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Surfing is on the up. An estimated 1.73 million people in the US will hit the waves this year alone. Globally, that figure whacks a whopping 23 million in total!
It’s easy to see why. Surf culture has an allure that few other types of sports can match. Visions of tanned bodies and perfect bikini lines meet freckled faces and salty, sun-kissed hair. But more than that, surfing lessons can help you stay fit, enjoy the great outdoors, and be mindful.
Tempted? Great. There are oodles of amazing surf destinations to consider if you’ve never hopped on a board before. From the fun-loving party towns of South America to the Balinese beaches of Indo to Europe’s raw and wild breaks, a whole wonderworld of awesome waves awaits the rookie surf fan.
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Top 6 surf destinations
If you’ve been tempted to surf by visions of muscular pros riding barrelled waves in Hawaii, then think again. The first couple of months/weeks/years of learning to surf are nothing like that. In fact, they’re more about getting thwacked in the face by oncoming waves, rolling around in the whitewash, and trying to squeeze into soggy wetsuits. It’s all still great fun though!
To match that beginner skill level, you’re going to need to find a surf spot that suits your needs so you can learn to surf safely. Generally speaking, that means somewhere with a beach break (a wave that rolls over sand, not rock). It means finding somewhere with decent surf schools and board rentals. It means catching a wave that’s not too high, fast, hard, or challenging. Cue the top options below…
1. Kuta, Bali
Thousands of beginner surfers every year come to Kuta to cut their teeth on the easy-going waves. Running for several kilometers up the south coast of the legendary Isle of the Gods, this is one of the spots that first brought board riding to the masses. These days, it’s a haven for surf schools and instructors. Around $25 is enough to score a guided session. Less than $4 gets you a board rental for an hour. Expect nice, shapely waves that are brill for practicing your pop-up, along with a lively town packed with après surf bars just behind.
2. Caleta de Famara, Lanzarote
Long and windy but with oodles of room to test out your board skills, Caleta de Famara is a popular choice for starter surfers in the Canary Islands. The conditions are pretty consistent throughout the year but tend to get bigger between November and March. Most of the swells create a few lines of waves. There’s the first green wave, usually occupied by Spanish locals, and then a series of other breakers, followed by plenty of whitewash (where you’ll want to start). The nearby town – a charming Canarian affair – has loads of surf schools that tout half-day to week-long lesson packages.
3. Weligama, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka surf is still the chilled and casual sport it was in the 60s. People here find hidden waves in inlets ringed by coconut trees and spend their evenings sipping beers with spicy dal curries. For rookies, the place to head is the town of Weligama. It’s stretched over a huge horseshoe bay, where the waves are lighter and lower than anywhere else on the island. Choose one of the local surf camps, or haggle for a board rental from one of the shacks right on the sand. Hazards include flying boards – there are lots of fellow starters in these parts.
4. Byron Bay, Australia
The learn-to-surf haven of Oz rarely fails to get you riding your first wave. There’s a great variety of spots to pick from. Go to Main Beach, Wategos Beach, or Clarke’s Beach to find the most easy-going swells suited to first-timers. All of those come with classic New South Wales sand and sea – think sugar-white powder and gleaming turquoise water. Things are rarely empty in Byron Bay, but that adds to the vibe, which is buzzy and backpacker-friendly throughout.
5. Montanita, Ecuador
The stand-out surf spot in Ecuador is Montanita. Once a small hamlet, it’s now a sprawling resort that’s really built on the art of wave riding. You’ll find surf hostels, surf hotels, surf camps, and surfing instructors on virtually every corner. The main beach is where the action is at. The wave there is called La Punta and it’s usually the stage for total novices to intermediates who like to rip the nice left to righters.
6. Sayulita, Mexico
Sadly, Sayulita’s waves are no longer a secret. Still, wake up early and you’ll catch the light beach swells that roll into this charming Mexicana town pretty much empty. The crowds will come later, but they include some excellent local surf schools with bilingual trainers. You’ll want to start your surf journey on the main stretch of sand. It’s lively and laced with cafés, but the waves are low and have big periods (gaps between them). When you improve, hit Punta Mita or La Lancha and beyond.
Choose your surf destination
Choosing the right place is key. You want to look for a surf destination that’s got beach breaks (waves that roll over sand) and protected swells.
Book a surf camp
There are thousands of surf camps and surf hostels out there. They often provide fully packaged trips to the waves, including lessons and board rental. That means you won’t have to plan a single thing yourself.
Pick your battles
There’s no use trying to learn to surf in tsunami-style waves. You’ll want to keep checking the surf forecasts (Magicseaweed has those for thousands of surf spots around the globe) and make sure you head out for the first time when the waves are looking nice and tame.
Think about a summer trip
The general rule for surfing destinations in Europe is that the waves are little more chilled in the warmer months. You’ll also get balmy weather and a great tan!
About the Author
Since bagging his English and Ancient History degree, Rich has traveled from the canyons of Mexico to the surf-splashed bays of Bali, done five interrails, toured India, Indonesia, Thailand, and New Zealand, hiked in Italy and France, skied across the Alps, and lived in countless countries for a month or more at a time. Now at five continents and upwards of 50 countries (gaining a TEFL certification along the way), it’s safe to say he is a seasoned traveler.
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