Us surfers dream of the one – a perfect break, that elusive and uncrowded glassy right or left.
And whether your quest is point breaks or barrels, it’s likely you’re always on the lookout for surf spots that aren’t too touristy but aren’t super far away either. Thankfully, there are some epic breaks that don’t require a three thousand dollar flight or six hour boat ride from the nearest town. Trust me. Some are in unexpected places or offer an element of surprise and all are only a hop, skip and paddle away from diverse attractions from magical snow capped mountains to awesome nightlife.
Without further ado: six awesome and unexpected surf destinations you should check out around the world.
Iceland is the newest surf hotspot, boasting both the coldest waters and very few crowds. The numerous breaks here offer many surprises and a totally different surf experience. The best wave season is between October and March, when heavy storms hit Iceland in all directions. A 5-6mm wetsuit is necessary; when the majority of waves break over super sharp volcanic reefs, thickness helps a little bit when bailing.
The second best part about surfing in Iceland? Visiting a hot spring after surfing in the icy waters (we have a handy list of them here). And although summer months produce tricky winds and smaller swells you can ride at almost any time of the day and night (the sun hardly ever sets in June). Known as Europe’s final frontier for surfing, Iceland will push your limits as you paddle out but it all makes sense when you drop in.
My first trip to Zipolite was met with sheer surf surprise. The tiny town is located about an hour south of the infamous Zicatela barrel at Puerto Escondido, so I was expecting crowds. But in contrast with Zicatela’s aggressive wave and more aggressive crowd, Zipolite offers a chiller vibe, considerably less people and a few quality waves. Needless to say I was stoked upon arrival.
A consistent break throughout the year, the swell grows in May with shallow sandbars and a strong rip making for some fun barrels, with a nice left in the south corner. San Agustinillo is close and also uncrowded, along with Mazunte which is smaller and less powerful for learners. Another surprise? This beach is clothing optional.
Rocky Mountains, Canada
A naturalist’s dream is surfing in the majestic Rocky Mountains. Kananaskis River could be the world’s cleanest, most consistent and possibly coldest – a tributary of Bow River, fed from the Bow Glacier, which is part of the Wapta Icefield. There are river breaks around the world (Munich, Montreal) but this particular location is special for outdoor adventurers: You can hike, surf and shred fresh powder in one trip (or one day for an adrenaline overload).
Situated almost halfway between Banff and Calgary, Mountain Wave is the most popular and consistent river break. Channels were built by placing boulders in the river creating an endless break of fast, glassy fun almost every day of the year. If you didn’t expect to surf when visiting the Rockies (for obvious reasons) gear rentals are available in Calgary. Mountain Wave offers more than the thrill of surfing – ripping on a freezing, fast river with deer, elk and other wildlife is one insanely unique experience.
Okinawa Prefecture is a beautiful stretch of over 150 islands spread over one thousand kilometers in the East China Sea. With some of the outer islands and reefs still uncharted, Okinawa really does offer adventure for those wanting to explore. Waves break over shallow reef or rock so most spots are best at high tide, but those not scared of a few bounces can find some stellar low tide rides. On the main island, White Beach has a break with sand bottom but is almost always crowded.
Other islands are super fun to explore and accessible. Kudaka is just one hour away by ferry and worth spending all day at. There is a long left point break and few others to enjoy this beauty break with on weekdays. Considered one of the holiest places out of all the islands, you can experience traditional Okinawan culture here. Be sure to get a bowl of Irabu, a sea snake soup that improves stamina (well, according to the locals).
Peru is legendary for long glassy lefts, so finding a quality right is an unexpected treat. Just south of Lima in Punta Hermosa, La Isla is situated between its big brothers Pica Alta and Kon Tiki. And it’s less famous, meaning less crowds. Weekdays are better as weekends get a little busy, but, from my experience, locals are pretty chill here. The area doesn’t have much tide movement so wave quality is mostly dependent on swell size. La Isla is fairly consistent, getting a little mushy in January but is still fun with a longboard.
Punta Hermosa in general is definitely worth a visit thanks to the few breaks within walking distance. I wore booties and a light fullsuit when I visited, renting the booties from a local shop. The best part about surfing in Peru? Feasting on another thing the country is famous for – Ceviche.
United Arab Emirates
Renowned for shopping, nightlife, impressive architecture and white-sand beaches, Dubai and the surrounding areas offer beautiful coastlines with a variety of breaks. In Dubai, you can check out a sand bar break at Sunset Beach or a little beach bump at Surfer’s Beach with a designated area to ride. Those wanting to learn can head to Al Khan for a clean beach break and options for lessons and board rentals.
If you want to explore a little and the wind conditions are right, Tim’s Reef, near Fujairah Port on the east side of the peninsula, offers a reef/rock break and an excellent taste of the United Arab Emirates outside of the big city. The best part about this location: you can surf even if the sea is flat. The infamous wave pool is worth it: perfect conditions with a consistent six foot high ride. I dropped in on this beauty with reservations about a man-made wave but all were quickly forgotten after my first quick rip.
(Image credits: All c/o Instagram, except hero image c/o Intrepid Travel)