Top 10 surfing destinations in the world
Lead image of Gold Coast, Australia. Pic: Aristocrats-hat (Flickr CC)
Google “world’s top surf spots”, “top 10 surfing beaches” or any similar query and you’re going to come up with some pretty varied lists. Any single person’s qualifications for what makes a surf destination one of the “best” will differ from others based on that person’s specific tastes, experiences and criteria. For example, an area containing one incredible surf spot is not necessarily enough to put an entire destination at the top. Yet, towns like Ericeira in Portugal are full of great breaks and in close proximity of countless others. Furthermore, a list may include Bali, an undisputed surfing paradise, as one “destination”, while another will rank individual towns, beaches or areas that comprise several entries from one country or state, based on their own merit. Others, like this list, take a looser approach.
For our Top 10 list, we will go with destinations, and define them as not just individual spots, nor entire countries, though some islands are small enough to count as one destination. For the purposes of our list, a “destination” is an area big enough for easy access to potentially several spots, but not one you’d have to spend hours in the car in order to travel between them.
This is also a Top 10 based on several factors, including infrastructure (town, accommodation, restaurants), natural beauty and non-surfing activities — since you can’t surf all the time. The main deciding factor, however, is of course the all-important quality of waves.
Neither is this a definitive list, as there are many other places that could have been included. We’re looking for a bit of variety as well as simply an elite 10. Finally, the world is ripe for surfing and new spots are constantly being discovered and developed, while others are falling off the map due to overcrowding, overdevelopment and other reasons.
Without further ado and in no particular order, here’s our list of the top surfing destinations in the world!
1. Gold Coast, Australia
Australia’s 6th largest city, Queensland’s surf Mecca is known for its many right-hand point breaks, long beach breaks and a new artificial reef at Narrowneck. Dry winters, a mild subtropical climate and a massive Hinterland of forested, mountainous national parks make this city of nearly 600,000 a pleasant marriage between the attractions of Australian nature and all the perks and conveniences of a highly developed urban holiday destination. Surfing is best from January to July. Notable breaks include Straddie, Snapper (Superbank), The Spit, Main Beach, Greenmount (Coolangatta beach), Surfers Paradise, Currumbin (The Alley), Burleigh, Miami, Duranbah, Broadbeach and Mermaid Beach, Palm Beach, Tugun, Bilinga and Kirra.
2. Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa
Home to Supertubes, the longest and world’s best right-hander, according to many experts, “J-Bay” provides a choice of 10 different sections and is popular with high-level surfers, intermediates and longboarders alike. Be careful of the currents, be sure to wear booties and have a strong board. Besides the pro-level Supertubes, Jefferey’s Bay’s other sections are comprised of The Point, Magnatubes, Kitchen Windows, Impossibles, Salad Bowls, Boneyards, Coins, Albatross and Tubes.
3. Bukit Peninsula, Bali, Indonesia
Eat, pray, surf! An amazing cluster of top-level breaks, the northwest coast of the “Bukit” boasts some of Bali’s best beaches and Asia’s premier surf spots with a selection of waves suitable for all levels from absolute beginner (Padang Padang Right) to expert and pro (Uluwatu, Padang Padang Left). Besides surfing, check out the otherworldly beauty of the Uluwatu temple, which is overlooks the world-class surf break of the same name. The Bukit is worth exploring, taking in the gorgeous natural scenery along the coast and finding which break is best for you. Other world-famous surf spots on the Bukit include Bingin, Dreamland, Impossibles and Balangan.
4. Malibu, California, USA
The first dedicated World Surfing Reserve, this emblematic corner of Californian culture is famous not only for its waves, but also for appearances in Hollywood films and television series. A great location for beginners and expert surfers alike, Malibu’s proximity to Los Angeles and other SoCal landmarks makes it a perfect surf spot for those in search of a classic adventure on the West Coast of the US. Malibu’s Surfrider Beach is a perfect spot for longboarders and novices, but can be very crowded. In general, California means up to 300 days of fantastic surfing conditions per year. Visiting Malibu is to take pilgrimage to the birth of modern surf culture and the first place surfing took hold outside of its Polynesian birthplace.
5. Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Here is where we make an exception and name an entire island as one of our top destinations. In truth it would be a crime to leave Oahu out of any surfing-related top 10 list. CNN named Oahu’s Pipeline as the world’s number 1 surf spot, though only experts will be able to ride these legendary 6-meter waves. Fortunately, there are also plenty of other breaks located on the island that is the birthplace of modern surfing. Best for experts during the winter months and beginners during spring, the famous North Shore is 7 miles of spots including Backdoor, Waimea Bay, Ka’ena Point, Sunset Beach, Pupukea Beach and Kahuku Point. Learners can also take advantage of the calmer waves at Waikiki.
6. Ericeira, Portugal
Home of the ASP World Tour Surf Championship at Ribeira d’Ilhas beach, Ericeira is a spectacular surfing destination by any standard. Due to its 9 top surfing beaches and high environmental standards, in 2011 Ericeira was made Europe’s first World Surfing Reserve. It is also in close proximity to over 30 other surf spots in the region and a short drive to the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, which is more than worth a few day trips. Ericeira’s 8 miles (5 km) of coastline includes a variety of breaks ranging from those suitable for beginners (Foz do Lizandro, São Julião and Praia do Sul) to experienced and expert surfers (Ribeira, Coxos, Cave, São Lorenzo). Besides waves, Ericeira offers the authentic charms of a traditional Portuguese fishing village and the abundant natural scenery the region is famous for.
7. Hossegor, France
Another center for European surfing, Hossegor, situated on southwestern France’s coast of Landes, boasts miles of beautiful beach breaks and some impressive pro-level tubes that are reminiscent of Hawaii’s best offerings. Though mansions dot the coastline, there are plenty of campsites for budget-minded surfers. Each year in September, pros compete at the Quicksilver Pro France at Hossegor. Spots include Les Culs Nus, Hossegor Plage Central, La Graviere, Les Estagnots, Le Penon and Les Bourdaines.
8. Santa Cruz, California, USA
Ranked number 1 by Alex Wade in the London Times, this center of NorCal surfing has everything for every level of surfer and is a living piece of surf history. Beginners will find a home on Cowell’s gentler waves, while experts can test themselves at Steamer Lane’s right-hand point break. For those in between there are a pair of right-handers called Pleasure Point and The Hook. Santa Cruz is also a sizeable town with a nice shopping and restaurant area, summertime boardwalk and a seedier underbelly. The proximity of San Francisco also facilitates day trips to this fantastic city.
9. Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Looking for top quality barrels, nice beginner waves, great food and beautiful scenery on a budget? Head for Puerto Escondido, the “Mexican Pipeline” on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca State and home to one of the world’s best beach breaks. Hire a cheap beach bungalow and get ready for a great and thrifty surfing holiday. Surfing season lasts from March to December, giving you plenty of choice for when to visit. Breaks include The Point, Zicatela Beach and Kiddie Break. It’s also recommended to drive to different surf spots up and down the coast, using Puerto Escondido as your base.
10. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
This growing tourist hub of Central America offers a wide range of surfing beaches and activities including hiking, dining, nightlife, shopping, yoga and other water and adventure sports like ziplining, sport fishing, biking and sailing. Despite its increasing popularity among the surf community, crowds are still smaller than comparable destinations in Mexico, Costa Rica and El Salvador. A welcoming cosmopolitan town that is popular with expats from the US, San Juan del Sur’s notable surf spots include Playa Maderas (with waves suitable for all skill levels), Playa Remanso (perfect for beginners and 10 minutes from town), Playa Yankee (advanced), Colorado (left and right, river-mouth, barrels), Playa Coco (beginners) and Playa Hermosa (1 mile long, boat accessible, occasional barrels and lots of free peaks!). Surfing is best in spring and summer.
So there you have it: Our far-from-definitive list of Top 10 surfing destinations in the world. Look out for another “Alternative Top 10” post soon!