35 Best Surfers of All Time

The most exciting sport in the world but the most difficult to master has to be the gift that was passed on to us by our Polynesian ancestors, the sliding on waves, He’e Nalu in Hawaiian – surfing. 

Professional surfers identify themselves through the scoreboards of the World Surf League. Soul surfers are either professional in the past or surfers who are so good, they can stand out against participants of several surfing competitions.  Soul surfers can go up against professional surfers any time of the day but choose to simply search for the perfect wave without participating in official competitions. 

In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the world of surfing pro to unveil the top 35 best surfers of all time and the evolution of surfing. From pioneers who paved the way to contemporary stars, each surfer on this list has left an indelible mark on the sport, inspiring generations with their skill, passion, and commitment to riding the waves.

The Evolution of Surfing

Big Wave Riding

From the towering swells of Waimea Bay to the legendary breaks of Mavericks, big wave riding has captivated surfers seeking the ultimate adrenaline rush. Pioneers like Laird Hamilton and Greg Noll have pushed the limits of what’s possible in the realm of big wave surfing, inspiring awe and admiration with their daring exploits.

Tow-In Surfing

Tow-in surfing, pioneered by Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox in the 1990s, revolutionized the sport by allowing surfers to ride waves previously deemed unrideable. This innovative technique opened up new frontiers in surfing, leading to the discovery of remote breaks and the pursuit of ever-bigger waves.

Progressive Maneuvers

In the realm of competitive surfing, progressive maneuvers like aerials and tube rides have become the hallmark of modern performance surfing. Surfers like Gabriel Medina and John John Florence have pushed the boundaries of aerial acrobatics, wowing audiences with their gravity-defying feats.

Best Surfers of All Time

For the longest time, people have been questioning why surfing has never made it as an official sport to be part of the Olympics. Now, it has. 

A sport that engages with huge crashing waves, tons of skills, and possibilities of shark attacks deserve to be in the most celebrated international sporting event. Along with that, are the surfers that bested not just other riders but the ocean itself. 

The best surfers in the world hold not just the greatest skills. They also have it in them the huge impact they have on surfing. It is just right that we recognize them for all of their successes whether they are still active or retired, with us or have passed on. 

Here are the world’s best surfers of all time:

#35. Italo Ferreira (Brazil)


  • Born: May 6, 1994
  • Birthplace: Baía Formosa, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2011 Quiksilver Pro Junior
    • 2011 Mormaii Pro Junior
    • 2018 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach
    • 2018 Corona Bali Protected
    • 2018 MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal
    • 2019 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast
    • 2019 MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal
    • 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters

One of the most explosive surfers in the business, Ítalo Ferreira first gained fame on the Championship Tour in his 2015 rookie season. He did a spellbinding aerial attack and a vicious rail game. It was in these times when he made the semifinals in Rio, quarterfinals in Fiji, and finals in Portugal. 

He ran away with Rookie of the Year award after completing a remarkable year, ranking at No. 7. 

Since then, many, even the surfer he looked up to – Mick Fanning considered him serious Title threat. He had his fair share of ups and downs. In 2017, he tore ligaments in his ankle that kept him from finishing the last three steps of the event he was in. 

In 2019, he showed all his class and potential by finishing as runner up in France and taking out the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal heading into the Billabong Pipe Masters.

#34. Wayne Bartholomew (Australia)


  • Born: November 30, 1954
  • Birthplace: Tweed Heads, New South Wales
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1978 World Surfing Championship
    • 1999 ASP world masters
    • 2003 ASP world grandmaster

More popularly known as “Rabbit,” Wayne Bartholomew was a self-made great surfer. In one of the Surfer’s Journal profiles written by Matt Warshaw, he was described in three words: struggle, achievement, style. Truly it was his approach into the vortex of all his rides. 

He was nicknamed “Rabbit” as he was a speedster on the soccer field. Rabbit started surfing at the age of 13 when he moved to Kirra. He first rode at Snapper Rocks and moved to his formative years riding the famed Gold Coast Pointbreak. No one in the world has counted more tube time than Rabbit has. 

In 2008, a documentary telling about his life was released – “Bustin’ Down the Door.” It told about his influence on the generation which is more than just winning titles. Perhaps his biggest gift to professional surfing was when he serves as the President of ASP International from 1999 through 2008.

#33. Joel Tudor (United States)


  • Born: June 11, 1976
  • Birthplace: San Diego, California, United States
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1998 ASP Longboard World Championship
    • 2004 ASP Longboard World Championship
    • 8-time United States Open of longboarding champion

Joel Tudor is perhaps the only living surfer who showcases more style and grace on the board. Making a living off his ability to ride both skateboard and surfboard, he sure has perfected riding any craft in any water condition. 

Described as “the finest longboard surfer of all time” by The Surfer’s Journal, Joel Tudor became the first new-age longboarder who made it as the cover of Surfer. He excelled in different areas of surfing and has always been a representation of surfers who can ride any board no matter what the conditions call for. 

Right now he is busy creating the longboarding platform for the next generation. He still surfs since it serves as the balance that allows him to do other stuff. And, while he worries about the sport being part of the Olympics, he is glad that he is part of the sport that made it there. 

#32. Rob Machado (United States)

Rob machado


  • Born: October 16, 1973
  • Birthplace: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2003 Hawaii’s Pipeline Masters 
    • 2006 United States Open of Surfing
    • 2011 Reef Sweetwater Pro

Born in Australia but raised in California, Rob Machado spent most of his life on top of a surfboard. One of the surfing world’s most iconic and beloved figures, he never drifted too far from his hometown swells in San Diego. 

