Who’s the best surfer of all time?
In my opinion, the best surfer has never been born.
Now, before you jump the gun and start accusing me of resent and aversion, let me explain.
See, it would be extremely unfair to name the one and only the surfer who won everything and challenged the wave.
Yes, I know defining greatness in most sports is based on stats.
But here’s the thing, surfing isn’t just any sport. It’s about much more than who racks up most wins or medals in competitions.
With surfing’s colorful and rich heritage, numerous names didn’t make it to the international platform, but the surfing community recognizes and revere them.
Some of the names in the surfing industry aren’t necessarily the greatest, nor the most accomplished or most famous surfers but certainly among our favorites.
These are the soulful icons and fearless daredevils that surf with pure excellence, even in the world’s most challenging waves.
And for the most part, they’ve transformed and elevated surfing into the cultural phenomenon it is today.
They’re the best surfers of all time.
But who are they exactly?
In the listicle below, we’ll list every one of them, from Ross Clarke, Mick Fanning to Kelly Slater, and share some details about them.
Top 20 Surfers of All Time
1) Kahanamoku (Father of Modern Surfing)
Duke is dubbed as the “Father of Modern Surfing.”
He’s from Hawaii, and as with most native Hawaiians, the ocean was Duke’s playground from an early age.
He grew better at surfing from his early childhood, and by the time he was a teenager, he had already scooped several awards.
Some of his notable achievements include:
- Breaking the existing world title record by 4.6 seconds for the 100 yards in 1911 freestyle Honolulu harbor
- Grabbed his first Olympic Gold Medal for the 100-meter freestyle at 21 years
- He introduced surfing to Australia and New Zealand in 1914
- In 1918, he raised funds for the war efforts by swimming in exhibitions in 30 mainland cities
Duke was loved by many, not just for his athletic skill but also for his sportsmanship and heart for his craft.
Sadly, he passed away in 1986, aged 77.
And in remembrance of his exemplary performance as a mysterious and gifted surfer, the United States Postal Service released a limited-edition commemorative stamp with his image.
2) Andy Irons (Most Dynamic Surfer)
Andy Irons is one of the most dynamic athletes to have graced the waves.
Like Duke, he was also highly decorated and a multiple world title champion, to be particular.
He was also a Hawaii native, and beyond his sportsmanship, he was a good family guy.
Andy Irons held his family and friends above everything else and was highly protective of those related or close to him.
At the peak of his surfing career, Andy Irons was best known for dominating the huge crashing waves and dangerous waves in places like Pipe and Teahupoo.
But as we mentioned earlier, Andy Irons was a dynamic surfer, so he also knew his way well around the smaller waves.
He passed away tragically in Dallas in November 2010.
3) Stephanie Gilmore (Australia) (First to Achieve Seven World Surfing Championships)
Stephanie is our first woman on our list.
She was one of the influential surfers and stylish surfers of her time.
Gilmore participated in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
And not only that, she has a long list of achievements on her trophy shelf.
For example, she’s the first surfer on both women’s and men’s sides to achieve seven world surfing championships in her rookie season alone.
The surfing community loves her power surfing abilities, and she’s often compared to the likes of Joel Parkinson.
With pure artistry, her approach is aggressive yet grounded and in genius accuracy and technical capability.
According to Gilmore, her greatest challenge so far is keeping the generation of women who follow her inspired.
4) Tom Curren (Legend Surfer)
Tom is a three-time world champion and a legend that has grown over the years.
One of his memorable moments was when he clashed with upstart Mark Occhilipo, on his road to his first two world championships.
Tom Curren has also participated in the ASP Tour and challenged some of the iconic names in the sport.
He’s an accomplished athlete, and under his belt, he has 33 world championship events and three world title champions.
But competitive greatness wasn’t Tom’s swan song.
After retiring from surfing, he grabbed his guitar and embarked on boat trips.
His beautifully filmed journeys in incredible videos, spiced with jazz, were documented by the Sonny Miller Film and packaged as “The Search” series.
5) Tom Blake- Introduced Surfboard Fin
Tom Blake, an American professional surfer, was born and bred in Milwaukee in 1902.
He became a sensation in the surfing world, and more importantly, changed the face of surfing forever.
Before joining surfing, he was a lifeguard in 1924.
From there, he took up surfing after proving to be a talented swimmer and all-around waterman. He even competed against Duke.
And once surfing got into his blood, he began making frequent trips to Hawaii.
He contributed to the surfing community through his performance, but his surfboard creations really cemented him as an icon.
Tom came up with a hollow surfboard, lightening the traditional cumbersome boards by a whopping 60 pounds.
Tom’s hollow surfboard led to a spike in high-performance surfing, and eventually, these boards became basic equipment for lifeguards.
