Best Surf Destinations
Having grown up landlocked in Maryland, I don’t make for a very likely surfer. But I have definitely surfed at beautiful domestic and international surf destinations over the years.
Summer family trips to the beach led to an intense love of the ocean and a growing curiosity (or should I say obsession) with surfing. I dreamt day and night of the smell of the ocean, the sand in my toes, and the mystic sound and movement of the waves.
In my early 20s, I found myself on the edge of my beach chair in Kauai being called by the ocean to go surfing. I sought out a local surf instructor and off we went. After standing up on the first wave, I was stoked and instantly hooked! That same year I booked another trip to Hawaii with the sole purpose of learning how to surf. This time I went with a group of amazing women at a Yoga + Surf Retreat on the North Shore of Oahu. My life would change from that point on.
Here’s a list of my five best surf destinations where I have either visited or lived for the love of the wave:
Of course this would be my number 1 pick, Hawaii is my spirit animal. The birthplace of surfing, the land of beautiful, tan people and the ever present Aloha spirit. From the classic long boarding experience on the beaches of Waikiki to the massive, perfectly formed waves in the north, Oahu has something for everyone depending on the conditions and time of year.
There are some hidden spots around the north shore where a beginner can feel comfortable during the winter swell season. I completely and utterly fell in love with the lifestyle there. Running barefoot along the beach, watching 70+ year old men bike with their long boards in tow to their favorite break, enjoying all the fresh fruit and bounty from the sea, spectacular hikes and sunsets, and the smell of plumeria mixed with salt in the air. This place was equal parts inspiring and intoxicating therefore it is definitely one of my favorite surf destinations.
My top pick for a fun stateside surfing experience would be in San Onofre State Park. When I lived there, weekends would be spent amongst campers and vintage long boards, families, bonfires, and old men sitting around talking about their glory days. Fun fact, one of the main breaks is lovingly known as “Old Mans”. I loved the ease and mellow vibe of spending the day camped out at the beach and getting in several surf sessions between Frisbee playing, slack lining, eating, naps and hanging out with friends. It always felt a bit nostalgic and a dreamy So Cal kind of thing to do.
Even during winter time, the water temps never dipped low enough to need a hood or booties. Thank goodness for that. But I did have to wear a Rip Curl 3/2mm wetsuit off and on during those cooler water temps.
Bolder adventures beckoned me as I grew more comfortable with surfing and traveling. The Pacific coast of Central America is filled with amazing surf destinations. With Costa Rica and Nicaragua booming in tourism, I stayed in a lesser known area in the country of Panama. After about a six hour overnight (and bumpy) bus ride to the northern coast followed by a dawn boat ride through the mangroves, I arrived at a wind and solar powered surf camp. ‘This was heaven’ I thought until my friends at the camp woke up with a boa wrapped around the beams above their bed.
Yet the excitement of searching for waves (no internet, no Surfline forecasting), trekking across a deserted, tropical island, along with practicing yoga outside on a gorgeous deck facing the ocean, napping in a hammock, and playing foosball and listening to 80’s music into the night made me forget all about the snakes… mostly. This area was a little hard to get to but it was part of the adventure and a small price to pay for a true sense of a surfer’s paradise.
My most recent adventure led me to the coast of Ecuador to the surfing destination of Montanita. Just an easy 3 hour bus ride from the international airport and you’re there. “La Puente” is a surfer’s dream with a beautiful right point break nestled next to a picturesque cliff and at the end of a popular beach. With its warm water, you could step right out of the ocean post-sunset session and enjoy some of the best sushi that will cross your lips and a cold locally brewed beer.
The town was a little too intense for my taste, but the area around La Puente is quiet and friendly. The wave can get a bit crowded so you can always escape a little further north to the towns of Olon or Ayampe via a bus or taxi. There you’ll find emptier beach breaks and long strands of un-crowded beaches.
Perhaps saving the best for last when it comes to my personal
favorite wave in the world (so far that I’ve found). The wave I surfed almost every morning for nearly 5 years, from 2 footers to double overhead. I learned so much about myself, the ocean and surfing through spending time with this wave and in this little corner of the world. It won’t be everyone’s favorite, but here is why it’s mine: This long left is like a machine, breaking the same nearly every time. The predictability and soft nature of the wave is ideal for beginners and equally fun for immediate – advanced. The water is usually always warm enough to leave the wetsuit behind, and I would wear a shorty on some early morning occasions. I welcomed the opportunity to slip into a stylish and functional suit such as the Rip Curl G-bomb.
Peru does not have one single reported shark attack on file. I know they are out there, but nonetheless this gave me a sense of comfort compared to other places like SoCal and Hawaii. Not a whole lot of hazards, just some rocks but they can be easily avoided and a bit of a rip current once in awhile but again, easily manageable. Flat days were a perfect invitation to take out the SUP and tour along the coast and through the fishing boats at the pier, or test out balance with a little SUP Yoga. I enjoyed yoga and breakfast right on the beach – so it’s easy to see why I ended up staying there for 5 years and why it’s one of my top surf destinations, right?
Seeking a more challenging wave? Within hours of Mancora you can experience more technical waves or the 2nd longest wave in the world! If you don’t mind getting off the beaten path and leaving the comfort and luxury of the first world behind, Peru will deliver.
So with all the wonderful, beautiful and diverse surf spots around the world, what’s stopping you from planning your next surf escape?