Photo by Frank McKenna
IN AN INCREASINGLY BUSY world, going for a surf is a chance to get back to nature, test yourself against the ocean, have fun and get some exercise. And these days learning to surf doesn’t have to be the fearful, difficult proposition it once was. Forgiving foam surfboards and qualified surf instructors mean standing up and riding a wave in your first session is very likely — and then you’re hooked.
Read on for Matador’s list of the best surf spots to start your new addiction…
Byron Bay, Australia
This one-time sleepy dairy town turned hippie-surfer-stockbroker enclave is quite possibly the best place in the country, maybe the world, to learn to surf. There’s a variety of waves to suit different levels, from gentle rollers off Watego Beach to the beach breaks of Tallows and The Wreck (in small swells).
Byron Bay Surf School offers both lessons and accommodation. Or stay at the Byron Bay YHA (formerly J’s Bay), complete with pool.
Best time to go: March to May for warm weather and consistent swell .
On an island famous for its grinding left-hand reef breaks, Bali still offers great options for learners. The long sandy stretch of beach in front of the famous Kuta and Legian tourist strip can turn on fun waves for beginners in small swells — but watch the currents when it’s bigger.
Various beach huts rent old surfboards for about 20,000 rupiah per hour. When the wind picks up in the afternoon there’s a bunch of options to keep you busy, from practising yoga in Ubud to partying late at Ku De Ta in Seminyak.
Best time to go: May to September for offshore winds and a party atmosphere.
While there are rarely waves in Lagos itself, this picturesque Algarve town is the base for many surf schools in the region, and it’s not hard to see why. A variety of great waves are within a 30-minute drive, including the protected break at Arrifana — a favourite for learners at low tide.
Among the surf schools based in Lagos, Surf Experience is the longest established and one of the best.
After a day spent learning to surf, refuel at one of Lagos’ cheap but delicious restaurants. After 10 PM, the clubs come alive, the clientèle spurred on by cheap cocktails and refreshing bottles of Sagres beer for just €2.
Best time to go: Northern hemisphere spring and autumn to avoid the summer crowds and higher prices.
Surfer’s Point, Barbados
Located on Barbados’s more protected southern coast, Surfer’s Point in Inch Marlowe is the perfect location to learn to surf in an idyllic, tropical setting. Former competitive surfer and Barbadian local Zed Layson runs the popular Zed’s Surfing Adventures. Zed offers two-hour lessons on easy-to-ride foam surfboards, plus a range of accommodation options near the point.
Best time to go: Anytime, although the rainy season from June to October may limit your tanning time.
What better place to learn to surf than the home of surfing itself? Hawaii’s ancient kings rode the surf on crude wooden boards before missionaries in the 19th century frowned on the sport for being a godless activity.
Thankfully, surfing is back bigger than ever. The gentle rolling waves of Waikiki are perfect for beginners, offering long rides and a (mostly) fun, easy going atmosphere. Canoe’s is the most popular, and consequently most crowded, break but you’ll be among beginners so catching waves is relatively easy.
Boards can be rented from the shacks on the beach by the hour or take a lesson from one of the many surf schools in the area.
Best time to go: There are waves year round although the Hawaiian summer from June to August sees consistent south swells.
Thanks to its long, righthand point breaks, Morocco has been a popular winter destination for European surfers since the 1970s, with convoys of VW campervans parked beside the various breaks.
These days, you don’t need to be a hardcore surfer to enjoy the waves, with a variety of surf schools to choose from.
In the south, Taghazoute almost has more surf camps than surf spots, so you’re bound to find one that suits your budget. Hash Point and the beaches around Agadir can throw up an easy wave for learners. If it’s flat, the chilled port town of Essaouira is just three hours north by bus and makes a great day trip.
Best time to go: The big swells roll in from November to February, but early autumn has smaller waves and warmer weather.
For a country known for its crap weather, the British sure love their surfing. Newquay’s Fistral Beach is surfing ground zero in Britain, with a variety of backpacker hostels, surf cafes, and surf schools in and around the town.
Newquay’s headlands mean there are surfable waves in most conditions, from the swell-exposed Fistral to the protected Watergate Bay just around the corner. If you have access to a car, the crystal clear peaks at Sennen Cove an hour south are worth the drive in clean swells.
Best time to go: September to October are the most consistent months. You’ll need a 4/3 or even a thick 5/4 wetsuit to brave the chilly water in winter and spring.
Ireland is the new surfing hot spot in Europe; its world class, uncrowded waves now lure surfers from around the world.
Bundoran in County Donegal on Ireland’s west coast is a great place to learn the basics, with a variety of beach breaks on offer. If the swell is small, try Tullan Beach in town. If it’s too big, head 10 km north to the more mellow Rossnowlagh Beach. The respected Bundoran Surf Co. offers lessons as well surf-and-stay packages.
And five places to avoid
- North Shore, Hawaii: With waves regularly reaching above 10 feet in winter, this coast is no place for the novice. Hell, even experienced surfers regularly come to grief here.
- Coolangatta, Australia: Home of the Superbank. When it’s on it’s so crowded you can almost walk out to the surf on the back of paddling surfers.
- Port Elizabeth, South Africa: Would you surf in the same waters where tourists flock to go swimming in shark-proof cages?
- Fuerte Ventura, Canary Islands: Sharp lava reefs, sea urchins, strong winds, localism and thumping Atlantic swells. Experienced surfers only.
- Puerto Escondido, Mexico: Has a reputation as one of the heaviest beach breaks in the world. The waves here are consistently above head high and routinely snap surfboards like twigs.