He is one legendary surfer competing alongside the likes of Kelly Slater, Taylor Knox, and Pat O’Connell. He was 16, then. At 18, he ended 2nd to Shane Beschen in the domestic Bud Pro Tour. 

Rob did not stop and qualified for the newly organized ASP World Championship Tour. It was when he started getting endorsement sponsorships from labels such as Gotcha and Hurley. 

More than a surfer, he is also an ambassador. An environmental activist, he formed the Rob Machado Foundation, an organization focused on environmental causes. The same organization that is keeping him busy aside from shaping and designing his line of surfboards.

#31. Martin Potter (United Kingdom)

Martin Potter

  • Born: October 28. 1965
  • Birthplace: Blyth, Northumberland, England
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1984 Marui Japan Open, Foster’s Surfmasters, Hang Ten Summer Grand Prix
    • 1987 Hot Tuna UK Surf Masters
    • 1988 MBF Head Start
    • 1989 O’Neill/Pepsi Classic, Coke Classic, Marui Japan Open, Quiksilver Lacanau pro, Arena Surfmasters
    • 1990 LIfe’s a Beach Men’s Championship Tour
    • 1990 Rip Curl Pro Landes
    • 1992 Miyazaki Pro Men’s Championship Tour
    • 1993 Men’s Championship Tour Lacanau Pro

The best free surfer but not the most consistent, Martin Potter first took the world by storm when he was 15 after he defeated Shaun Tomson. It was his first professional contest. The winter that came after, at the Pipe Masters, he stood up against the meanest tube of the winter – 12-ft screamer that put him in the limelight. 

Right now, he is a resident of Australia. He is a signed ambassador for Quiksilver and with the rise of the internet, he had ASP webcasts as his perfect venue to share his mix of surfing techniques and personality to the world.

#30. Taj Burrow (Australia)


  • Born: June 2, 1978
  • Birthplace: Busselton, Western Australia, Australia
  • Career Earnings: $1,482,613.00
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1999 Coke Surf Classic Manly, Rio Marathon Surf International
    • 2001 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast
    • 2002 Mundial Coca-Cola de Surf
    • 2004 Nova Schin Festival
    • 2007 Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay
    • 2007 Rip Curl Pro
    • 2009 Billabong Pipeline Masters
    • 2010 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast
    • 2012 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, O’Neill Cold Water Classic Santa Cruz
    • 2013 Hurley Pro Trestles

Taj Burrow has always been one of the most famous surfers in the world. He was known as a surfer who had an astonishing and illustrious career sans the world title. 

It tells a lot about his character as a surfer when he decided to hold back from the Championship Tour for a year. In his mind, his 17-year-old self was too young to do the tour full-on. He was leaning towards getting incredible videos instead of winning events which says a lot about he loved the sport.

#29. Dane Reynolds (United States)

  • Born: September 7, 1985
  • Birthplace: Long Beach, California, United States
  • Years active: 2008 to present
  • Career earnings: $357,325
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2003 Highest Single Wave Score X Games
    • 2004 Highest Single Wave Score X Games
    • 2006 Best Male Performance in a Video, Video of the Year

A radical spirit, Dane Reynolds was one free surfer who didn’t suit a contest vest. He was shy and was not comfortable with crowds and media. Most consider this as something that didn’t really help his career as a competitive surfer. 

Dane started surfing at the young age of 10, when his family moved from Bakersfield, CA to Ventura. He perfected his rides and stunts on the point breaks around Santa Barbara and Ventura. At the age of 13, he started competing. By 16, he dropped out of school to surf. 

Adding to his fame are his awards from Surfer Poll Awards in 2006 where he bagged both Best Male Performance in a Video and Video of the Year for his first video, “First Chapter.” 

At present, Dane is still a sponsored surfer and is even more so ripping harder than anyone in the world. He puts his free time to his clothing company called “Former.”

#28. Ross Clarke-Jones (Australia)

  • Born: June 6, 1966
  • Birthplace: Sydney, Australia
  • Awards Won: 

The man who was born 6.6.666, Ross Clarke-Jones was an established big wave surfer. He was there at the 1986 Billabong Pro at Waimea bay as well as the Pipeline Masters. He also had 12 years poured on the ASP World Tour. 

At 52, he is still an active rabble-rouser and has not been showing any signs of slowing down. Still going at breakneck speed from his early days and Mad Max to almost winning Eddie Aikau, to TV shows and documentaries with Tom Caroll. 

At present, he divides his time traveling between Portugal, Hawaii, and Australia. He is currently based in Bells Beach, Australia, but doesn’t mind enjoying fierce swells in the Southern hemisphere like South Africa, New Zealand, Tasmania, or even Western Australia.

#27. Nat Young (Australia)

  • Born: November 14, 1947
  • Birthplace: Sydney, New South Wales
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1963 Australian Invitational Surfing Championships
    • 1966 ISF World Surfing Champion (men’s), Australian Surfing Champion
    • 1967 Australian Surfing Champion
    • 1969 Australian Surfing Champion
    • 1970 Smirnoff World Pro-Am Surfing Championships World Champion

In his tender age of 16, Robert “Nat” Young won his first open division – 1963 Australian Invitational Surfing Championships. He started surfing when he was 10 and did not stop progressing until he made it to World Championships.

