The Tallest Waves in Recorded History

The Tallest Waves in Recorded History

25th May 2020

If you have ever seen a tsunami then you will know the immense power the sea can unleash. This can lead to enormous waves causing massive destruction, but what are the biggest waves ever seen on Earth?

The Highest Tsunami Wave

We need to go back to 1958 to discover the most incredible tsunami to ever hit the planet. This happened when an earthquake shook the Fairweather Fault in Alaska, causing millions of cubic metres of rock to crash down into Lituya Bay from over 900 metres above.

This caused a local tsunami that led to a giant wave causing damage at over 520 metres above normal sea level. Millions of trees were ripped up and dragged away by the ferocious force of the water.

Five people were killed by the tsunami but there was very little property damage due to the remoteness of the location. Other tsunamis have caused far more damage over wider areas, but as far as we know none has involved taller waves.

The Southern Hemisphere’s Biggest Wave

A bit smaller but still impressive was the wave in New Zealand that reached the height of an eight-storey building in 2018. It was almost 28 metres tall and bigger than anything ever seen in the southern hemisphere.

The wave was recorded near Campbell Island, which is a few hundred miles south of New Zealand. Winds of 65 knots and a deep, low pressure weather system created the conditions for this large wave to form.

It may not even have been the biggest wave that day, as it was noted by a solar-powered buoy that automatically records wave details every three hours. The lack of land masses in the Southern Ocean mean that swells can increase over time as they are blown across vast swathes of water.

The Tallest Wave Ever Surfed

The previous waves sound terrifying and it is unlikely that any sane person would want to be anywhere near them. Yet, if we look at the tallest wave ever surfed, it is also impressively high.

This feat was achieved in 2017 by Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa. He was near Nazaré, off the coast of Portugal, when he surfed a 24 metre monster wave. This freak, wind-blown wave let Koxa ride right into the record books.

A stunning video of this feat lets us see how the brave surfer cut across the wave confidently at the type of dizzying height at which you would need a fall protection post compared to working on land.

The Historical Tsunami in Sicily

It is thought that a volcano eruption some 8,000 years ago triggered a huge avalanche leading to another of the planet’s biggest waves. This was said to have happened in Sicily, leading to a tsunami that caused damage in the area all around the Mediterranean Sea.

There are no written records from the time of the tsunami, therefore historians have had to rely on geological records when piecing together the story of what happened. They believe that the incident generated waves of up to 10 stories in height.