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Surf's up.

Travel + Leisure Staff
January 13, 2017

Seventy-one percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water, but not all tides come ashore with mammoth waves. Big wave surfers travel the globe to find the spots where the mightiest waves break. Winds blowing across the ocean can create 10-foot swells, and 30-foot waves are regularly churned up during sea storms.

But to determine where those textbook crests will roll in, photographers and surfers alike should pay closer attention to the land. You'll find the absolute largest waves where there are large stretches of open water and steep land, giving the tide ample time to accumulate energy and force the wave upward.

Instead of chasing storms, intrepid surfers typically head to one of these legendary surf spots, from California to far-flung Tahiti. (Note: These are not destinations for novice surfers.) It's here you'll have the best chance of watching (or riding) a forceful barrel rush toward the beach. these are three of the most legendary surf spots on the planet. Surfers and .

Mavericks, in California

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In the winter, this location in Half Moon Bay, California, is legendary among big wave surfers for its massive waves that can often be recorded on the Richter Scale.

Winter storms have been known to cause swells that crest over 25 feet and top out at a whopping 60 feet, making it a prime spot for invitation-only competitions among the most skilled (and adventurous) surfers, like pro Laird Hamilton, who loves this West Coast surf.

Shipstern Bluff, in Tasmania

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Shipstern Bluff, in Tasmania, was once called “Devil’s Point.” The peninsulas's south eastern tip absorbs storm systems that were created in the “furious 50s”—a term for winds that buffet the ocean close to the South Pole.

The massive waves are actually known for transforming as they break, turning a smooth wall into a series of staircase-like edges on the wave’s face.

Teahupo’o, in Tahiti

Hawaii's Sebastian Zietz competes in the 2015 Billabong Pro Tahiti, along the Teahupo'o coast, on Aug. 24, 2015.
Gregory Boissy/AFP/Getty Images

Called “The End of the Road,” Teahupo‘o is the home of Billabong's annual Pro Championships, and it has a particularly nasty legacy of injuries and even fatalities. With its 6- to 25-foot waves, Teahupo’o is respected by big wave surfers like nowhere else in the world.

Widely known for having some of the heaviest waves in the world, Tahiti is also celebrated as the birthplace of surfing.

Sammy Nickalls contributed reporting to this story.

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