While competing, he made the board he called “Magic Sam” in 1996. It was a thin 9’4” squaretail that had a swept-back fin designed by colleague George Greenough. He rode it to victory in the Australian National Titles and took it to San Diego for the World Championships. 

He was virtually unchallenged with “Magic Sam.” The board plus his “involvement” style of riding such as powerful turns in and around the curl added up to his victory. 

After retiring from surfing, he focused on writing books about surfing and sailboarding. His son Beau Young took after his surfing success where he won the World Longboard title in 2000.

#26. Tyler Wright (Australia)

Tyler Wright
Tyler Wright


  • Born: March 31, 1994
  • Birthplace: Culburra Beach, New South Wales, Australia
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2008 Beachley Classic
    • 2010 O’Neill Women’s World Cup
    • 2013 Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Colgate Plax Girls Rio Pro
    • 2014 United States Open of Surfing, Roxy Pro France
    • 2015 Roxy Pro France
    • 2016 Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Drug Aware Pro Margaret River, Oi Rio Pro, Swatch Women’s Pro Trestles, Maui Women’s Pro
    • 2017 Oi Rio Women’s Pro

A two-time back to back World Champion from Culburra, Australia, Tyler Wright pushed into the waves as early as 4. She was labeled a surfing prodigy, surfing alongside his equally talented, top-ranked elder brother Owen Wright. 

She went through an emotional phase while touring. It was no surprise for a teenager being on tour and was struggling emotionally to find herself as her favorite pastime became a job. To her, at that point in her life, the thrill faded too fast. 

Wright almost walked away from the sport. It wasn’t when her brother suffered a life-threatening brain injury that changed her perspective in so many things. She went back to surfing and in 2016, she won five events in the season. 

Her latest stint was making it to the Finals in Maui where she proved that not only was she back in business but that her focus is locked on the World Title.

#25. Adriano de Souza (Brazil)

Adriano de Souza
Adriano de Souza


  • Born: February 13, 1987
  • Birthplace: Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Career Earnings: $2,073,400
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2003 Won ASP World Junior Championship
    • 2005 Rip Curl Pro Hossegor, Billabong Costa do Sauipe
    • 2007 Maresia Surf International, Onbongo Pro Surfing
    • 2008 Billabong ECO Surf Festival, Mark Richards Pro
    • 2009 Billabong Pro Mundaka
    • 2011 Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal, Billabong Rio Pro
    • 2012 Billabong Pro
    • 2013 Rip Curl Pro
    • 2014 Hurley Australian Open
    • 2015 Billabong Pipe Masters, Margaret River Pro
    • 2017 Oi Rio Pro

The gritty and determined regular footer. The inspirational leader of the Brazilian Storm. Adriano de Souza is one extraordinary surfer. 

He started at 8 when he came to the ocean carrying the second-hand surfboard his brother bought him. Since then, he never stopped riding. He was 14 when he decided to leave home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro surfer

He works hard and was very determined to reach his dream. It was what brought him to the Championship Tour in 2006 where he inspired a whole generation of Brazilians. Even more so when he started raking victories. 

Despite the many titles under his name, the triumph he considers the most successful was his marriage with his wife, Patricia.

#24. Filipe Toledo (Brazil)

  • Born: April 16, 1995
  • Birthplace: Ubatuba, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2011 US Open Junior Pro, Billabong Surf Eco Festival
    • 2015 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, Oi Rio Pro, MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal
    • 2016 Sooruz Lacanau Pro, US Open of Surfing, O’Neill SP Prime, Oakley Lowers Pro, US Open of Surfing
    • 2017 Reef Hawaiian Pro, Corona J-Bay Open, Hurley Pro Trestles
    • 2018 Oi Rio Pro, Corona J-Bay Open
    • 2019 Oi Rio Pro

The representation of the tip of the spear in today’s progressive surfing movement, Filipe Toledo is small in stature but massively strong with his moves. He has mastered his aerial realm making him known as the Brasilian Tornado. 

He has netted eight Championship Tour victories since his introduction in 2013. A second generation pro who followed the steps of his father, Ricardo – a two-time national champion back home. When Filipe’s career took off, he took his entire family to move to San Clemente, California. 

Filipe Toledo is also a surfer with the most WCT event wins in 2015. He went to finish the 2015 season in 4th place. He landed on the same spot when he battled for the World Title at Pipeline.

#23. Eddie Aikau

Eddie Aikau


  • Born: May 4, 1946 Died: March 17, 1978
  • Birthplace: Kahului, Territory of Hawaii, United States
  • Years Active: 1959 to 1978 
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1971 Lifeguard of the Year

The first lifeguard on the North Shore of Oahu, Eddie saved countless lives and helped with keeping peach when localism got out of hand. 

He was a surfer in the 50s and 60s, braving 30-ft waves. The third child of Solomon and Henrietta, he was a descendant of Hewahewa, the kahuna nui (high priest) of King Kamehameha I. 

His stint as the first lifeguard of the North shore was remarkable. Covering all shores from Sunset to Haleiwa, not one life lost under his watch. He went braving waves that are often 30-ft high or more just to save lives. The last person he saved was TV Producer John Orland. 

It was his dedication to saving lives that led to his passing. In 1978, Eddie joined the voyage that sought volunteers for a 2,500-mile journey. During the voyage, the canoe developed a leak in one of its hulls and later on capsized. 

Eddie attempted to help by paddling toward Lānaʻi on his surfboard. He removed his life jacket since it was getting in the way of his paddling. The rest of the crew were rescued by the United States Coast Guard except for Eddie. The search for him was the largest air-sea search in Hawaiian history.

