History of surfing in AmericaSurfing in America can be traced back to July 1885 when three Hawaiian prince's ventured to Santa Cruz, California. David Kawananakoa, Edward Keliiahonui and Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole surfed the river mouth of the San Lorenzo River on custom-shaped big redwood boards, becoming the first people to tackle the America surf.
Twenty years later, George Freeth came over from Hawaii, and headed to California to demonstrate surfing to the locals as a publicity stunt to promote the opening of the Los Angeles-Redondo-Huntington railroad, owned by Henry Huntington. George showed America surfing as it should be when he surfed at the now famous Huntington Beach pier; he then travelled up and down the coast demonstrating surfing to the public, as well as his life guard skills.
In 1912, Hawaiian beach boy Duke Paoa Kahanamoku , who was already a famous surfer and swimmer in his native Hawaii and was considered one of the islands best ocean waterman, passed through Cali showing off his incredible surfing prowess at Corona del Mar and Santa Monica.
Surfing in America’s East Coast began in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina in 1909 when Burke Haywood Bridgers and a handful of surfers took to the water on their handmade wooden boards. Burke Haywood Bridgers surfing exploits are considered among the earliest appearances of surfboards in the Atlantic Ocean.The early twentieth century surfers proved that surfing migrated from Hawaii to California and North Carolina at roughly the same time, before heading to Florida.
Today the American surf scene and industry is a billion-dollar business, with World Tour events being held from California to New York and of course, it’s the home country of the greatest surfer to have ever lived, 11-time world champion, Kelly Slater who hails from Florida.
Due to its size, it is hard to summarise surfing in America. It receives swell from the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and even from the Great Lakes.
What’s the surf like in America?
You will find every type of wave when on an America surf holiday; from reeling point breaks, river mouths, a-frame beach break peaks, reefs and some big wave spots that prove a stay at an America surf camp will suit all surfers, from the complete beginner to the seasoned pro.The best surf is produced from October to March, while April to September is perfect for beginners.
Where to Surf in America1. Santa Cruz
Named surf spots: 20+
Santa Cruz is a south-facing stretch of coast which is considered home to the finest America surf spots. Situated 70 miles south of San Francisco is Santa Cruz, and due to its southern exposure, picks up W, NW and N swells that wrap into the town and light up a plethora of beach breaks, reefs and points in the area.
Getting there is easy, fly into San Francisco and drive down in a rental car. Alternatively, you can fly into LA and make a road trip out of the 7 hour drive north.
Pillar Point at Half Moon Bay is home to one of the world’s best and most famous big wave spots, known as Mavericks. Whilst we don’t recommend you surf here, it is a must visit if the swell is filling in to experience the big wave community vibe, as you watch big wave enthusiasts paddle into monster sized surf.
Mitchell’s Cove and Lighthouse Point offer great waves for beginner surf America adventurers; also, the area’s premier wave, Steamer Lane can offer up incredible waves for surfers of all abilities. The east side of Santa Cruz houses some fantastic long peeling, right hand point breaks that are ideal for beginner surfers. Pleasure Point has some great walls, as does The Jetty.
Being the unofficial USA Surf City, Santa Cruz has some great surf shops that you can spend hours browsing. We suggest that you walk along the Wharf or beach boardwalk to check out the colourful characters, bars and boutique shops.For a true taste of the open road, stick on Surfing USA by the Beach Boys and head south along the Big Sur coastline, scoring uncrowded waves and getting a taste of the wilderness.
2. Santa Barbara and Ventura
Named surf spots: 18+
W and NW swells bend into Santa Barbara and fire up endless point breaks like Refugio, El Capitan and Campus Point, to name a few. These have waves for complete novices to the more advanced surfer.
At the Ventura county line you’ll find Rincon, known as the ‘Queen of the Coast’, which is an unbelievably long right hand point that has to be seen to be believed when on a USA surfing holiday.There are several reefs heading south, which are excellent options for surfers of all abilities; beginners should head to Mandos, whilst the more experienced should surf Goofys, Johns and Solimar Reef.
Santa Barbara beaches are equipped with volleyball nets, play areas and fitness stations, making for plenty of fun activities to get involved with when spending a day at the beach. There are also many great hiking trails such as Matillija Falls. In the evening, head to Deer Lodge for a wide range of craft beers and Papa Lenin’s Pizza for a tasty slice and ice cream!
