Five oceans, seven continents, and you want to know where you should go on vacation to catch some waves? My suggestion? Get a good board bag, two or three (or four) good boards, a valid passport, pick a direction, and grab an open-ended airline ticket. You’ll eventually find surf somewhere! But if you need some direction, start here.
PS: I’m skipping the California/Hawaii destination simply because if you don’t know you’re supposed to go to the West Coast and then out to the Sandwich Islands, you’re not much of a surfer anyway!
Rio de Janiero is pretty much straight down the coast from here, so no jet lag in either direction. Get off the plane and surf. In the Rio area alone there are 50-plus named breaks ranging from beginner to pro (with a few breaks that are great if you’re into broken bones and contusions). Best season for surf is our summer, which is their winter. Check wannasurf.com/spot/South_America/Brazil/Rio_de_Janeiro_City for a fairly thorough listing of breaks.
Upscale try the Pestana Rio Atlantica.
Want to rent a room? Check VRBO.
Want to go the hostel route? Check out HostelBookers.
Or just check out this guide that has everything you’ll need to know about surfing in Rio (and then some), go to Gringo Rio.
As long as you’re in Rio, you may as well plan a trip to South Africa mainly because most airlines make a stopover in Rio (you can go direct from New York, however). There is so much quality surf in South Africa that you could spend the rest of your life finding bays, reefs, breaks, and whatnot of all sizes from beginner-friendly to tow-in big waves. But if you’re not spending the rest of your life there, fly into Cape Town.
About three hours north is Elands Bay which brings new meaning to the word rural (bring camping gear). South of Cape Town is Dungeons (a big wave spot). On the Cape’s western coast is one very consistent spot called Long Beach, and on the eastern side of the Cape peninsula is Kalk Bay (locals can be problematic). In between is beach, after beach, after beach. And then there are about 2500 more miles of breaks available! Bring winter wetsuits (the Atlantic side is very, very cold) and the east side of the peninsula, although a bit warmer, is still cold. For all the surf news and info check out wavescape.co.za.
A beautiful four-star hotel located midway down the peninsula on the west coast is the De Noordhoek Lifestyle Hotel (top prices are around $250). There are a wide variety of hostels and “backpacker hotels” strewn about the peninsula; enter “hostels cape town area” into Google for listings. To get there check out South African Airlines from New York or Rio.
What surf safari would be complete without hitting Oz, the home of the shortboard revolution (or so the Aussies would have us believe!). Okay; here’s the thing: Australia is approximately the same size as the U.S., but it’s an “island,” and thus has nearly double the coastline that the U.S. does (if you count Australia’s near-shore islands it works out to about three times as much). Australia isn’t considered a surfer’s paradise for nothing.
We’ll talk about the Sydney area (New South Wales), but you’ve got the states of Victoria (the capital is Melbourne), Queensland (Brisbane), Western Australia (Perth), South Australia (Adelaide), and Tasmania (Hobart). Each have great surf, so no matter where you wake up (as long as it’s on the coast) there’s surf.
You can get to good surf beaches from Sydney via public transport: i.e. the bus. Head north or south from Sydney and it’s nothing but non-stop surf beaches. Literally something for everyone at every level of surfing. New South Wales has a coastline of some 1,300 miles so the number of surf spots would be comparable to the surf spots from New Hampshire to Key Largo (only a lot better!). Check out surfingaustralia.com and surftweeter.com/surfing-new-south-wales.html for information on every facet of surfing and staying in Australia and/or New South Wales.
Bahamas and the Carib
Oft overlooked are some fine surf spots a mere three-to-four-hour flight from JFK. Puerto Rico’s west coast from Rincon through Aguada and up to Aguadilla (and plenty more; surfingpuertorico.org), is the Caribbean’s answer to Hawaii’s North Shore. There’s surf on Abaco (Great Guana and Elbow Cays; bahamassurf411.webs.com), Eleuthera (eleuthera.com/surfing.html) and Rum Cay in the Bahamas. Trinidad/Tobago has surf (trinidadandtobagosurfexp.com); Barbados is a consistent surf producer (surfbarbados.com); the Dominican Republic has plenty of spots (surfingdominicanrepublic.com) … and then there’s Cuba, which has mucho surf and rarely a crowd (havanasurf-cuba.com). I’m kinda’ fond of the Bahama Out Islands and Puerto Rico, but Cuba … that would be a surf vacation!
With the earth comprised of 70 percent water, finding your best surf vacation spot shouldn’t be a big deal. The Indonesian archipelago — hey, if you’re in Australia, why not? — has 18,000-plus islands and it’s a safe bet they all have surf of one form or another. The Federated States of Micronesia have some 600 islands — and that’s spread over some 1600 miles of big blue Pacific (Still in Australia? Add Micronesia to your bucket list). Then there’s cold water.
I’ve surfed in the Falklands (orcas and leopard seals make it a bit disconcerting) and Nova Scotia. I never made it to Alaska to surf, but there are surf spots there as well. Then there are all these little dots of land strewn around the world’s oceans, some reachable only by your own boat, that have to have surf on them. And they’re real “mysterious” islands, too. Specks like Marion Island off South Africa, Unaiga in the Aleutians, Inaccessible Island off Tristan da Cunha in the middle of nowhere, Atlantic Ocean.
Yup, there’s a lot of water out there and a lot of little dots that could make the perfect surf vacation spot. And there are still places that have never been surfed before. All you have to do is get there first!