Surfing is a subjective sport, shaped by things like style, technique and choice of equipment. It would be pretty pointless to try to compare the rides of a traditional logger, a modern high-performance surfer and a bodysurfer, since they all do different things on different types of waves. And why would we want to compare them anyway?
Surfing is supposed to be about having fun, not about what style of wave riding is best, or who the greatest surfer of all time is—not that those debates would ever come to a satisfactory conclusion anyway. Even competitive surfing is subjective, as demonstrated by the obligatory scoring controversy at virtually every event. But some things in surfing are quantifiable. Size of wave. Length of ride. Number of waves caught. Amount of time spent in the barrel.
That last one is interesting. Listing the most barrelled surfers in the world is a complicated undertaking because it involves more than just ability. It’s a commitment to a certain lifestyle. It’s structuring your home, your travel, your daily schedule—your entire existence, really—around specific waves, and specific types of waves. It’s choosing freesurf over competition and small to medium-sized waves over big (because while you might catch the biggest barrel of all time at a spot like Peahi, you certainly won’t set any records there for most barrels ridden). And, most importantly, it’s a commitment to the chase. After all, even the most consistent waves in the world don’t pump every day, which means that if you want to get barrelled more than anyone else, you have to have a map full of spots and the ability to get to them whenever they turn on.
The following five individuals have made those choices, and have the ability to back them up. These are the most barrelled surfers on the planet.
Sure, Mike surfs on his belly, but that’s exactly why he’s number one on the list. When Tom Morey created the bodyboard, he did so to bring surfing the masses—to the millions upon millions of people who wanted to enjoy waves, but couldn’t dedicate the time it took to learn to surf competently. Little did he know that his invention would turn out to be the ultimate slab machine. And Mike Stewart? Well, for the past 35 years, he’s been the ultimate barrel rider.
Stewart has been on top of the bodyboarding world since he was in his 20s—he’s in his 50s now—and is the winningest person ever at Pipeline, having won 11 bodyboard titles there and another 15 bodysurfing. (In fact, he just won the bodysurf contest at Pipe again three days ago.) He was sponging Teahupoo long before any of us ever heard of it, and, despite his age, still competes on the bodyboard tour, which basically only goes to hollow waves. The rest of the time, he either chases foreign slabs or surfs them alone on the Hawaiian outer island that he calls home. Between his age, experience, ability and life choices, Stewart is surely the world’s most barrelled individual.
Born and raised in Hawaii and now living half of each year in Indonesia, Mikala has made an entire career out of one simple pursuit: surfing perfect barrels by himself. Simply having homes in Bali and Oahu’s North Shore would already set him up for hours on the foamball, but when you add in his innate water sense, commitment to the chase, and unmatched knowledge of secret, hollow reef passes, Mikala’s tube game is elevated to another level. There may not be another person alive who has a bigger or more complete map of Oceania than Mikala, which is why he has probably been barrelled more than any other stand-up surfer in history.
After 30 years as arguably the best surfer and barrel rider on the planet, you’d think Slater would be at the top of this list. And he would be if he hadn’t spent a large part of those 30 years chasing world titles. Although the tour has Cloudbreak, Teahupoo and Pipeline as venues, it also has Trestles, Bells, Margaret River, and Rio—all places that are more conducive to turns than tubes.
Still, even with his commitment to competitive surfing, Slater manages to get barrelled more than just about anyone. The fact that he has houses in half a dozen wave-rich zones helps, and so does the fact that he manages to score invites to just about every good wave on the planet. You know your local A+ spot, that semi-secret barrel that is the pride of your particular stretch of coast? Chances are good that Slater has scored it. And if he hasn’t been there yet, you can almost guarantee he will be within a year or two. As soon as Slater retires from the tour, he’ll move straight to the top of this list.
Surfing’s happiest Instagrammer and most prolific edit dropper, Alex Gray knows there’s only one way to score as many barrels and clips as possible and that’s to show up on the day of the year at the world’s best waves. Whether it's Fiji, Morocco, Canada, or South East Asia, when zones with world-class barrels are forecasted to pump, Gray is likely to be there—and the rest of us are likely to see the session on TurkeyMelt.com a few weeks later. If you are ever lucky enough to see Gray on your flight, rejoice, because you are about to score.
Someone You’ve Never Heard Of (or Someone You’ve Heard of But Forgot Existed)
For every big-name pro with a million barrels to his name, there is an underground charger who has spent just as much time in the tube. Usually, this is due to specific life choices made specifically to up wave count. Jon Roseman, for instance, has basically spent his entire life living and working on Tavarua, and has probably made more barrels than anyone at his beloved Cloudbreak.
Jensen Hassett has done a few seasons as a boatman at Tavarua as well, and spent years haunting the breaks of Oahu’s North Shore and Mexico’s heavier beach breaks. Mitchell Ferris has been based in Micronesia for a decade as the surf guide for Nihco Surf, and probably been barrelled at P-Pass more than anyone. And Zach Keenan has been feral in the Indian Ocean for the past 20 years, surf guiding/managing a resort on Kandui Island and logging countless hours at Indonesian slabs the rest of us don’t know exist. If you haven’t heard of any of these guys—well, don’t feel bad, because that’s probably exactly how they want it. And if you happen to know them personally? Then you are probably one of the most barrelled surfers in the world as well.
Cover image: Cloudbreak by Brad Scott