This being southern California, you will more than likely fly into LA which is a 1.5 hour drive away from Santa Barbara; therefore, a hire car is the best option to travel around on your surf holiday.
3. Orange County
Named surf spots: 30+
Orange County or ‘The OC’, as it is commonly known, has some great beach breaks in the north. In addition to some great points, reefs and beach coves in the south.
Seal Beach Pier can provide some superb wedgey walls on a mid-tide and the right direction of swell. Huntington Beach is the official ‘Surf City’ of the USA (court appointed) and has a host of surf museums, Walk of Fame, surf theatres, iconic surf shops and surf themed bars and restaurants for you to occupy the hours in between sessions in the water. It epitomises surfing USA. The area also has some good left and right beach break peaks that are uncrowded and best surfed before 12pm, before the onshore winds kick in.
Once you head south into Newport, you should head to the areas to, arguably, one of the world’s most famous waves, The Wedge. Sit on the sand with the rest of the crowds and watch bodysurfers and body boarders hurl themselves into massive triangle shaped peaks, before they crash onto dry sand.
Dana Point has some great waves for all surfers especially Laguna Beach and Salt Creek. Doheny State Beach Park is a great area for first time surfers with mellow walls perfect for longboards or mini mals.
Further south is San Clemente, the most unique surf town in Orange County and one that we can’t recommend enough for your America surf adventure. It lacks the crowds of Newport or Huntington, and the waves are just as good, if not better and is home to one of Americas best waves, Trestles. With a beautiful and vibrant city, great places to stay and eat, as well as the excellent and varied waves, San Clemente is a perfect location for an America surfing trip.
4. San Diego
Named surf spots: 22+
San Diego's 70 miles of open ocean coastline has waves to suit all levels of surfers making it one of the best destination for a stay at an America surf camp. San Clemente State Park marks the start of the San Diego border, this is where you can find the stretch of coastline that gets referred to as ‘SoCal’, with Trestles being the jewel in the crown.
Oceanside has a great assortment of spots along their numerous jetty’s, piers and beaches. Between Carlsbad and Encinitas you’ll find the best beginner surf America can offer up, with gentle left and right walls and great beachside facilities.
The Torrey Pines State Park has a long stretch of quiet coastline that has very beginner friendly waves. Further south by San Diego city is Pacific Beach - head to Old Mans and Crystal Pier for cruisy left and right peaks. Ocean Beach is small, crowded but fun and the area always interesting for people watching or visiting the many quirky beach front stalls.
In between surfing USA’s finest coastline, catch a baseball or football game at The Dome. Spend the afternoon wandering Garnett Avenue or head into San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter for a night of fun.As it is close to Mexico, hop the border and spend the day in Tijuana for a day of craziness; the border crossing can be a long process on the way back into the US, so keep a few dollars’ spare so you can skip the line.
5. New Hampshire
Named surf spots: 10
Moving onto the East Coast, not as famous as the West but like all great beginner surf destinations it has consistent waves, easy access to qualified instructors and sparse crowds. From Florida, all the way up to New Hampshire, there are fantastic USA surf spots and towns just ready to be visited on your surf holiday America.
Rye in New Hampshire is renowned for its mountains and lakes, but has a surf filled 17-mile stretch of Atlantic coastline that is known for its laidback surf lifestyle and welcoming locals that makes for an very different base for an America surf holiday.The best beginner waves can be found at Wallis Beach and Jenness Beach. The Wall and surrounding reefs will suit more intermediate/advanced surfer looking for a more rugged America surfing experience.
You're in New England, so expect good food and sophisticated culture nearby, especially in Portsmouth, a small port city with an 18th-century-style centre and fantastic boutique shops. Make sure you eat a lobster roll, they’re everywhere here and cheap too!
6. New York
Named surf spots: 40+
New York is not a typical destination for a USA surf vacation but it is home to some of the best surf you’ll encounter when it comes to East coast America surf spots, with Long Island stretching over 118-miles into the Atlantic Ocean. South-facing beaches are in a prime location to pick up all the swell that the Atlantic serves up, with hurricane season in the autumn bringing the best swell to New York and New Jersey. Winter is equally consistent with north-easterly storms tracking up the Atlantic coast but temperatures are extremely cold.
