The Top Five Best Breaks on the Outer Banks
Best Surfing Spots in the Outer Banks
Stretching over 200 miles, the Outer Banks is a narrow string of barrier islands that parallels the North Carolina shoreline just off the U.S. East Coast. Naturally, “the OBX” is home to some of the best surfing the eastern seaboard has to offer for both locals and tourists alike. It is a region under continual change as its geography is altered with every major storm, creating new inlets and sandbars which dramatically affect surf breaks year after year. With so many miles of pristine unpopulated beaches, every surfer seems to have his or her own personal favorite Outer Banks surf spot, so we’ve compiled our list of popular Outer Banks breaks running north to south from Carova to Ocracoke to give you our picks for the Top Five Outer Banks Surf Spots for 2019:
A mixture of the words “Carolina” and “Virginia,” we begin our journey in Carova, a remote community in Currituck County that is only accessible by boat, small aircraft, or by 4WD vehicles driving north on the actual beach from an access point just north of the Currituck Lighthouse in neighboring Corolla. Carova is the home of about 120 wild Spanish Mustangs that roam free along its beaches. These “Banker horses” are fiercely protected by law so if you see them, be sure to keep your distance and avoid feeding them since seemingly harmless snacks such as apples and carrots are not part of their natural habitat and can therefore be fatal. Great surfing can definitely be found here, though due to its limited accessibility and the constant presence of tourists on the beach trying to photograph the horses, Carova Beach fails to make it onto our list of the Top Five Breaks on the OBX.
Forget what you’ve heard on Toyota commercials; you can avoid sounding like a tourist by properly pronouncing the name of this popular tourist community as “kuh-RAHL-uh” instead of “kuh-ROLE-uh.” While good breaks can occasionally be found on the beaches of Corolla, sandbars change almost daily which makes it difficult to pinpoint a reliable surf spot. So unless you’ve rented a beach house in Corolla, we suggest heading a little farther south for great surfing conditions.
Continuing south into Dare County, the charming coastal town of Duck has a year-round population of only 370 people which surges to over 20,000 during the summer months. This tiny town is home to the Duck Research Pier which has become a favorite of local surfers for its ability to produce heavy, well-structured waves during a seasonal swell. Public parking and beach access can be a challenge, which makes this spot a local favorite for those who desire more privacy. The reliability of the breaks on both sides of the pier and the reduced crowding on the beachfront makes Duck Research Pier one of our favorites, securing its spot on our list of best Outer Banks surf spots.
Just south of Duck is the quaint town of Southern Shores, where good breaks can be found, albeit less reliably than in other areas. The beaches here tend to be less overcrowded during tourist season despite being sandwiched between the more popular towns of Duck and Kitty Hawk. If you’re looking for a decent amount of privacy while still remaining close to shopping and restaurants, be sure to check out the waves in the Chicahauk area of town. Waves tend to be a little smaller here but are tight and well-formed. The curls break a bit closer to shore which results in a shorter ride, but those conditions make it perfect for the all-ages “Throwdown Surf Classic” competition held here each year.
If the name “Kitty Hawk” sounds familiar, it is likely due to its distinction as being the location of the Wright Brothers’ first successful airplane flight back in 1903. While that historic flight actually took place four miles south of town in what is now Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk continues to be known as the birthplace of aviation, and there’s no shortage of great aquatic action here either. While this stretch of beach churns out some killer waves, there are a few prominent breaks in Kitty Hawk known for being consistently good: Kitty Hawk Pier, located right in front of the Hilton hotel, produces some of the best barrels on the northern beaches of the Outer Banks. Parking at the pier can get pricey, which leads many wave hunters down the road to Lillian Street, which has become a local favorite. Parking is free, which is great, but during summer months that very amenity results in the lot staying full so it’s often difficult to find a spot. A couple of blocks south is the Bath House near the Black Pelican restaurant, which offers some excellent waves and ample free parking along the beach road.
KILL DEVIL HILLS:
Continuing south into the town of Kill Devil Hills, we come to 1st Street, which consistently pumps out rideable curls and is conveniently located in front of Goombay’s Grill & Raw Bar, a local favorite beach hangout. The Hayman Street beach access, located about a mile south of the Wright Brothers National Monument, is an excellent surf spot known for churning up chunky waves with a good amount of thrust. Sadly, it is surrounded by dozens of vacation homes which makes it nearly impossible to enjoy during the summer months due to lack of parking and overcrowding on the beach. About a half-mile farther south at milepost 6 is the Avalon Fishing Pier, which is another excellent spot that consistently offers well-formed barrels on both sides of the structure. This local favorite surf spot has a great off-shore sandbar that creates some amazing tubes that break far enough out to provide nice, long rides all the way up to the beach. With several close beach access points and free parking nearby, Avalon Pier has been relied upon by generations of surfers for tight barrels and well-formed waves. This, along with the reliability of Avalon Pier’s twin breaks, earns it a spot on our list of OBX favorites.