#22. Tom Blake 

  • Born: March 8, 1902 Died: May 5, 1994
  • Birthplace: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1928 Pacific Coast Championship
    • 1936 Longest recorded surf ride in history

Often will you expect a man who was born near the waters to be a surfer. Very seldom will you find someone who was not born in a beach town yet mastered the art of riding the waters. That is Tom Blake. 

He lived 92 years and left one precious legacy. His love of the waters. The same love had him successfully invent a lot of things surfing-related – the hollow surfboard, the water-proof camera case, and the surfboard fin

One of the most significant people in the history of surfing, he was what surf journalist Drew Kampion wrote as “Blake altered everything. He almost single-handedly transformed surfing from a primitive Polynesian curiosity into a 20th-century lifestyle.”

#21. Greg Noll (United States)

  • Born: February 11, 1937
  • Birthplace: San Diego, California, United States
  • Years active: 1957 to 1969
  • Awards Won: —

“Da Bull” as he was most famously known, was one of the big wave surfing pioneers. It didn’t need him titles to get his name on this list. His experiences alone are enough to make him one of the greatest of all times. 

He became known for his adventures in large Hawaiian surfs. What was thought to be impossible even by the locals, he surfed with all his might. He was the first to ride the wave breaking on the outside reef at Banzai Pipeline in 1964. 

He along with other big wave legends were chronicled in the documentary Riding Giants. He also made some commentary track about his perspective on Hawaiian big wave surfing along with Laird Hamilton and Jeff Clark.

#20. Lisa Andersen (United States)

Lisa Andersen


  • Born: March 8, 1969
  • Birthplace: Amityville, New York, United States
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1990 Quit Women’s Classic, Bundaberg Rum Surf Masters
    • 1991 Trophee Feminin Bounty Ice Cream
    • 1992 Miyazaki Women’s Pro, Waiti Lacanau Women’s Pro, Quit Women’s Classic
    • 1994 Roxy Quiksilver Surfmasters, US Open of Surfing, Reunion Surf Pro, Quit Women’s Classic
    • 1995 Gotcha Lacanau Pro, OP Pro, Quit Women’s Classic
    • 1996 Gotcha Lacanau Pro, CSI presents Billabong Pro, Rip Curl Women’s Pro
    • 1997 Expo 98 Figueira 97, Buondi Sintra Pro, Kahlua US Open of Women’s, Marui Pro, Quit Classic
    • 2000 Billabong Pro

Lisa has to be the most stylish and most mimicked female surfer in the world. Especially when she emerged with Roxy boardshorts and went to invade the world with her quick and dynamic surfing performances. 

Aside from winning multiple world titles, Anderson changed women’s surfing fashion and opened up huge dividends to the big surf clothing companies at that time. 

During the mid-90s, it was Slater and her that were always top on world championship tours that everyone else seemed like faded in obscurity.

#19. Mick Fanning (Australia)

  • Born: June 13, 1981
  • Birthplace: Penrith, New South Wales, Australia
  • Years active: 2002 to 2018
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2001 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach
    • 2002 Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay
    • 2005 Rip Curl Pro Search, Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast
    • 2006 Nova Schin Festival, Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay
    • 2007 Hang Loose Pro, Quiksilver Pro France, Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast
    • 2009 Quiksilver Pro France, Rip Curl Pro Search, Hurley Pro Trestles
    • 2010 Quiksilver Pro France
    • 2012 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, Billabong Pro Teahupoo
    • 2013 Quiksilver Pro France
    • 2014 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, J-Bay Open, Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal
    • 2015 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, 2015 Hurley Pro Trestles
    • 2016 J-Bay Open

Even after retiring, Mick Fanning remains relevant in the surfing scene. With the many ups and downs that happened during his entire surfing career, he polished his retirement with his notable Championship Tour career at the 2018 Rip Curl Pro – 17 years after netting the event as a wildcard. 

Considered as one of Australia’s greatest surfing hero, his ride was not anything but smooth. Deaths in the family, injuries, and near-fatal shark attack all contributed to the legacy he left behind. 

Even someone who is not a fan of surfing won’t fail to recognize Mick especially after the finals of the J-Bay Open in South Africa where the whole world held their breath as a shark attack was caught live on TV.

#18. Jordy Smith (South Africa)

Jordy Smith
Jordy Smith
  • Born: February 11, 1988
  • Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2010 Billabong Pro J-Bay
    • 2011 Billabong Pro J-Bay
    • 2013 Billabong Rio Pro
    • 2014 Hurley Pro at Trestles
    • 2016 Hurley Pro at Trestles
    • 2017 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach
    • 2018 Outerknown Founders Cup

Lobbied by the likes of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan to join Nike, Jordy Smith held the record for setting off one of the biggest bidding wars in the industry history. After winning the World Junior Championship in 2006 and the Qualifying Series in 2007, brands courted to sponsor him and he elected to go with O’Neill. 

A large and powerful regular footer from Durban, he was popular for speaking his mind. He was after all a two-time runner up to the World Title. After nursing an injury in 2015, he came back strong in 2016 and took home Hurley Pro at Trestles. 

The World Title still felt elusive as he finished 2nd after being defeated by John John Florence. 

He is married to model Lyndall Jarvis and splits his time between San Clemente, CA, the shores of Oahu, Cape Town, and South Africa when he is not busy competing.

