Surfing is more than just a sport – it’s a way of life. For decades, brave men and women have battled the ocean’s powerful waves in search of the perfect ride. While many have taken on the surf, only a select few can truly be called masters of their craft. In this article, we’ll take a look at the 10 surfers who have pushed the limits of the sport and defined modern surfing as we know it. Strap in – this is going to be one gnarly ride!
Stepping into the number 10 spot is Lisa Andersen, widely considered the greatest female surfer of all time. Born in 1964 in Hawaii, Andersen began surfing as a young girl and quickly showed she had a natural talent for taming monster waves. In the male-dominated 80s surf scene, she fearlessly took on waves that would make most men think twice. Her aggressive style and aerial maneuvers revolutionized women’s surfing. Andersen dominated the world tour for over a decade, winning two world titles. Even today at almost 60 years old, she can still surf circles around most men half her age! There’s no denying Lisa Andersen paved the way for all the amazing women shredding waves today.
At number 9 we have three-time world champion Mick Fanning. This Aussie goofy-footer burst onto the scene in the late 90s with his powerful carves and aerial antics. “White Lightning” as he’s known became a fan favorite for his never-say-die attitude in massive surf. In 2015, Fanning was involved in a dramatic shark encounter at Jeffreys Bay, South Africa during a competition. In an incredible act of bravery and composure, he fought off the shark until help arrived. Fanning walked away unharmed and the footage was seen around the world, cementing his status as a true champion and people’s hero. Even after retiring from competition, Mick remains one of surfing’s most beloved ambassadors.
At number 8 we have Shaun Tomson, the South African who revolutionized modern surfing styles. In the late 70s, Tomson brought an explosive new approach to big wave riding with his dynamic cutbacks and aerial maneuvers. He dominated the pro tour in the early 80s, winning three world titles. But Tomson’s biggest impact was developing the aerial revolution. He landed the first 360 air rotation in competition and pushed the limits of what was possible on a surfboard. Tomson showed the world that surfing could be an artistic, flowing expression as much as a physical feat of bravery against the ocean. His innovations changed surfing forever and he remains one of the sport’s pioneering greats.
Stepping into the number 7 spot is seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore, widely considered the most successful female competitive surfer of all time. Born in 1988 in Murwillumbah, Australia, Gilmore began surfing as a toddler and quickly showed she was a prodigy. At just 18 years old she won her first world title, becoming the youngest ever champion. Over the next decade “G-Land” as she’s known dominated the women’s tour, winning a record seven world titles. Her powerful carves and flawless technique in big waves are unmatched. Even today in her 30s, Gilmore is still a force to be reckoned with in competition. There’s no doubt she’ll go down as the greatest champion in surfing history, male or female.
At number 6 we have Tom Curren, the artistic maestro from Santa Cruz, California. In the late 80s, Curren brought a new fluid style to competitive surfing with his dynamic rail work and beautiful cutbacks. He won two back-to-back world titles in 1990-1991 with his graceful, flowing approach. But Curren’s biggest impact may have been changing how the sport was judged. He proved that surfing could be an artistic expression as much as an athletic feat. Curren pushed judges to reward style and technique over just radical maneuvers. His influence transformed competitive surfing into the artistic sport it is today. Three decades later, Tom Curren is still considered one of the most stylish surfers to ever grace a wave.
At number 5 on our list is the late Andy Irons, the people’s champion from Kauai, Hawaii. Irons came onto the pro scene in the late 90s with his powerful rail game and fearless tube-riding skills. Over a decade-long career, he won three world titles and dominated the men’s tour like no other. But what really connected Irons with fans was his humble, fun-loving personality. He surfed with a reckless abandon and brought the “aloha spirit” to competition. Tragically, Irons passed away in 2010 from mixed drug toxicity at just 32 years old. He left behind a legacy as one of surfing’s greatest talents and ambassadors. To this day, Andy Irons is beloved by surfers worldwide for reminding all of us why we fell in love with the sport in the first place – the pure joy of riding waves.
At number 4 on our list is Mark Richards, the Aussie who revolutionized modern surfing styles. In the late 70s and early 80s, Richards brought an explosive new approach with his dynamic cutbacks, floaters and aerial maneuvers. He dominated the pro tour, winning three consecutive world titles from 1979 to 1981. But Richards’ biggest impact was developing the modern surfing we see today. He pioneered radical new maneuvers like the floater, bringing acrobatics to a new level. Richards showed the world that surfing could be an artistic expression as much as a physical feat. His innovations changed the sport forever and he remains one of surfing’s most influential greats.
Stepping into the number 3 spot is Layne Beachley, widely considered the greatest competitive surfer of all time, male or female. Born in 1972 in Australia, Beachley began surfing as a child and quickly showed she had a gift for big wave riding. Over an incredible 18-year career, she dominated the women’s world tour like no other, winning 7 world titles. Her powerful rail game and flawless technique in massive surf inspired millions. Even today in her late 40s, Beachley can still surf with the best. There’s no doubt she raised the bar for all surfers to come and will go down as the G.O.A.T. of the sport. Layne Beachley is living proof that with dedication and grit, women can achieve greatness in what was once an all-boys club.
Stepping into the number 2 spot is Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, or Duke for short. Born in 1890 in Hawaii, Duke was a 5-time Olympic medalist swimmer who helped introduce surfing to the world. He began surfing as a youth and showed a natural talent, becoming the first person to ride standing upright on a surfboard. In the early 1900s, Duke traveled the world as a swimming champion and shared his passion for wave riding wherever he went. This helped spark a global surf revolution. To this day, Duke is remembered as “The Father of Modern Surfing” for being the first to truly share the sport with the world on a global scale. He left an unmatched legacy as the pioneer who helped surfing grow into the billion-dollar industry it is today.
And in the number 1 spot, there is no debate – it has to be 11-time world champion Kelly Slater. Born in 1972 in Cocoa Beach, Florida, Slater began surfing as a young boy and quickly showed he was a prodigy. Over an incredible 30-year career, he has dominated the pro tour like no other, winning a record 11 world titles spanning 4 different decades! Slater is renowned for his dynamic rail work, massive airs and fearless tube-riding skills. But what’s truly amazing is he’s still winning events in his late 40s against surfers half his age. There’s no question Kelly Slater has raised the bar for all surfers and taken the sport to unimaginable new heights. He is without a doubt the greatest surfer of all time.
While many have taken on the surf over the decades, these 10 legends have truly defined the sport through their incredible talents, innovations and lasting impacts. From pioneering greats like Duke and Mark Richards to modern champions like Kelly, Stephanie and Mick – each has left their mark and inspired millions around the world. The future is bright for the sport with amazing new talent emerging every day. But these surfing icons will always be remembered as the all-time best to ever battle waves and push the limits of what’s possible on a board. May the stoke be with you on your next session!