Blake didn’t stop there; he grounded his legacy into surfing further by winning the initial Pacific Coast Surfriding Championship in California in 1925.
If that wasn’t enough, Tom Blake also created the first waterproof camera in 1930 and the first one to attach a surfboard fin.
6) Laird Hamilton ( Introduced SUP and Redefined Big Overhead Wave Surfing)
Hamilton, like Tom Blake, also changed many of the surfing aspects as we know it.
He’s not only known for being among big wave surfing pioneers, especially on the overhead waves but his works and innovations sell him more.
Laird redefined what surfing the big waves is like, and by then, it was unthinkable.
He launched the SUP movement, and thus created a sub-genre of riding waves.
Secondly, he re-imagined the path of a professional surfer by choosing to work with big-time corporate sponsors like Honda, and American Express, over the surfing’s resident brands such as Quiksilver and Billabong.
Hamilton’s performance on the water was also epic, particularly those at Jaws and Teahupoo.
7) Shaun Tomson (Hippie)
Shaun Tomson was known to be a hippie, and this was the craze that surrounded surfing in the ’70s and ’80s.
He was known for his clean-cut, neatness, and intelligence.
But more importantly, he was dedicated and passionate about surfing and was known to train daily to be the best.
He perfected his surfing skills for riding waves deep in tune by pumping with a wide stance in the barrel. This allowed him to exit often the waves that seemed nearly impossible to make.
Once he retired from surfing, he started a career in acting, writing, film production, and motivational speaking.
8) Felipe Toledo (Redefined Wave Breaking Surfing)
Felipe is a Brazilian surfer and has an incredible talent for surfing in the air at full speed.
He is also best-known for his inordinate amounts of confidence in tackling the challenging waves.
Over the last few years, Felipe’s performances at JBay have redefined what a perfect point break should be.
He’s, in fact, in my opinion, eclipsed every Jordy Smith’s previous wave-breaking surfing performance.
However, he has a minor weakness in his big wave experiences, but his confidence and expertise will improve with time, and he’ll be charging with the best.
9) Freida Zamba (Four-Time World Champion Titles)
Zamba is a four-time world champion- you can’t beat that.
He rose to the top of his career against all odds.
Having been born and raised in the mediocre conditions of Flagler Beach Town on the East Coast of California, Zamba began his surfing journey early.
Today, he’s one of the most accomplished and influential surfers in the world.
Zamba also holds an ASP women’s world championship tour record for finishing the circuit in three for six straight years, along with winning four world titles.
She’s now retired and now a professional surf coach.
Zamba credits much of her success to the constant support she received along the way from her life partner, Rea Shaw. Shaw is also her manager, shaper, and coach.
10) Wendy Botha ( Bes African Woman Surfer)
Wendy Botha is the ultimate winner.
She was born on August 22, 1995, in East London, South Africa.
Wendy is among the few recognizable Africans in the surfing community.
According to Wendy, she started surfing at the tender age of 13, and this paid off because the South African has won our world titles (1987, 1989, 1991, and 1992) and three Surfer Poll Awards.
She’s among the sport’s influential surfers.
11) Nat Young ( Best Longboarder)
Nat Young was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, on November 14, 1947.
He’s not only among the best surfers of all time but also a revolutionist.
In a surfing career that spanned over four decades, he cemented his place among the great power surfers by ushering in the short board revolution in the late 1960s.
From there, he went on further to win a world title in 1966.
And not only that; in 1980, he helped to bring the longboard back into vogue, winning four longboard titles.
Nat Yong was also charismatic, had a likable personality, and was featured in several surfing films from 1960 to 1970.
12) Lisa Anderson ( Most Stylish Surfer)
Lisa is yet another stylish and perhaps the most mimicked female surfer.
Her Roxy boardshorts became so popular, but it’s her athleticism that sells her most.
Lisa is among the best surfers and is well known for her dynamic surfing performances.
In the mid-’90s, Lisa and Slater were at the top of the world championship tours and beat all the competition.
She’s highly skilled and has gone on to win multiple world titles.
Best of all, she has overhauled women’s surfing fashion, and today, she has opened up huge dividends to the big surf clothing companies.
13) Ross Clarke- Jones
Ross is an Australian-born surfer, born on June 6, 1966.
He’s a popular surfer and has won several big-time awards, including the coming as a runner-up in 2015 at Quiksilver, in Memory of Eddie Aikau.
Ross was also present at the 1986 Billabong Pro at Waimea Bay and the Pipeline Master World Surf League.
He’s also a regular at the ASP World Tour for more than 12 years.
At 52, Ross is still an active rabble-rouser and doesn’t show any signs of stopping any time soon.