#17. Julian Wilson (Australia)

  • Born: November 8, 1988
  • Birthplace: Coolum Beach, Queensland, Australia
  • Career earnings: $1,491,250
  • Awards Won:
    • 2012 Rip Curl Pro Portugal
    • 2014 Billabong Pipeline Masters
    • 2017 Billabong Pro Teahupoo
    • 2018 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast
    • 2018 Quiksilver Pro France

Living on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, surfing is an essential part of Julian Wilson’s life. This sweet and gentle surfer has shown hunger and desperation for a title. 

In reality, even without a world title, he already made his name in the surfing scene. His talents were one of whom that was highly regarded. His looks got him the heartthrob status even before joining the competitive ranks. He was famous on his own. 

His last ride at Pipeline secured him a top 10 place on the Jeep Leaderboard that also gave him his provisional qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

#16. Shane Dorian (Hawaii)

  • Born: July 19, 1972
  • Birthplace: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, United States
  • Years active: 1992 to present
  • Career earnings: $1,491,250
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1999 Rip Curl Pro
    • 2000 Billabong Pro

Shane Dorian was part of the Momentum Generation. A documentary that features never before seen footage and raw interviews of surfing’s most legendary crew. What made him part of this crew was his greatness not just in the field of surfing but life in general. 

One of the best surfers of his time, he reinvented himself to be a wave charger and went to become one of the best big wave surfers of all time at Jaws and Mavericks. Anyone who has seen his performance at Eddie 2009 will have an idea just how great he is. 

Fearless, he takes on the gnarliest, heaviest, and scariest big waves in the world.

#15. Gerry Lopez (United States)

  • Born: November 7, 1948
  • Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
  • Years active: 1970 to present
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1972 Pipeline Masters
    • 1999 Waterman of the Year by the Surf Industries Manufacturing Association

The king of Pipeline – Gerry Lopez grew up in Honolulu frequenting the semi-secret reefs in and around Aina Haina. His trips to these reefs gained him enough experience and confidence to become Hawaii State Champ at the age of 14. 

Along with his friend Reno Abellira, he migrated out to Oahu’s North Shore where they took after the likes of Butch Van Artsdalen and Jock Sutherland. With surfboards integrating “downrailer” edges, curve, foil, and rocker, Lopez led the vertical drops and thick tubes with ease. 

That was when he was recognized as the best tube rider in the world.

#14. Mark Richards (Australia)

  • Born: March 7, 1957
  • Birthplace: Newcastle, Australia
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1978 Rip Curl/Coca-Cola Classic
    • 1979 Hang Ten World Cup, J.S.O Niijima Super Surfing, Rip Curl Easter Classic, Stubbies Surf Classic
    • 1980 Offshore Pipeline Masters, Hang Ten International, Gunston 500, Rip Curl / Big
    • 1981 US Pro Invitational, Mainstay Magnum, Stubbies Surf Classic
    • 1982 Gunston 500, Rip Curl/Brian Rochford Classic
    • 1985 Billabong Pro
    • 1986 Billabong Pro

The four-time world champion, MR is highly respected by his peers. One of the most popular surfers in Australia, he took so many championships under his name and strongly contributed to the development of surfboard shaping

He was part of the Aussie invasion of the North Shore that included Rabbit. But, Mark let his surfing do the talking that gained him entry to some of the most respected events during that time. His most explosive ride was when he rode Waimea at 30 feet. 

Presently, he keeps himself busy shaping boards in his hometown.

#13. Layne Beachley (Australia)

Layne Beachley


  • Born: May 24, 1972
  • Birthplace: Manly, New South Wales, Australia
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1993 Diet Coke Women’s Classic
    • 1994 Quit Women’s Classic
    • 1995 Rip Curl Pro France
    • 1996 Cleanwater Classic, Wahine/Airtouch Pro, Wahine Women’s US Open of Surfing, OP Pro, Quiksilver Roxy Women’s Pro
    • 1997 Quiksilver Roxy Women’s Pro
    • 1998 Sunsmart Classic, Diet Coke Surf Classic, Tokushima Pro, Kahlua Open, Rip Curl Pro France
    • 1999 Sunsmart Classic, Diet Coke Surf Classic, Newquay Pro, Roxy Pro Sunset Beach
    • 2000 Billabong Pro, Elleven Pro Women’s, Rip Curl Pro France, Quiksilver Roxy Pro, 
    • 2001 Billabong Pro Tahiti
    • 2002 Roxy Pro France
    • 2003 Roxy Pro Gold Coast
    • 2004 Roxy Pro
    • 2006 Billabong Girls Pro

The first and the only surfer, male or female to ever win seven world surfing championships, six of which were consecutive. Layne Beachley, the Manly surfer girl started to become a professional rider when she was 16. By 20, she ranked 6th in the world 

Her life is almost like a story from the movies. She was born Tania Maris Gardner but was adopted by the Beachleys, thus the name. Her adoptive mother suffered a post-operative brain hemorrhage and died, leaving her under her adoptive father’s care. 

Her success in surfing brought her a lot of recognition, including the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2011. She also made it to the Surfing Walk of Fame as Woman of the Year in 2006. 2 years after announcing her retirement, she married Kirk Pengilly, a member of the Australian rock group INXS, in 2010.

#12. Miki Dora

Miki Dora
Miki Dora
  • Born: August 11, 1934 Died: January 3, 2002
  • Birthplace: Budapest, Hungary
  • Awards Won: —

Love him or hate him, the angry young man of surfing – Miki Dora can’t be denied of his contribution to surfing history. The “Black Knight,” “Malibu Mickey,” “Da Cat,” were just a few of the many names he was given. 

