The wave climate of the Southern Ocean is investigated using a combined dataset from 33 years of altimeter data, in situ buoy measurements at five locations, and numerical wave model hindcasts. The analysis defines the seasonal variation in wind speed and significant wave height, as well as wind speed and significant wave height for a 1-in-100-year return period. The buoy data include an individual wave with a trough to crest height of 26.4 m and suggest that waves in excess of 30 m would occur in the region. The extremely long fetches, persistent westerly winds, and procession of low pressure systems that traverse the region generate wave spectra that are unique. These spectra are unimodal but with peak frequencies that propagate much faster than the local wind. This situation results in a unique energy balance in which waves at the spectra peak grow as a result of nonlinear transfer without any input from the local wind.