10 Best Places to Learn to Surf
Surfing will make its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Here’s where to go to learn to Hang Ten like a pro ahead of the Olympic Games.
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Huntington Beach, California
With a nickname like "Surf City USA," it’s no wonder both novice and seasoned surfers make their way to Huntington Beach to catch a wave. Start at the Huntington Beach Pier where on any given day you’ll see at least a dozen surfers in the ocean down below waiting for the perfect wave. Sign up for private or semi-private instruction with a local surf school, like Clint Carroll Surf School. Slip into a wetsuit, strap the board to your ankle, and you’ll be ready to go. While in town, up your knowledge of surfing legends with a visit to the International Surfing Museum.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Ranked as one of the Best Surf Towns in America by Surfer magazine, New Smyrna Beach boasts more than 17 miles of beaches, including North Beach, a stretch of beach popular with surfers thanks to its fairly consistent breaks. As in, you can pretty much count on being able to catch a wave in New Smyrna Beach. Another go-to for surfers is Bethune Beach, which tends to be less crowded. Rent a longboard or book a lesson with a local shop, like Nichols Surf Shop, the oldest surf shop in New Smyrna Beach.
Nags Head, North Carolina
For east coasters who don’t want to go as far as Florida, look to Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For years, surfers have been paddling in the waves just off of Jennette’s Pier. The area is so popular in fact that it’s home to the annual Easterns Surfing Championships, which are set to take place in mid-September. Kitty Hawk Kites offers private and semi-private surfing lessons, as well as two- and three-day surf camps for kids ages five to 10.
Costa Rica has long been a mecca for surfers. Some even believe that the best waves in the world crash down on the shores of Costa Rica. For those eager to catch a wave, start with an all-inclusive surf camp like Peaks 'n Swells Surf Camp, which sits on the famed Nicoya Peninsula on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Guests receive a week of technical surf instruction, as well as daily yoga and nature-based excursions, like a hike to Montezuma Waterfall. Or, check out Kalon Surf, a luxury surf coaching resort that will leave you rejuvenated, and a pretty good surfer, too.
San Clemente, California
In Orange County, surfers of all levels flock to San Onofre State Beach in San Clemente. It’s no wonder this is one of the most visited state parks in California. Thanks to a well-positioned reef break, you’ll find gentle waves, which are ideal for beginners, because who wants to get knocked down again and again. Just north of San Onofre State Beach is Lower Trestles, a popular location for pro surf events. Book a lesson or two with San Clemente Surf School to up your confidence level and learn your way around the surfing lingo. Get ready to Hang Ten.
Oahu’s North Shore is well-known as a paradise for surfers and those eager to take up the sport of surfing. In fact, some say that if the ideal wave exists, you’ll find it on the North Shore, which draws some of the best surfers in the world to its beaches. While beautiful beaches are plentiful on Oahu, for gentler waves, try the beaches of Waikiki with the Ty Gurney Surf School, which offers lessons customized to individual skill levels. They also offer surf tours, taking guests on scenic drives and out to the very best beaches for surfing.
South Padre Island, Texas
Texas doesn’t usually make the top five list (or even top 10) when it comes to prime surfing locales. Cattle ranches, cowboys, and barbecue usually come first, but then, there’s South Padre Island. Better known as a spring break destination, this island off the southernmost tip of Texas is at the heart of the state’s surf scene. This relaxed beach town boasts miles of coastline and consistent swells just right for novice surfers. Catch the best waves along the jetties near the south side of town. Try South Padre Surf Company for one-hour lessons and surfboard rentals.
Cocoa Beach, Florida
Surfers of all levels heed the siren’s call of Cocoa Beach, which delights with its mellow waves and warm breezes year-round. Home to the original Ron Jon Surf Shop, as well as to 11-time world surfing champion, Kelly Slater, this surf capital of the east coast is the place to go for those eager to quickly get up on a surfboard and ride the waves. Explore the Florida Surf Museum and set up a lesson or two with family-run School of Surf, which offers clinics and competition training for advanced surfers, as well as week-long camps, even birthday parties that teach guests how to surf.
Many people head to the Caribbean to escape the daily grind, but once you’ve spent your third day (like, the entire day) lounging on the beach, you’ll be ready for some real action. When that moment hits, you’ll be glad you’re in Barbados and paddling on a longboard over the island’s crystal-clear waters. At Surfers’ Point on the east coast of Barbados, simply show up for the daily two-hour "Get Wet" beginner surfing lesson with Zed’s Surfing Adventures. Or start with the end in mind and plan an entire vacation around surfing with Barbados Surf Trips.
Santa Cruz, California
The relaxed surf vibe is strong in Santa Cruz. Home to Jack O’Neill, the late founder of the popular O’Neill surfwear brand. Santa Cruz has a legendary surf scene and has long been regarded as one of the best places to surf on the west coast. Locals consider Capitola Beach and Cowell Beach to be the best spots for new surfers thanks to mellow waves that inspire confidence (and the ability to stand up on a longboard). Book a lesson, sign up for a summer surf camp, or simply rent a board and wetsuit with Club Ed.