The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in North America

North America’s surfing landscape is diverse and thrilling, boasting a range of extraordinary surfing spots. From the lively Atlantic beach breaks in the Carolinas to California’s iconic and powerful waves, and down to the intense surf peaks of Mexico, the region stands unparalleled in its surfing offerings.

Introduction to surfing in North America

North America spans an immense area, stretching from Guatemala’s lush jungles to the Arctic Circle’s icy expanses. It’s home to three distinct countries: the United States, Mexico, and Canada, each offering unique surfing experiences.

Here’s a glimpse: you’ll find everything from the intense point breaks over Mexican reefs to the gentle beach breaks beneath the West Coast’s mountainous skyline. And if you’re up for a challenge, the Atlantic coast offers vigorous shore breaks requiring thick wetsuits.

Choosing the right surfing destination in North America hinges on identifying the spot that resonates with your style and preferences. This guide offers a snapshot of each country’s surfing scene. Dive into the details for each, exploring the top surf breaks and understanding the best seasons to hit the waves. It’s straightforward and tailored to help you make an informed choice.

Where to find the best surfing in North America

Canada

Canada is often envisioned as a land of majestic mountains, vast glacial lakes, and sweeping prairies. Yet, it also harbors a surprising secret: a vibrant surf scene, particularly in its northern reaches.

  • Tofino, Vancouver Island: This area in British Columbia is a standout surf destination. Here, surfers find thrilling point breaks along a significant stretch of the island, making it a sought-after spot for wave enthusiasts.
  • Inland Surfing: Beyond the ocean, Canada offers unique river surfing spots and locations along the Great Lakes, adding variety to its surfing landscape.
  • Nova Scotia: On the east coast, this region presents a more untouched and serene surfing experience. Known for its clear, gentle swells, it’s an ideal summer surf destination.

While Canada’s typical imagery is one of wintry landscapes, its surfing spots like Nova Scotia and Vancouver Island reveal another, more adventurous side, with opportunities ranging from ocean to river surfing.

The United States

The United States holds a special place in the history of surfing. It’s the nation where modern surfing flourished, thanks to the pioneering efforts of icons like Duke Kahanamoku and the skilled surfers of Hawaii’s North Shore. Their influence spread surfing from Hawaii to California and eventually across the globe. As a result, the U.S. boasts some of the world’s most renowned surf spots.

  • California: This state is a surfing paradise. Northern California offers rugged, remote beach breaks for a more solitary experience, while Southern California (SoCal) is famous for its iconic surf culture, including well-known wedges and pier breaks.
  • The Carolinas: Here, the East Coast surfing scene reaches its pinnacle. Areas like Surf City and the Outer Banks are celebrated for their abundant beach breaks.
  • Florida: Known for producing legendary surfers like Kelly Slater, Florida’s long beach breaks on pristine white sands offer a plethora of surfing opportunities.
  • Hawaii: Arguably the most famous surf destination globally, Hawaii is a surfer’s dream. From the legendary barrels of Oahu’s North Shore to the scenic bays of Maui, Hawaii’s surf spots are where the sport gained mainstream popularity.

Mexico

Mexico has firmly established itself as a key player in the North American surfing scene, renowned for its exceptional beach breaks. The country’s reputation in the surfing world is largely built on the strength of these challenging spots.

Oaxaca Coast: This southern region is famous for its formidable waves, especially in Puerto Escondido, known for its massive, double overhead barrels.

Beginner and Intermediate Spots: While Mexico’s surfing is known for its intensity, it’s not exclusively for pros. The expansive Pacific coast, stretching over 4,500 miles, offers a variety of spots suitable for beginners and intermediates. Destinations like Punta Mita, Puerto Vallarta, and Baja California provide a more approachable surfing experience.

Notable Surfing Locations in Mexico:

  • Puerto Escondido: Often regarded as Mexico’s most thrilling surf spot, it features powerful waves off Zicatela Beach.
  • Riviera Nayarit: This area, including towns like San Pancho and Sayulita, blends an authentic Mexican atmosphere with gentler beach breaks, ideal for a relaxed surfing experience.
  • Baja California: Located on the peninsula bordering California, this region is a prime spot for summer surfing, catching large swells from the Southern Ocean.

Understanding Surfing Seasons in North America

The allure of surfing in North America lies in its year-round opportunities. With its vast coastline stretching for thousands of kilometers, there’s always a spot with suitable waves, regardless of the season.

Seasonal Variations

  • Winter: This season is known for its substantial swells along the West Coast. In California, south-southwest swells create impressive waves, especially during Pacific hurricanes. Hawaii’s North Shore is particularly active from October to March, drawing surfers worldwide for its legendary waves.
  • East Coast: From New York down to Florida, the prime surfing season typically starts in August, peaking in winter with powerful waves.
  • Summer: Ideal for beginners due to its milder conditions. Though wetsuits might be necessary in the north, locations like Florida and Hawaii offer warmer waters. This season is marked by calmer, glassier conditions in places like Oahu, Maui, and California. In contrast, regions like Oaxaca in Mexico receive stronger swells, often originating from the Southern Hemisphere, resulting in larger waves during these months.

Regional Highlights

  • California: Winter surfing is a hallmark, with large swells and challenging conditions.
  • Hawaii: Known for its consistent surf, especially in winter, but offers year-round opportunities.
  • East Coast USA: Features a longer surfing season, with the best conditions often in late summer and winter.
  • Mexico: The diverse coastline caters to all levels, with summer bringing larger swells to certain areas.