10 Best Surfers Of All Time

surfing the big wave

If you ask us, surfing is one of the most exciting sports in the world. Those who have tried it say that it is not only more fun than it looks but also very difficult to master.

It can take beginners a couple of days just to learn how to stand on the board. Moreover, learning how to actually catch a wave and stay afloat takes weeks or months of practice. But for these 10 surfers catching monster waves seems like second nature.

Here are the top 10 Surfers of all time:

Laird Hamilton

Laird Hamilton - Surfer

Laird Hamilton was raised on Hawaii’s North Shore. Locally, one of the world’s wildest wave breaks, Pipeline, served as his playground. His stepfather, the elite surfer Billy Hamilton, tweaked his technique. By the age of 17, Hamilton had become an able surfer and could have quit his “regular job,” modelling, for a career gracing surfing’s World Championship Tour.

He, however, shunned that option, because he had seen Billy Hamilton suffer from the pressure. Laird Hamilton, who treats his sport like an art form, may be the best big wave surfer ever. He regularly rides swells that rise 35 feet tall, traveling at over 30 mph.

He is fond of attacking the monster waves cranked out by Peʻahi reef, aka Jaws, seen above, on Maui’s north shore. A star of the 2004 surf documentary, Riding Giants, Hamilton was featured in the opening sequence of the 2002 James Bond movie Die Another Day, as the agent’s big-wave surfing double.

“He is our most accomplished living waterman, equally adept at windsurfing, paddling the English Channel, longboarding or carving laybacks on the world’s biggest waves,” says the Surfing Hall of Fame. It adds that Hamilton’s unrelenting attempts at designing alternative waveriding methods are unmatched.

Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater - Surfer

Inducted into the Surfer’s Hall of Fame in the same year as Laird Hamilton, Kelly Slater is a powerhouse. He has been crowned Association of Surfing Professionals World Champion a record 11 times, including five successive titles from 94–98. Slater is the youngest, at age 20, and the oldest, at age 39, to win the title.

From Irish and Syrian roots, Slater grew up in a sleepy Florida town called Cocoa Beach. There, according to Slater, the waves break far out. Good training, he reckons. “If I had the choice of learning in Florida or Hawaii, I’d choose Florida.

You don’t try to run before you can walk,” the Hall of Fame quotes Slater saying. For better or worse, he branched out from surfing, appearing in the kitsch surfing series, Baywatch and forming a pro-surfer pop group called The Surfers.

On May 8, 2010 the United States House of Representatives honored Slater for his “outstanding and unprecedented achievements in the world of surfing and for being an ambassador of the sport and excellent role model.”

Rob Machado

Rob Machado - Surfer

One of the most instantly recognizable figures in surfing, Rob Machado comes from a Pacific city with a swaggering surfing tradition: Sydney, Australia.

Machado boasts 12 World Championship Tour wins and a Pipeline Masters title won on the cusp of the millennium, as reported by SurfersVillage.

His silky style has earned Machado the nickname Mr. Smoothy. Surfline describes him as “one of the most stylish and successful American goofyfoots of all time,” alluding to the way he leads with his right foot.

Machado is popular with sponsors and surf magazine readers, who often vote him their favorite in polls.

After his parents moved him to Cardiff, California in 1977, he had a thick Australian accent, which prompted his mom to enter him in speech classes, Surfline reports. “Picture some funny-looking little kid with an afro going, ‘Yeeeeah, roit, matey,’” Machado is quoted saying.

The Rob Machado Foundation hosts some of Southern California’s biggest beach events, some of which trade on his name, like the Rob Machado Beach Classic, Cardiff Beach Fair and Rob Machado’s Par 3 Experience.

He is said to be one of the nicest guys you’ll meet.

Mark Occhilupo

Mark Occhilupo - Surfer

Aussie surfing legend, Mark Occhilupo, entered the Surfing Hall of Fame in 2004. The organization describes the Queenslander as “fiery,” which is quite an accolade in the laid-back surfer dude world.

Occhilupo shone in the World Championship Tour (WCT), showing extraordinary power for a 17-year-old.

The cocky Aussie duly shot to the top of the ASP ratings and set performance standards yet to be bettered, Surfline reckons. The mercurial showman struggled, however, with himself more than the waves. Consequently, his focus and urge to surf faded, fizzling out during the 80s.

In 1995, he bounced back, appearing at the Billabong Challenge, which Surfline describes as “his coming-out party.” Occhilupo began placing well and in 1997, was runner-up to Kelly Slater for the world title.

In 1999, Occhilupo sparked a sensation by winning the world title at 33, a granddaddy age by surfing standards. The battler’s Italian surname means “eyes of the wolf.” His similarly feral nickname is “Raging Bull.”

Duke Kahanamoku (The Duke)

Duke Kahanamoku - Surfer

Duke Kahanamoku was an American surfer and swimmer from Hawaii. In his glorious career, he won three Olympic gold medals and was considered one of the greatest freestyle swimmers of his time.

When he wasn’t swimming, Kahanamoku traveled and popularized surfing, which was until then only popular in Hawaii.

In 1914, he gave a surfing exhibition at Sydney’s Freshwater Beach, thus introducing the sport to Australia. Kahanamoku used a piece of pine from a local hardware store to build a surfing board that is now retained by the Freshwater Surf Club.

In 1925, while living in California, he single-handedly saved eight men from a fishing vessel using only his surfing board. After the achievement, U.S. lifeguards also started to use surfboards for their water rescues.