Miki Dora was a rebellious surfer. Influenced by his drunkard stepfather, he grew up a bit aggressive and ill-tempered. He demonstrated a rather lonesome but hostile surfing personality that he even protested against the commercialization of the sport. 

Even so, he was still a mysterious and gifted surfer. Hailed as the first superstar of the surfing world, Miki landed major roles in Hollywood, posed for a few surf ads, put up his own line of surfboards. All done while openly despising the industry he belonged to. 

He succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2002.

#11. Andy Irons (Hawaii)

Andy Irons
Andy Irons
  • Born: July 24, 1978 Died: November 2, 2010
  • Birthplace: Kauai, Hawaii
  • Career Earnings: $1,495,533
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1998 Op Pro
    • 2000 Billabong Pro
    • 2002 Billabong Pro, Billabong Pro Teahupoo, Rip Curl Pro
    • 2003 X-Box Pipeline Masters, Quiksilver Pro France, Niijima Quiksilver Pro, Quiksilver Pro, Fiji, Rip Curl Pro
    • 2004 Billabong Pro J-Bay, Quiksilver Pro France
    • 2005 Rip Curl Cup, Quiksilver Pro France, Quiksilver Pro Japan
    • 2006 Rip Curl Cup, Rip Curl Search
    • 2007 Rip Curl Search
    • 2010 Billabong Pro Teahupoo

Andy was a professional surfer who learned to surf by threading on the unpredictable and shallow reefs of the North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii. The long list of his achievements makes him world-renowned as no surfer has ever succeeded at winning a title at every event on the ASP Calendar. 

He usually competed against his brother Bruce and never won. Not until he entered the World Championship Tour where he bagged it three times. After two Rip Curl Pro Search titles, three Quiksilver Pro France titles, 20 elite tour victories, he decided to pause in 2009.

He made a full comeback in 2010 and netted Billabong Pro Tahiti title. In the same year, he died from cardiac arrest and drug ingestion in some hotel room. February 13 was pronounced Andy Irons Day by the Governor of Hawaii.

#10. Mark Occhilupo (Australia)

Mark Occhilupo
Mark Occhilupo
  • Born: June 16, 1966
  • Birthplace: Kurnell, New South Wales
  • Career Earnings: $652,125
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1984 Beaurepaires Open, Tutti Frutti Lacanau Pro, Country Feeling Classic
    • 1985 Swan Margaret River Thriller, OP Pro, Gunston 500
    • 1986 BHP Steel International, OP Pro
    • 1998 Rip Curl Pro
    • 1999 Billabong Pro, Quiksilver Pro Fiji, Gotcha Tahiti Pro

Another Aussie Legend, Mark Occhilupo is a fierce accolade in the laid-back surfer dude world. He started raising his flag at the age of 17 when he shone in the World Championship Tour exhibiting his undeniably extraordinary surfing powers. 

He was no doubt a talent on the waters, however, he would have subsequent mental and emotional breakdowns from time to time that led him to take a few years to break from the scene. In 1999, he went for a comeback and got all the way to winning the world title. 

Know more about Mark from a book written about his rise and fall – The Man Who Fell To The Couch.

#9. John John Florence (Hawaii)

John John Florence


  • Born: October 18, 1992
  • Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawai’i
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2011 Volcom Pipeline Pro, Van’s World Cup
    • 2012 Billabong Rio Pro, Telstra Drug Aware Pro, Volcom Pipe Pro
    • 2013 Volcom Pipe Pro
    • 2014 Quiksilver Pro France
    • 2015 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, Volcom Pipe Pro
    • 2016 Oi Rio Pro, MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal, Hawaiian Pro
    • 2017 Drug Aware Margaret River Pro
    • 2019 Margaret River Pro, Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach

Known as one of the most dominant Pipe surfers of his era, John John Florence surprised everyone when at the age of 13, in his small body built – 4’11” and 85lbs, became the youngest surfer ever to compete in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.

When he is not injured, he could beat anyone. What’s interesting is how he does in a way that he doesn’t look so serious, when he is. He has a kid’s tendency to be silly at times. He’d drop out a half pipe on a skateboard just a day before the main surfing event, the next day, its as if nothing happened. 

He’d paddle and stand like a normal surfer does and then would go for a shocking and crazy wind-assist airs that looks like he’s going to blow any part of his body.

At a young age, he already has two titles under his name. The future still looks bright for him.

#8. Gabriel Medina (Brazil)



  • Born: December 22, 1993
  • Birthplace: São Sebastião, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Awards Won: 
    • 2009 Maresias Surf International
    • 2011 Quiksilver Pro France, Rip Curl Search, Super Surf International, Sooruz Lacanau Pro, San Miguel Pro, Airwalk Lacanau Pro Junior
    • 2012 Nike Lowers Pro
    • 2013 HD World Junior Championship
    • 2014 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, Fiji Pro, Billabong Pro Teahupoo
    • 2015 Quiksilver Pro France
    • 2016 Fiji Pro
    • 2017 Quiksilver Pro France, MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal, Future Classic
    • 2019 Freshwater Pro, Corona Open J-Bay

Currently one of the most popular surfers of his time, Gabriel Medina is set to represent his country at the Tokyo Olympics.

Considered a national hero in his hometown, this dark-haired goofy-footer has an unpredictable and explosive repertoire of above the lip maneuvers. These earned him titles from his early teens up to present. 