He still surfs at breakneck speed and is loved by many.
Currently, he plies his surfing between Portugal, Hawaii, and Australia.
14) Adriano de Souza (Most underrated)
Adriano is an extraordinary Brazilian surfer.
He’s a gritty and determined regular footer interested in surfing at the early age of 13.
At 14, he decided to leave home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro surfer, and since then, he has never stopped riding waves.
Adriano is a workaholic and is always determined to reach his dream.
And his work ethic is what brought him to the Championship tour in 2006. Here, he inspired a whole generation of Brazilians, more so when he started raking victories.
But despite all the professional surfing trophies and victories, the most successful triumph he considers was his marriage with his wife, Patricia.
15) Miki Dora ( Out of the Box Surfer)
Miki was labeled by the London Times as the “siren voice of a nonconformist surfing lifestyle.”
He’s known to be a rebellious surfer and has an unorthodox lifestyle.
Miki is probably one of the best out-of-the-box surfers.
The Hungarian surfer is known for popularizing longboard surfing, and his light stance and ultra-nimble footwork earned him the nickname “Da Cat.”
His unpopular lifestyle stems from his parent’s divorce at the age of his.
However, it was also where Da Cat got dedicated to surfing as his drunkard stepfather, Gard Chapin, was among the best surfers in the early 40’s.
Gard introduced Miki to the surfing realms.
However, it came at a cost. His father’s aggressiveness and ill-tempered personality influenced Miki’s somewhat lonely and aggressive personality, even protesting against the commercialization of the sport.
He spent most of his time behind bars for fraud and grand robbery.
He succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2002.
16) Sharron Weber (Two World Titles)
Sharron was a pioneer in competitive women’s surfing.
The two-time world champion was born in Virginia in 1948.
She’s among the first great women surfers, winning six Hawaii state titles in the late 1960s.
Unfortunately, her success and contribution to the industry were overshadowed when surfing was seen as a man’s sport. She was never profiled in any of the surfer magazines of that era.
17) Bernard “Midget” Farrelly (Best Surfer of his Time)
Bernard is a legend in the surfing community as he was the sport’s first men’s world champion and among the big wave surfing pioneers.
The Aussie was born and bred in Sydney, New South Wales, on September 13, 1944.
He’s a decorated athlete and one of the best surfers to have graced the waves.
One of his major trophies was the gold medal at the inaugural World Championship in Sydney in 1964.
He was considered among the best competitive surfers of his time.
In addition to his sporting abilities, Farrelly cemented his legacy in the surfing world by playing a significant role in the evolution of surfboard design in the later 1960s.
He even founded his label, “Farrelly Surfboards,” in 1965.
18) Tyler Wright ( Youngest Professional Surfer to Win a Championship)
Wright is yet another Aussie, born in Culburra Beach, Australia.
He’s a champion in every sense of the world.
At a mere 14-years of age, he became the youngest professional rider to win a Championship Tour event in 2008.
In the 2014 world, however, he slumped by picking up a silver medal.
But from there, he won the gold medal in 2016 and even defended her crown in 2017.
The 2017 competition was quite phenomenal for her because she had to overcome a knee injury to winning events of the season.
She’s still young, but with her dedication, Wright could be on her way to taking place among the sports all-time greats.
19) Micheal Ho (Best Tube Rider)
Micheal Ho is considered to be the godfather of Oahu’s North Shore surf scene.
He’s an accomplished athlete and the best free surfer/ best tube rider.
He also has several medals under his belt.
Some of the prominent trophies he scooped include two Hawaiian Triple Crowns and winning the gold medal at the Pipe Masters finals in 1982.
Coming in at only 5’5”, and weighing 135 pounds, he was the best tube rider in the 70″. He helped in the invention of the “pigdog” at North Shore.
It’s also worth noting that Michel is part of surfing’s royal family.
His brother Derek was also a professional championship rider, along with his daughter Coco and Mason.
20) Gabriel Medina ( Brazil’s National Hero)
Medina was born on December 22, 1993, in São Paulo, Brazil.
He was one of the most popular and greatest surfers of his time and is even set to represent his country at the Tokyo Olympics.
Thanks to the plenty of medals he has amassed, Medina is considered a national hero of his hometown.
Some of the trophies on her shelf include:
- 2009 Maresias Surf International
- Fiji Pro
- Quiksilver Pro France
- Nike Lower Pro
His fame isn’t only with the medals, but also her surfing style.
He’s well-known for the unpredictable and explosive repertoire of above lip maneuvers.
His statistics are also impressive, as he dominates his rivals with better head-to-head stats, making him an enduring World Title Contender.
