The sun comes up over the waterline, highlighting powerful swells that move intently toward the shore. Beautiful rises crest and break with rhythmic synchronicity, initiating set after set of huge waves, inviting you to paddle out and take a ride. They’re big. But you’re ready. This day is textbook perfect, and only a few hardy souls are privileged to join you in your spiritual sojourn. Where are you, you ask? At one of the world’s best surf spots, of course.
Every surfer sets their bar a little higher after hitting the waves in Hawaii. It is simply the best as far as reliability, quality and size of the swells, living up to its legend. That sometimes means lots of bodies out there on boards, but some very special places continue to top surf destination lists despite the crowds. Oahu’s north shore, with Sunset Beach and Pipeline, is calling your name. Pe’ahi Jaws on Maui’s north shore is building waves with perfect walls just for you. And Waimea Bay? If you surf, this is the Holy Grail. But these are all well-known surf destinations with a dedicated following.
If you’re familiar with The Endless Summer films, both the 1960s version and the more recent tribute, you’ll know that seasons make a difference. Following the calendar of swells can prove a passion for those who keep their boards waxed and bags packed, ready to take advantage of luck and timing. In the spring months of March through May, savvy surf folks head to Tahiti, the Galapagos and Easter Island. During the summer, from June through August, surfing continues to be good in the South Pacific, and beautiful beach days are also abundant in Mexico, the Caribbean and South Africa. Fall months, from September through November, are good months for exploring swells in Morocco, Fiji and the Philippines, while winter keeps California surfers from Baja to Big Sur happily hunting waves, and numerous boards find action in the Canary Islands, Sydney, Australia, and Indonesia.
Assuming you’ve got some surf credibility, you’re sure to be well acquainted with these dots on the map, but there are some trending destinations that are creating buzz through more experienced surf communities. Costa Rica is getting plenty of recent attention for its high-quality waves and diverse levels of difficulty. Experts head for Witches Rock, Salsa Brava and Pavones, as well as dozens of hush-hush gems offered up by locals only after you’ve proven your mettle. Know, however, that once enlightened, namers will be socially prosecuted.
With coordinates between 8 and 12 degrees N latitude, and 82 to 86 degrees W longitude, Costa Rica is warm and inviting on both its Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean coasts. Great surfing of many levels can be had on either coast of this affordable, accessible surfing gem. Dozens of camps are poised to help you polish your performance, whether you’re a kook or a pro bro. Salsa Brava lays claim to some of the country’s biggest rides, while Witches Rock gives long lefts and rights. Both located in the popular Tamarindo area, good lodging is abundant, and locals are friendly. Further south in Puntarenas, Pavones and Matapalo are also favorites, with the best breaks in April through November.
Surfing Mexico’s southern shores is a fine trip, and exploring some of the sleepy coastal villages with real character and real waves can be a blast. The Oaxaca (say: wah-hah-ka) surf spots are truly authentic. Local food, local businesses and local surfers abound. Depending on what language you speak, you’ll be in the minority, but again, proving your worth will get you the respect you deserve, especially in Barra de la Cruz, where fast waves fire double overheads, and Puerto Escondido’s Zicatela Beach, known as the Mexican Pipeline.
Lots of surfers know the allure of South Africa’s waves, but West Africa has some giants lurking around the Almadies Peninsula. Close to the Senegalese capital, Dakar, this is the westernmost point on the continent, reaching out and taunting the Atlantic Ocean to bring in some sizable swells. N’Gor Island reaches out into the world of waves with both gentle encouragement for newbies as well as challenge for experts. Charming cobblestone streets and local restos and bars complete a lovely package for surfers seeking an exotic, uncrowded, exhilarating surf trip.
Fiji’s Cloudbreak, Bali’s Uluwatu and even Florida’s Monster Hole can offer new vistas to those tiring of the same old scenes. Don’t mistake California’s Huntington Beach, France’s heavy tubes at Hossegor, the Philippines’ Cloud Nine or the Maldives’ Sultans for expired tickets, however. They are still fabulous and doable, so pick your passion, pack your board and get ready to ride. Waves are wasting, and there’s an endless sunrise out there just waiting to give you the thrill of a lifetime.