Gabriel Medina dominates his rivals in head to head battles making him an enduring World Title contender. One of the most dramatic finales included his bout against Italo Ferreira where he placed 2nd. Still, it was enough for him to make it to the Olympic selection.

#7. Tom Carroll (Australia)

Tom Carroll
Tom Carroll
  • Born: November 26, 1961
  • Birthplace: Newport, New South Wales, Australia
  • Awards Won:
    • 1982 Sunkist World Cup
    • 1983 Sun Country, Beaurepaires Open, Stubbies Classic, Wave Wizards, Fosters Euro Pro
    • 1984 Marui World Surfing Pro, Gunston 500
    • 1985 Rip Curl/Subaru Easter Classic, World Inland Championships, Marui Japan Open
    • 1986 The Coke Surf Classic, Swan Premium Thriller
    • 1987 Marui Masters, BHP Steel International, Drug Offensive Thriller, Hang Loose Pro
    • 1988 Hard Rock Cafe World Cup, Hang Loose Pro, Rip Curl Pro Landes, Oxbow Lacanau Pro
    • 1989 BHP Steel International
    • 1990 Marui Masters
    • 1991 Marui Masters, Rip Curl Pro Landes

Tom Carroll was the first surfing millionaire when he signed up with Quiksilver in 1989. The smallest world champion, he was one of the most famous surfers of his generation – one who chose power surfing over everything else. 

He made a name for himself by being fearless. He pulled into massive barrels and carved crazy snaps under the lips. He did the same even during a particularly gnarly surfing event. 

In 1985, he was overtaken in the world rankings and lost his bid to the world title when he took part in boycotting South Africa. The direct result was him missing the title and the entire leg of the South African leg. 

His fierce determination made him one of the most inspirational surfers of the 80s.

#6. Laird Hamilton (United States)

  • Born: March 2, 1964 
  • Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States
  • Years active: 1970 to present
  • Awards Won: —

Laird Hamilton is an accomplished living waterman who is equally skilled at windsurfing. He could have pursued a career in surfing and toured for World Championships but competitive surfing just did not appeal to him. 

Years of watching his father compete and endure the competitive surfing contest politics drove him away from even trying. Yet, no matter how much he stepped away from the world of surfing, he still belongs to the sea. One proof is how he can regularly ride swells that rise 35 feet tall at over 30 mph.

His braveness isn’t just limited to surfing alone. In 2018, he made news for voluntarily rescuing evacuees in Hawaii from a devastating flood.

#5. Tom Curren (United States)

Tom Curren
Tom Curren
  • Born: July 3, 1964 
  • Birthplace: Santa Barbara, California, United States
  • Awards Won:
    • 1982 Marui World Surfing Pro
    • 1983 Marui World Surfing Pro, OP Pro, Hang Ten Series (i)
    • 1984 Rip Curl/Aust Crawl Classic, Stubbie’s Surf Classic, OP Pro
    • 1985 Stubbie’s Surf Classic, BHP Steel International, Philishave Tracer, Marui World Surfing Pro, Foster’s Pro
    • 1986 Stubbie’s US Pro, Foster’s Surf Masters Pro, Lacanau Pro, Gotcha Pro, Marui Japan Open
    • 1987 Stubbie’s US Pro, Marui Japan Open
    • 1988 OP Pro, Stubbie’s US Pro, Marui Japan Open
    • 1989 Rip Curl Pro Landes
    • 1990 Marui Pro, Boundi Pro, Arena Surfmasters, Quiksilver Lacanau Pro, Rip Curl/Coke Classic, Bundaberg Rum Masters, O’Neill/Pepsi Coldwater Classic
    • 1991 Wyland Hawaiian Pro, Alder Surf Pro

Tom Curren is a three-time world champion and is a legend that has grown over the years. The golden child of American surfing, he debuted in 1982 he managed not only to shock Australia but the whole world. 

The following year, he joined ASP World Tour, took out pros, and became one of the most popular surfers in the world. His international popularity stayed on for more than a decade. He has under his name 33 championship events, 3 world champions that made him feel enough reason to retire in the mid-90s.

#4. Stephanie Gilmore (Australia)

Stephanie Gilmore
Stephanie Gilmore



  • Born: January 29, 1988
  • Birthplace: Murwillumbah, New South Wales, Australia
  • Career Earnings: $1,132,520
  • Awards Won:
    • 2005 Roxy Pro Gold Coast
    • 2006 Havaianas Beachley Classic
    • 2007 Rip Curl Women’s Pro, NAB Beachley Classic, Mancora Peru Classic, Billabong Pro
    • 2008 Rip Curl Women’s Pro, Rip Curl Pro Mademoiselle, Movistar Classic, Roxy Pro, Billabong Pro
    • 2009 Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Billabong Pro
    • 2010 Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Rip Curl Women’s Pro, Commonwealth Bank Beachley Classic, Rip Curl Search
    • 2011 Roxy Pro France
    • 2012 Roxy Pro Gold Coast, TSB Bank NZ Surf Festival, Roxy Pro France
    • 2014 Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Swatch Women’s Pro Trestles, Cascais Women’s Pro
    • 2017 Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Maui Women’s Pro
    • 2018 Rip Curl Women’s Pro, Rio Pro, Corona Open J-Bay

One of the most dominant yet stylish surfers in history, Stephanie is another provisional representative at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Having said that, her long list of achievements makes it easy to believe she’s at her shot at adding another gold in her trophy shelf. 

She has seven World Titles in her rookie season alone, making her the first surfer on the men’s and women’s side to realize such a and accomplishment.

