You’d be forgiven for thinking that the biggest shoreline waves occur in remote or tropical islands – traditional surfing havens such as Hawaii, Tahiti or Java. However, that impression would be quite wrong. Many of the biggest surfable waves in the world, including the current world record of 80 feet set in November 2017, occur of the Atlantic coast of the European continent.
This includes certain areas of France, but also Portugal and – surprisingly perhaps for many – Ireland. These then are just a few of the best big wave surfing spots in the European continent, if France’s many top-tier but well-known surfing beaches are just not quite offering the gigantic big-wave thrill you need.
Belharra, Basque Country, France
The prime spot for big wave surfing in France, Belharra is literally on the tip of the southern French coastline where it meets the border with Spain. Naturally sheltered from strong winds by the Bay of Biscay, the massive deep-water trench that rises to the surface just offshore of Belharra perfectly funnels the energy of hundreds of smaller waves into the occasional monster. This process is known as constructive wave interference, a phenomenon you may remember from your school physics lessons.
However, the narrowness of the deep-water channel and the sheltered location, mean that Belharra’s waves aren’t as long and perfectly funnelled as Nazaré’s for example. You might get the odd 50-plus footer here, but for the truly photo-perfect ‘Big Wave of the Year’ contenders you’ll probably have to head further out into the rest of Europe.
Mullaghmore, County Sligo, Ireland
One of the best spots for big wave surfing in the world, let alone Europe, Mullaghmore is a huge challenge for even the most experienced surfer – but one worth the risk. With its unforgivingly cold sea temperatures (even in Summer) and a rocky shoreline, many a surfer has broken a bone or board upon the breaks here. However, the possibility for 50-plus foot waves and the majestic local scenery, means a small crew of surfers and big wave chasers congregate here year-round.
Visitors can also check out the spectacular nearby Classiebawn Castle, which sits in the shadow of the permanently snow-capped and shelf-like Benbulben Mountain, for a truly awe-inspiring landscape to match the massive waves.
Nazaré, Silver Coast, Portugal
Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Coxa conquered a world record 80ft wave here in 2017, and since then it has been somewhat of a mecca for big wave surfers from around the world. The intense upward slope towards the shore, coupled with a 16,000 feet deep trench that opens out just a few miles off the beach, makes Nazare the perfect place to find the world’s largest shoreline waves.
Waves of over 100 feet have been recorded here before, and the past two world record big wave surfs have both happened here – 78 foot in 2014 and then Rodrigo Coxa’s eighty-foot monster just three years later. With glorious weather and relatively warm water all year round, as well as France’s best surfing destinations