Surfing over sand is an interesting and often misunderstood pursuit. For one thing, sandbars are always changing, which means that what might be epic one day could be dog crap the next. The fickle pursuit of this ever-changing wavescape can be both frustrating and addictive. Perfection is much harder to come by, but when you do find it, the sense of satisfaction makes it all worth while.
Sandbars are also often written off as being less dangerous and less heavy than other types of waves—particularly shallow reefs and deep-water big wave spots. Beach breaks tend to max out at around double overhead, and sand is seemingly a softer landing pad than coral heads. But that’s not to say that beach breaks can’t be heavy. Really good sand bars are often hollower than their point and reef break contemporaries—and the sand can be cement hard, breaking bones and causing concussions with the best of them. And the size limit of sand-bottom waves is a bit of a misconception as well—especially when you consider the biggest wave in the world is an oversized sandbar wedge.
While the average bank might be relatively user-friendly most of the time, there’s nothing mellow about these beach breaks—four of the heaviest on the planet:
Does a sandpoint count as a beach break? This one does, at least when the swell gets below a certain size and comes from a certain direction. Natxo’s backless righthander is arguably the heaviest sand point on the planet—heavier than Namibia’s Skeleton Bay, which is saying a lot—and once it gets below head high it turns into one of the heaviest beach breaks, too. Miles of perfect peaks spit at each other over mere inches of sand, with virtually no one riding them—both because the area is remote as hell, and because the drop is as steep and as dangerous as they come.
What do you get when you take the size and power of Puerto Escondido and combine it with the frigid water of Northern California? The answer is an XL beach break with a ridiculously obvious name and an equally ridiculous paddle out.
Ocean Beach may not be as hollow as Puerto, but it’s just as challenging—perhaps more so, when you take into account the shark factor, the temperature of the water, the heinous paddling it requires, and the fact that its blown out 90% of the time. But for the sickos who dedicate their lives to it, Ocean Beach delivers from time to time—and when it does, there aren’t many strips of sand that can compete.
Forecast: Ocean Beach
France might not have the biggest beach breaks in Europe, but it does have some of the hollowest. The banks around Hossegor—including legendary spots like La Grav and La Nord—are exactly what you want out of a beach break. They are consistent, square, sandy tubs of fun—assuming you have the skills and gumption to handle them. Despite the presence of notorious reef breaks like Teahupoo and Pipe on tour, Hossegor has historically served up some of the best barrels on the competitive calendar each year—and that’s saying something.
Portugal’s freak show pops up on virtually every heavy water list that gets written, and for good reason—it’s the biggest, meanest, most unforgiving wave in the world. The fact that it breaks over sand, with no discernable or consistent channel, only makes it gnarlier.
But what many people don’t realise is that Nazare is still a heavy beach break when it’s not 80 feet and breaking half a mile out to sea. In swells up to around the double-overhead mark, Nazare breaks heavy, hollow, and close to shore—basically a cold, European version of Puerto. There’s a reason bodyboarders were surfing the inside long before surfers ever began exploring the oversized wedges offshore, and per usual, that reason is dredging tubes.
Live cam: Nazare
Dominating the Mexican big wave scene for decades, Puerto Escondido’s Playa Zicatella is the beach break against which all others are measured. It’s hollow from head high to infinity, with Mark Healy’s 50-foot closeout barrel a few years back setting the benchmark for brown-water badassedness. Formerly a stop on the Big Wave World Tour, “Puerto,” as the wave is endearingly called, still hosts a couple of contests each year—and in addition to local chargers like Coco Nogales, a large contingent of the world’s best big wave surfers and barrel riders regularly show up for them. That tells you all you need to know.
Forecast: Puerto Escondido