No list of the world’s great surf spots is ever complete, because pretty much anywhere there’s flowing water, there’s the potential for surfing it. That isn’t limited to oceans, as the urban river surfers of Munich will gladly tell you. It isn’t limited to the tropics, either, as the brave souls who don wetsuits and plunge into the frigid waves of County Donegal in Ireland or Tofino in British Columbia can attest. We don’t expect you to be able to tame the record-setting waves of Nazaré, Portugal, which can reach 100 feet high, but you can check out these places on your next vacation.
Polynesians invented the sport and have been doing it for hundreds of years. They brought it with them as they colonized more and more areas of the Pacific. Hawaii’s most famous spots are Oahu’s North Shore, particularly Banzai Pipeline. Maui counters with Jaws, named for the ferocity of its waves. Kauai’s Hanalei Bay is a favorite spot in winter when the winds pick up. The Big Island’s Kona Coast boasts Pine Trees and Banyans. Whichever island you visit, you’re sure to find great lessons to set you on your way.
Jeffreys Bay outside Port Elizabeth is world-renowned for its impressive tubes. With breaks called Kitchen Windows, Boneyards and Supertubes, J-Bay has plenty of waves to go around. Durban has a number of good breaks for beginners and skilled surfers alike. Just outside of Cape Town are Llandudno, Dines and Long Beach, so you can sneak away from the city just long enough to dip your board in.
It’s a big country with a lot of coastline, and surfers know how to make the most of it. Visitors to Sydney can take lessons at Bondi Beach before taking their talents up to Byron Bay, with its 40-plus miles of beach. A little farther north is Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast, where a sandbar dubbed Superbank creates a world-class break. All the way on the other side of the continent, the Margaret River Valley in Western Australia is home to the Box, a wave that rises from deep water to break on a shallow reef.
Water, water everywhere. With coasts on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific, Costa Rica is full of breaks. The best ones are on the Pacific coast in the Tamarindo area. Tamarindo Beach is great for lessons, and if you’re more confident, you can move up a little to El Estero at the mouth of the Tamarindo River, which has a stronger current and a faster wave due to the river emptying into the ocean there. On the north side of the river, you’ll find a less-crowded spot known as Casitas that has waves of varying size and difficulty.
Most people think of high culture, when they think of France, not ripping gnarly waves. But the Bay of Biscay coast in the Basque Country is the site of some of Europe’s best surfing. Biarritz became one of Europe’s first surf spots in the 1950s and remains a great one thanks to its long beaches and strong surges. Just to the north, Les Cavaliers has nice swells and tons of surf schools. Known as the “surfing capital of Europe,” Hossegor became a resort town in the early 1900s. Later visitors noticed how epic the waves were, and a new culture was born.