Montauk in Long Island is a beautiful fishing town that lies 120 miles East of New York City. Once a sleepy fishing-surf village, it is now hugely popular, with summer visitors and surfers all year round who are after that America surf experience. If it is 3 feet in Rockaway or Long Beach, it could be at least 6 feet in Montauk, making it a top location for some of the best intermediate surfing America offers.
7. New Jersey
Named surf spots: 14
Known as The Jersey Shore, this area brings all walks of life to its magnificent sands during the summer, and is a great location for those who want to let loose in the evening when staying at an America surf resort.
The most welcoming spot for beginners is probably Sea Isle City, near the state’s southern elbow. Its long ribbon of sand isn’t as crowded as the towns further north, and the waves, though steady, are generally a little smaller, perfect for a first foray into surfing. Manasquan Inlet's left and right-breaking waves near Point Pleasant offer long peeling waves and for complete novices there's a less-intense, but consistent, left-to-right break closer to the area's jetty.
Some beach towns are rather sleepy, but some are more like a night out in Vegas during the summer! New Jersey surf spots work best from October to March - during hurricane season or winter, a great America surfing experience – the water is still warm and the waves are firing! Waves and beaches aren't the only attraction for the traveling surfer, it's in the midst of some of the most important cultural centres in the world. Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City are right next door as is Atlantic City, all worth exploring on an American surf vacation.
8. Outer Banks - North Carolina
Named surf spots: 12, plus many deserted beach break peaks
The Outer Banks are a magnet for the largest swells that the Atlantic can throw at the East Coast. If you want to learn to surf, America’s Outer Banks can offer you one of the best spots to practise. They area a series of peaky beach breaks made up of various sandbars, located along the 300 miles of accessible coastline.
The quiet Cape Hatteras, at the centre of this long necklace of sand, is a favourite choice, in addition to Kill Devil Hills to the north. But Kitty Hawk has perhaps the best combination of dependable surf, easy parking, as well as close and easy access to fantastic surf instructors. Rodanthe Pier boasts a healthy surf following, where you will find several local and visiting surfers who frequently flock to this much-loved America surf destination. Once you have had your fill of perfect waves, light up the BBQ right on the beach and toast to a day of great waves with an ice cold brewski!
Named surf spots: 30+
North Florida is arguably one of the most under-rated USA surf regions in the south-eastern America surf scene. The beaches are great, there are plenty of nice and easy, slow peeling beach breaks that are ideal if you are learning to surf, and the water's pleasantly warm and crystal clear. Between the Georgia state line and Cape Canaveral, you'll find breaks such as Mayport Poles, St. Augustine's Blowhole and New Smyrna Beach, arguably the surf spots in all of Florida that have the most consistent surf.
Central Florida dishes up plenty of wave diversity in the form of both big-name breaks and unnamed breaks from Playa Linda to the tourist hub of Cocoa Beach. You can head to Sebastian Inlet, which is considered to be Florida’s premier surf spot. The crowds here can get thick but is a great place to watch the state’s best surfers ride the waves, whilst you enjoy the warm year round sun.
Florida is of course home to theme parks such as Disney World, Epcot, Islands of Adventure, The Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios, Blizzard Beach, Busch Gardens and many more. These are only a short one hour and twenty-minute car ride from the coast, so be sure to go and visit. It’s impossible not to get swept up in childhood nostalgia once you see the Magic Kingdom.
American Wetsuit Guide and WeatherWest Coast
California is famous for its practically perfect climate; it hardly ever rains, with winter air temperatures rarely dipping below 18ºC and reaching highs of 30ºC in summer. The water is very consistent all year round, fluctuating between 14ºC in winter and 17ºC in summer. A 3/2 will be enough.
During the summer months, the heat can be stifling, with air temperatures reaching 31ºC. Water temperatures hit 22ºC in New York, 25ºC in the Outer Banks and 28ºC down in Florida. We suggest packing a spring suit for your East Coast America surf trip and plenty of sun screen and UV rash guards.
The winter see’s the northern East coast dip to air temperatures of -15ºC whilst the water hovers around 8-9ºC mark meaning a 5/4/3, gloves, boots and a hood for an America surf vacation during these months. Florida’s water temps in winter stay around a balmy 17ºC, with the air temperatures ranging from 16ºC to 26ºC, so a 3/2 will be the best option.
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