With three awesome piers and numerous great breaks along the way in between them, Nags Head has been a top surf destination for decades. The northernmost spot is Nags Head Fishing Pier, which offers free parking and easy beach access as well as the Pier House Restaurant and Captain Andy’s Oceanfront Deck Bar, which is the perfect place to grab a cold beer after your surf sesh. During peak season this area of the oceanfront will fill up very quickly and you will need to share the water with swimmers in every direction. The next few miles of beach are full of decent breaks that come and go, so we are going to continue all the way down to Whalebone Junction to the site of one of our favorite spots, Jennette’s Pier. Being the home of the WRV Outer Banks Pro surf competition, Jennette’s Pier has become extremely popular to a fault, bringing out droves of seasoned surfers and amateurs alike, which can result in crowded waters during peak season. However, its central location as the gateway from the northern beaches to the wildlife preserves to the south and Roanoke Island to the west make it a convenient spot for local surfers to convene for a day on the water. A little farther down the beach in South Nags Head is the Outer Banks Pier, home of Fish Heads Bar & Grill which features many craft & domestic beers on tap. Both sides of the pier offer excellent surfing, and are fairly reliable on any given day. However, despite the summer crowds, Jennette’s Pier is the best in Nags Head, so it can’t escape being placed on our list of the best breaks on the OBX.
In 2011, Hurricane Irene carved out a brand new inlet on Pea Island at the Old Ranger Station north of Rodanthe Village, which resulted in a fantastic new surf spot. This break is fiercely dependent upon weather conditions, so be sure to check surf reports before traveling there. When it’s pumping, however, the waves have a lot of power and provide tons of fun. Use caution and be knowledgeable about how to escape from rip currents as they frequently form here and can be scary — even deadly — for those who are not used to them. A little farther south is the famous “S-Turns” break. When there’s a great swell, this is where we head. Waves are ride-able in almost any condition but when conditions are ideal, the clean, glassy barrels produced by the offshore sandbar at the S-Turns make this arguably the best surfing spot on the Outer Banks.
Appropriately named, the unincorporated community of Waves contains a stretch of beach that forms consistent waves year round. We don’t surf here often primarily due to the small size of the waves which tend to break fairly close to the shore, but in recent weeks we’ve seen some really good sand buildup just offshore which has created some beautiful breaks along the beaches in Waves. While it doesn’t make our Top Five, this is an excellent spot for younger surfers and those just learning how to surf.
Wave size begins to increase as we travel south into Salvo, which produces nice waist-high curls that break a little farther offshore. The waves here tend to get a little choppy even in calm conditions, so if you’re here, we suggest driving just a few extra miles into Avon Village.
With a wide beachfront and its remote location far from the tourist attractions of the northern beaches, Avon is a great spot for a fun day on the water. Specifically, Avon Pier is an ideal spot where you’ll find excellent waves and uncrowded waters. Breaks are solid, and perfectly-constructed barrels are a common sight here. With any luck, you’ll run into actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead) and Hilarie Burton (One Tree Hill) who can often be spotted strolling along the beach hand in hand.
The image of the iconic Cape Hatteras Light is known the world over, and it made headlines around the world in 1999 when the tallest lighthouse in America was moved a half mile inland due to sea encroachment. Today the Hatteras Light towers over this amazing Outer Banks surf spot that consistently produces gorgeous barrels that break well offshore. The East Coast Surfing Championships have been held here in Buxton for years due to the reliability of the breaks, which moves Hatteras Light all the way up to #1 on our Top Five.
Just south of Buxton is the Frisco Pier which was a local hot spot for decades. Its popularity has declined in recent years due to the deterioration of the pier due to repeated damage by Hurricanes Earl, Irene, and Sandy. Regardless, residents of Hatteras Island still flock to this spot for its reliable waves and wide unpopulated beaches.
IF you own a 4WD vehicle, take the time to check out some of the hidden beaches near Hatteras Village. They tend to be a bit on the smaller side but they break well past a gradual sand bar and are slow enough to offer a nice, long ride into the shore. Budget surfers will enjoy the two nearby campgrounds that provide easy access to these remote, secluded beaches.
Due to the hassle it takes to get there by ferry, the beaches of Ocracoke Island are best left to the locals who reside there. There are definitely good waves to be found, so if you’re going there anyway you may as well bring your board. However, we feel that your time would be better spent enjoying your afternoon out on the water rather than sitting around waiting for a ferry. So unless you’re researching the site of Blackbeard’s final showdown, skip the ferry ride and surf Hatteras Point instead.
So here it is, folks: Our Top Five Breaks on the Outer Banks for 2019:
#1 – Hatteras Light in Buxton, NC
#2 – Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, NC
#3 – The S-Turns in Rodanthe, NC
#4 – Avalon Fishing Pier in Kill Devil Hills, NC
#5 – Duck Research Pier in Duck, NC