach break tube rides are rewarding for their fickle nature, and point breaks can offer up lengthy tunnels as well—but when it comes to packing as many barrels into a single session as possible, you can’t beat the predictable nature of a reef.

While there are lots of different types of reef waves breaking in different parts of the world (even cold-water slabs like Ours and Shipstern’s Bluff are technically reefs), the ones that most people envision are created by ideally shaped passes in coral reefs.

Reef passes are typically created by centuries of freshwater runoff that impedes the growth of coral. The result is a tapered, anomalous gap in an otherwise symmetrical wall of coral that bends swell into convenient channels, providing both perfection and ease of access.

Of course, reef pass barrels come at a price, as most break in shallow water, often over live coral. But for those willing to pay the tax and sacrifice a bit of skin, these passes are the Shangri La of barrel riding, pumping out mechanical perfection, set after set, whenever the right swell presents itself.

For the dedicated tube hound, there’s nothing better than paddling laps on a pumping reef pass. Here are 5 of the best.

The Heaviest: Teahupoo

© 2022 - Romu Pliquet

When it comes to raw brute force, Tahiti’s Teahupoo takes the cake. The fact that it’s also so perfect makes Chopes a bit of an anomaly, since most “slabs” are twisted, grotesque abominations that are more spectacle than spectacular. Feeding on the south and southwest swells that buffet French Polynesia between April and October, Teahupoo is a dreamy, approachable left-hand barrel up to around the double overhead mark. Once it gets bigger than that, it turns into something else entirely—a backless behemoth that is equal parts beauty and beast.

Spot guide: When to surf Teahupoo.

The Most Challenging: Cloudbreak

© 2022 - Scott Winer

When Kelly Slater claims a wave as his favourite in the world, you can be sure of a couple of things. First of all, it’s a barrel. And second, it’s probably a pretty tricky one. Cloudbreak ticks both of those boxes, providing technical, cryptic tube rides that are as lengthy as they are powerful.

Fiji’s crown jewel was the favourite stop on tour for years, and it’s easy to see why. At head high, Cloudbreak is fun and rippable; at double overhead it’s as throaty of a tube as you can ask for; and when it goes XXL, it’s surfing’s ultimate unicorn. You’d be hard-pressed to name a better and more multi-faceted reef break.

Forecast: Cloudbreak

The Dreamiest: Lance's Right

© 2022 - MSW UGC

The original regularfooted Indonesian dream, Lance's Right, or HTs, is a flawless reef break in the Mentawais that produces picture-perfect barrels from head high to around double overhead.

Not overly steep or technical, it is nonetheless a thrilling wave, with the water getting treacherously shallow over the inside section, aptly called the Surgeon’s Table. For those looking to recreate their September Session fantasies and log tube time on relatively approachable waves, it doesn’t get much dreamier than HTs.

When to go: Lance's Right

The Deadliest: Pipeline

© 2022 - MSW UGC

Decades before Teahupoo’s heft was ever exposed to the world, Pipeline had already established itself as the meanest left-hand reef break on the planet. And more than half a century later, it still maintains its reputation.

Sitting smack in the middle of the Seven-Mile Miracle, Pipeline is ground zero for heavy water antics on Oahu’s North Shore—and the North Shore is the centre of the heavy water universe. Between Backdoor and Pipe, the peak is the deadliest on the planet, having killed and injured more people than any other wave. The danger factor doesn’t serve as much of a deterrent, though—in addition to being the world’s deadliest reef, it’s also the most crowded.

Long range global forecasts: Get Pro

The Easiest: Sultans

© 2022 - Giorgio Rollo

Most reef breaks are intimidating and consequential, putting them out of reach for all but the most advanced wave riders. But there are a handful of reef breaks that are less fear and more fun, despite the fact that they can still provide some cover.

Sultans in the Maldives is one of the most user-friendly of all, offering coral reef perfection without the late drops and fast, technical sections that lead to injuries in other lineups. For the average surfer looking to enjoy some reef pass perfection, you could do a lot worse than Sultans.

Forecast: Sultans