One of his greatest battles and dramatic finales was against Italo Ferreira, where he came second. But it was still enough for him to make it to the Olympic section.
21) Garrett McNamara ( Known for Tackling Big Waves)
Garret loves riding the monster waves.
He was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and he’s among the pioneers of tow surfing that allows surfers to tackle the giant overhead waves.
He’s so good at it that he even entered the Guinness Book of World Record in 2011, after riding a 78-foot wave off the coast of Nazare, Portugal.
He wasn’t done yet: a year later, it’s alleged that he took another monster wave, estimated at close to 100 feet. But this wasn’t entered in for the official record.
However, his initial record was broken six years later after Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa set the new record at 80 feet in 2017.
22) Mick Fanning (Known for Surviving a Shark Attack)
Mick Fanning is a multiple world champion and has had quite a ride on the Championship Tour.
He’s still as relevant today, even after retiring from the world tour.
Mick, however, is most well-known for his encounter with a Great White Shark in JBay, while at the final of the Corona Open JBay. The whole incident was captured on a live broadcast.
Beyond his athleticism, Mick Finning is also a savvy guy and is known for inventing a shoe that could open a bottle top.
Plus, he’s working on the Balter Beer brewery that he opened up recently with a few of his friends.
22) Lynne Boyer (First Woman to Win Multiple Championship)
Boyer was the first woman to win multiple world championships, capturing the gold in 1978 and 1979.
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1956, she was also a pioneer in the water.
It’s not a surprise she was nicknamed Larry Bertlemann, a radical Hawaiian who took hotdog surfing to new levels.
Lynne learned to surf from the early age of 11 when her family relocated to Hawaii in 1968.
She made her big first splash into competitive surfing by winning the Hang Ten Pro Championship at Malibu in 1976.
23) Gerry Lopez (Another Stylish Surfer)
Gerry Lopez, AKA Mr. Pipeline is regarded as one of the most stylish surfers to grace surfing.
The crowd loved him for his casual approach, especially when riding the bone-crushing waves on his pin-tail surfboards.
His riding created iconic images that remain breathtaking even today.
Many modern-day pipe surfers still use Lopez’s positioning and grace under pressure as yardsticks for performance.
He was well-decorated, and as a two-time pipe master, it’s easy to see why he was so recognizable, even despite never participating in the pro tour.
But his foray into acting in the 1980s also boosted his public profile.
24) Mark Richards (Pioneer of Twin Fin Surfboards)
Mark Richards is a dominant competitive surfer, and he raised the competitive surfing bar to a new level after winning his fourth consecutive world title (1979-1982).
And not only that, he’s heralded as a pioneer of the twin fin surfboard, a unique design by then that allowed him to surf to a new level.
Mark Richards was also easy to spot on the water, thanks to his knock-knee stance, a popular surfing stance in modern surfing.
25) Layne Beachley- Won Six Consecutive World Titles
Layne Beachley, the manly surfer girl, is a seven-time world champion and widely regarded as one of the most successful big wave surfers.
She’s also a true pioneer of women’s surfing.
On top of that, the manly surfer girl is the only surfer to claim six world championships consecutively (seven world surfing championships) in a career spanning 19 years. She also enjoyed 29 even victories.
You would think that Layne’s life would become dull after retiring, but that’s further from the truth.
Her post-surfing life is full of life as she’s now an officer of the order of Australia, Chair of Surfing Australia, and founder of the Awake Academy.
26) Tom Carroll (First Surfing Millionaire)
Tom Carroll or Thomas Victor Carrol was born in Newport, Wales, in 1961.
He had a successful career and scooped several awards, including the Australian Junior Title, ASP World Tour, and Pipe Master.
But the highlight of his career was when he boycotted the South African leg of the tour in protest against apartheid. He subsequently fell behind Tom Curren.
In 1988, he hit the headlines again by becoming the first surfer to secure a million-dollar contract with Quiksilver.
27) Kelly Slater- smallest world champion
On the list of the best surfers of all time, our final athlete is dubbed as the greatest surfer of all time.
He’s also the most famous surfer, and it’s easy to see why.
First, Kelly Slater’s surfing journey began at the tender age of six at Cocoa Beach, Florida, USA.
His career then took off when he won successive surfing championships at age 11 ( only surfer to win successive world championships at age 11).
From there, his star kept on shining, and at age 18, he transitioned into professional surfing.
He was invincible.
For example, in 1991, Kelly Slater won the Rookie of the year, followed by a whopping string of five world victories from 1992 to 1999.
He became a household name after landing a role in Baywatch as Jimmy Slade.
From 1998, Kelly Slater took a hiatus from surfing, but once he rejoined the surfing scene in 2002, he broke nearly every record up until the year 2011.