Duke Kahanamoku performed in several Hollywood movies; during that time, he made connections with people who helped him further promote surfing. He popularized the sport of surfing both in America and all over the world.

You can find Duke’s wisdom featured prominently in our famous surfing quotes post.

Duke died in 1968, aged 77; his ashes were thrown into the Waikiki surf, and his bronze statue at Kuhio Beach, Honolulu — one of the most popular attractions in Hawaii — keeps welcoming everyone with open arms.

Miki Dora

Miki Dora - Surfer

Miki Dora, also known as the Black Knight, Malibu Mickey, Da Cat, etc., was a famous surfer of the 1950s and 1960s in Malibu, California. His stepfather, Gard Chapin — a great surfer himself — was the one who introduced Miki to surfing.

At the beginning of the 1950s, Dora was in Malibu, and already vastly popular. Malibu was the top destination for all surfers, and more and more of them started to crowd the beach city. But Dora wasn’t the one to socialize.

In fact, he started to publicly denounce the masses and claimed that he was there only for the waves and nothing else. It didn’t take the media long to start referring to Dora as “the angry young man of surfing”.

Still, he remained a part of the machine he supposedly despised. He landed major roles in Hollywood, posed for surf advertisements, and had his own line of surfboards — all while publicly hating on the industry he belonged to.

In 1967, he entered a competition, despite claiming that he rides for pleasure only, and mooned the judges in the semis before taking off. Shortly after, things took a turn for the worse, landing Dora in a dark, illegal chapter.

He was charged with fraud, fled to France, and was finally arrested in 1981.

Still, Miki Dora remains a hero of the surf world. He spent most of his life building the industry he claimed to vigorously hate. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t know the sport of surfing as we do today.

Tom Curren

Tom Curren - Surfer

Tom Curren — the golden child of American surfing — had his debut in 1982 on Duranbah beach, Australia, where he managed to amaze not only Australia but the whole world. When he entered the ASP World Tour the following year, he was already taking out pros and becoming one of the most popular surfers in the world.

Curren quickly became internationally famous, which he would stay for full two decades. He won 33 championship events and was a world champion three times — in 1985, 1986, and 1990. In the mid-1990s, Curren decided to retire from competitive surfing.

To this day, Curren remains a legend in the surf world. We remember him as a surfer who has won basically everything he wanted to; he was America’s first modern world champion.

Shaun Tomson

Shaun Tomson - Surfer

Shaun Tomson is a legendary South African professional surfer, as well as a former world champion, businessman, actor, environmentalist, and author.

Born in Durban, South Africa, Tomson learned to surf on a longboard at the age of 10 under his father’s supervision. In years to follow, he switched to shortboards, as the revolution struck the world.

Shaun wasn’t a typical surfer of his age; he was a professional, respectable, well-mannered gentleman who won the hearts of many with his elegance and grace. Although he won multiple competitions and became a world champion in 1977, people mostly remembered his character and style. He has become a legend of the surfing culture.

Tomson also became known for his tube riding; at the time, deep-surfing was considered controversial, and Shaun was one of the first ones who dared to explore how deep a surfer could get into the tubes.

A Hawaiian movie called “Free Ride” captured his experience of exploring the tubes.

His most prominent work is “Surfer’s Code” — a book that outlines the culture of surfing. Thanks to his numerous accomplishments, Tomson has been listed as one of the 10 greatest surfers of all time, as well as one of the 25 most influential surfers.

Mike Parsons

Mike Parsons - Surfing

The former NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) champion, Mike Parsons is an ASP tour veteran with a thirst for spectacular stunts. In 2001, Parsons rocked the surfing community when he carved a 66-footer at Cortes Bank, California.

For that exploit, the Billabong XXL competition awarded him $66,000, the highest professional surfing prize ever given. Parsons, however, is better-known for riding a 64-foot wave during a contest at the Jaws break on Maui’s north shore.

The jaw-dropping feat filmed by helicopter became the opening scene of the 2003 film Billabong Odyssey. In 2008, the year he entered the Hall of Fame, Parsons was snapped surfing a Cortes Bank wave that the Billabong XXL measured at 70+ feet.

That is what Parsons, who comes from San Clemente is all about: tackling the planet’s biggest behemoths. His nickname is Snips, thanks to his competition-days ability to slice through low surf.

Andy Irons

Andy Irons - Surfing

Andy Irons was a prominent American professional surfer who learned to surf on the unpredictable and shallow reefs of the North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii.

His list of achievements is a long one — in fact, he is the only surfer in the world who succeeded in winning a title at every venue on the ASP calendar.

Andy and his brother Bruce were regular competitors in contests; Andy actually kept losing to Bruce until he entered the World Championship Tour.

Throughout his career, Andy became a world champion three times, won two Rip Curl Pro Search titles, three Quiksilver Pro France titles, and attained 20 elite tour victories.

In 2009, Irons decided not to participate in the full ASP World Tour season for personal reasons. In 2010, he made a comeback by winning the Billabong Pro Tahiti title.

He died in 2010 from a cardiac arrest and drug ingestion in a hotel room. The Governor of Hawaii declared February 13 “Andy Irons Day”.

About the Author

Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a Lifeofadventure.com featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
Rick Coleman
Rick Coleman
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona Rick Coleman is a Lifeofadventure.com featured contributor who has written for a wide range of international travel publications. He loves the outdoors and has covered thousands of miles in the pursuit of his next adventure.
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