Her style of surfing can be compared to the likes of fellow Gold Coast style master Joel Parkinson. With pure artistry, her approach even when aggressive still looks as if grounded and in genius accuracy and technical capability. 

What she believes to be her greatest challenge so far is how to keep the generation of women following her inspired. 

#3. Shaun Tomson (South Africa)

  • Born: August 21, 1955
  • Birthplace: Durban, South Africa
  • Years active: 1969 to 1990
  • Awards Won:
    • 1976 Gunston 500
    • 1977 Gunston 500, Hawaiian Tropic World Cup
    • 1978 Gunston 500, Jose Cuervo Classic
    • 1979 J.S.O Chiba Pro
    • 1982 Mainstay Magnum
    • 1984 OP America Series, Renault Sport, Stubbie’s US Pro
    • 1986 Spur Steak Ranch Surfabout

Shaun Tompson was the opposite of the hippiedom that surrounded the surfing scene in the 70s and 80s. He had a clean haircut, he was good looking, smart, and exceptionally passionate about the sport. He never missed a day to surf and train in his bid to be the best in his chosen field. 

Tomson learned how to surf at the age of 10 with a longboard under his father’s supervision. Later on, he switched to shortboards when the revolution struck the surfing world. 

He is notable for his professionalism. He was respectable and well-mannered and won many hearts with his sophistication and grace. These are what people remember about him – more than the multiple titles he won.

#2. Duke Kahanamoku (United States)


Duke Kahanamoku

  • Born: August 24, 1890 Died: January 22, 1968
  • Birthplace: Haleʻākala, Honolulu, Kingdom of Hawaii
  • Awards Won: —

The American swimmer and surfer from Hawaii, Duke Kahanamoku was thought to be the father of surfing. He was the first star in this sport. 

The Duke, as he was known, had gold medals in swimming. He was a swimmer before he was a surfer. Post-Olympic competitions, he traveled internationally for swimming exhibitions. It was around the same time that he started to make surfing part of the water world, too. 

If he wasn’t swimming or surfing, he was saving lives. In 1925, he saved eight men from a fishing vessel using only his surfboard. With this achievement, the US lifeguards realized surfboards can be used for water rescues so they incorporated it with their practices, as well. 

A busy man, he also joined Hollywood. While performing in different Hollywood films, he made connections with famous people who helped him promote surfing. 

He died in 1968. He was 78. His ashes were scattered into the Waikiki surf. There also was a statue erected form him at Kuhio Beach in Honolulu to honor him and his contributions in the world of swimming and surfing.

#1. Kelly Slater (United States)

Kelly Slater


  • Born: February 11, 1972
  • Years active: 1989 to present
  • Birthplace: Cocoa Beach, Florida, United States
  • Awards Won: 
    • 1992 Rip Curl Pro Landes, Marui Masters
    • 1993 Marui Pro
    • 1994 Rip Curl Pro, Gotcha Lacanau Pro, Chiemsee Pipe Masters
    • 1995 Quiksilver Pro G-Land, Chiemsee Pipe Masters
    • 1996 Coke Classic, Rip Curl Pro, CSI/Billabong Pro, US Open, Rip Curl Pro, Quiksilver Surf masters, Chiemsee Pipe Masters
    • 1997 Coke Classic, Billabong Pro, Tokushima Pro, Marui Pro, Rio Surf Pro
    • 1998 Billabong Pro
    • 1999 Mountain Dew PipeMasters
    • 2000 Gotcha Pro Tahiti
    • 2003 Billabong Pro Teahupoo, Billabong Pro Jbay, Billabong Pro, Santa Catarina Pro
    • 2005 Billabong Pro Teahupo’o, Globe Fiji Pro, Billabong Pro Jbay, Boost Mobile Pro
    • 2006 Quiksilver Pro, Rip Curl Pro, 
    • 2007 Boost Mobile Pro
    • 2008 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, Globe Pro Fiji, Billabong Pro J-Bay, Boost Mobile Pro, Billabong Pipeline Masters
    • 2009 Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro
    • 2010 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, Hurley Pro Trestles, Rip Curl Pro Portugal, Rip Curl Search
    • 2011 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, Billabong Pro Teahupoo, Hurley Pro Trestles, Nike US Open of Surfing
    • 2012 Volcom Fiji Pro, Hurley Pro Trestles, Quiksilver Pro France
    • 2013 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, Volcom Fiji Pro, Billabong Pipe Masters
    • 2014 Volcom Pipe Pro
    • 2016 Billabong Pro Tahiti, Volcom Pipe Pro

The long list of awards is enough to tell you why he is the greatest surfer of all time. He holds the record for being both the youngest and the oldest World Champion in men’s history. He introduced an era of high-performance surfing that incorporated purposeful fin releases and the fusion of aerial moves. 

In 1999, he attempted to retire but failed. While busy with Baywatch, some music and business projects, surfers like Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, and Joel Parkinson came to the scene. They seemed to be a generation of threats on the tour and immediately rekindled Kelly’s hypercompetitive nature. 

2019 was supposed to be his last on tour, but it doesn’t look like he is slowing down anytime soon. Even so, he will remain one of the biggest names in surfing for the decades to come. 


As we reflect on the incredible journeys of the top 35 best surfers of all time, one thing becomes abundantly clear: surfing transcends mere athleticism; it’s a way of life—a profound connection to the ocean and the eternal pursuit of adventure. From the pioneers who paved the way to the modern-day icons pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, each surfer on this list has left an indelible mark on the sport, inspiring generations to come.

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