The Five Most Crowded Waves in the World

Matt Rode

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Updated 1606d ago

Crowds. No one likes them. They are the reason we wake up early, surf past sunset, and travel halfway across the world to do the same thing we do at home.

These days, just about everyone surfs—from the 10-year-old grom to the 30-something socialite to the power-suited weekend warrior who runs a Fortune 500 company in his spare time. Surfing is thrilling and sexy, the ultimate symbol of fun and sun and choosing freedom over the everyday boring—so naturally we all want to be a part of it

On a good day at certain spots, the only way you're getting a wave is by waiting for someone else to fall, (or not).

On a good day at certain spots, the only way you're getting a wave is by waiting for someone else to fall, (or not).

© 2021 - Juan Medina

The impending rush of inland wave pools is only going to add to the overcrowding problem, but the reality is that many of our breaks are already operating at maximum capacity. And there are certain types of waves where the crowds are most noticeable.

Beachbreaks are self-regulating, with their shifting peaks and ever-changing banks, but reefs and points—those are another story. Reefs are consistent, and often consistently good, but they suffer from the smallest of takeoff spots, which means that if the slab you intend to charge has any sort of quality to it, you are likely to be waiting shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of other would-be tube hounds. And despite the fact that they often come with raging currents, points are just so long and perfect and (sometimes) easy that everyone and their mom can’t help but paddle out.

We’ve put together a list of the busiest lineups on the planet. Here’s hoping your local break isn’t quite so chaotic.


Arguably the most famous wave in the world, and for good reason. Pipe was the original hairball dry-reef barrel, and is still one of the hollowest, heaviest, most challenging waves on the planet. It is also ground zero for professional surfing during the northern hemisphere winter, and has a takeoff spot approximately the size of a putting green.

© 2021 - Matt Catalano

It’s not uncommon to see more than 100 surfers hustling for position on the peak that is Pipeline/Backdoor, and nearly all of those will be A-grade hellmen and experienced barrel riders. If you can snag a set from the crowd at Pipe, you are doing well. Score the wave of the day, and your name is probably John John Florence.

Snapper Rocks

If Pipeline is the domain of the apex predators, the Superbank is where the scavengers go to feed. Over a kilometer of perfectly shaped stretches from the top of Snapper Rocks through Rainbow Bay and down past Greenmount (and even on to Kirra, if you can find a wave that makes it past the groin), yet the mass of humanity in the water on any given day is so thick that you might as well be watching from the shore.

Count the drop in's

Posted by O'Ds Surf Photography on Friday, 26 February 2016

O'D's Surf Photography

There is nothing more mesmerising than watching a wave peel perfectly for 30 seconds on either side of you, and nothing more frustrating than knowing that you probably won’t get to ride it. The crowd at Snapper Rocks is of above-average ability and motivation, making this one of the most competitive lineups in existence. Along the entire length of the sandbar, surfers of all ages and abilities wait like vultures for a sign of weakness, greedy eyes fixated on the lucky surfer speeding down the line towards them, hoping that he’ll fall so they can spin and go before anyone else has a chance. If you don’t enjoy hassling or can’t paddle out with a sense of humour, don’t bother visiting Coolangatta.

Lower Trestles

Lowers is considered to be one of the most rippable waves on the planet, and sits squarely at the heart of the California surf industry. San Clemente’s crown jewel, the A-frame that is Lowers breaks over a cobblestone reef/point and has that perfect balance of power and usability to let surfers do whatever they want.

© 2021 - Trestles crowd dodging, as illustrated by the world's best.

They say this is a wave that makes the average surfer feel like a hero, which is why everyone in the Golden State who can paddle a shortboard ends up out there at some point. Kooks, pros, and average Joes—this is the fave wave of the everyman surfer, and every man, woman and child in California surfs it.

First Point, Malibu

The first wave on our list not to feature a world tour event, but also one of the longest-surfed waves in surfing’s storied history, the ’Bu is a mechanical, user-friendly point that peels perfectly in the heart of LA, drawing everyone from professional loggers to soft-top warriors to shortboarders and SUP sweepers—all of whom burn each other on every wave that breaks.

© 2021 - Neil Antonlin

“Everyone’s there to just, like, love one another and have good times and be stoked,” sarcastically quips local Jimmy Gamboa in the film One California Day. “Come to Malibu. Everyone wants to meet more people…I’ve been working on it for I don’t know how many years, but I’m not complete yet. I still don’t know everybody. But hopefully one day I will meet everybody.” That just about sums it up.

Canoes, Waikiki

The world’s most popular straighthander—and by some accounts the wave that started it all—Canoes enjoys daily offshore winds, semi-consistent swell during the summer, and the biggest, craziest, most eclectic crowd you’re likely to come across. Tourists, surf schools, beach boys, SUPs, families, outrigger canoes, catamarans—everyone you can imagine on every type of floating toy you can dream up is out there.

But because the wave basically rolls gently straight towards shore, it’s the one lineup on this list that can actually handle the crowd. Waikiki is the ultimate party wave, and everyone is stoked. After all, if we are all going straight in the whitewater together, what is there to fight about?

Cover shot by Matt Catalano.