Surfer (credit: Thinkstock)
From improving cardiovascular fitness to strengthening your core, surfing is one of the best overall sports for fitness. What’s more, the ability to maneuver a modern surfboard across or through a powerful wave is also described as a thrilling work of art. Boosted in a rise in popularity during the late 50s and 60s by surf bands like the Chantays and the Beach Boys, surfing and its associated culture has become one of the world’s most popular water sports. So where in America are the best surfing spots? While most experienced surfers, or even some beginners, already know famous spots, here are five of the best surf towns in the country.
Many of the world’s most famous surf spots can be found in Southern California, such as Rincon in Santa Barbara, Trestles in San Clemente and Malibu. But the best overall surf spot in the entire region might be a bit further down south of the coast in Encinitas. Located 30 minutes north of San Diego, Encinitas is the quintessential surf town, with a laid back vibe and optimum surf conditions year-round. Top local surf spots include Cardiff Reef, Swamis and Seaside Reef, with another phenomenal spot just outside the city limits at Black’s Beach, west of UC San Diego.
Although the most heralded places to stay are outside Encinitas, such as Torrey Pines and the Fairmont Grand Del Mar, there are a few nice spots locally. Lodging recommendations include Cardiff by the Sea Lodge and Encinitas Inn and Suites. Just recently, Encinitas was named one of the world’s best surf towns by National Geographic.
Known as the social and artistic hub of Oahu’s North Shore, Haleiwa is also the gateway to some of the world’s most famous surfing spots. About an hour’s drive from Waikiki Beach, the North Shore has been the setting for big wave surfing since the 1950s at iconic places like Sunset Beach, Waimea Bay, the irrepressible Banzai Pipeline and Jaws. With the best conditions typically in the winter months, when swells can reach 50 feet high, the North Shore hosts the annual Triple Crown of Surfing, drawing the best surfers on the planet.
Competitors have included Americans Kelly Slater, an 11-time world surfing champion and ranked 9th from the World Surf League in 2015; Nat Young of Santa Cruz, ranked 10th; and Courtney Conlogue, the world’s second-ranked woman from Santa Ana, California. Only one luxury hotel, Turtle Bay Resort, is in the area, but visitors can also stay at nearby places like Ke Iki Bungalows or the Courtyard Oahu North Shore near one of Oahu’s leading attractions, the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Huntington Beach, California
Although many Northern California surfers still disagree, Huntington Beach (HB) holds the official title of “Surf City.” Located along the Orange County coastline and 22 miles south of Disneyland, the city does have an extensive history of surfing, dating back to 1914 and long before Jan and Dean released “Surf City USA” in the summer of 1963. To further stake its claim as Surf City, Huntington Beach is also home to the world’s largest surfing competition, the U.S. Open of Surfing, in addition to the International Surfing Museum and the Surfing Walk of Fame.
But in spite of what may be the most consistent surfing conditions in Southern California and HB’s high surfing profile, many local surfers insist Lower Trestles, further south in San Clemente, is a far better spot for surfing. Still, Huntington Beach is a great place to stay and visit, with a number of excellent hotels such as the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach and other attractions like the Happiest Place on Earth not far away.
Montauk, New York
It’s a given that the most American surf spots can be found in either California or Hawaii. However, the East Coast also has its share of hot spots, such as Florida’s Cocoa Beach and the Outer Banks in North Carolina. But the one spot that’s consistently ranked among the best in the country is Montauk at the easternmost portion of Long Island’s South Shore. Although there are excellent surf spots closer to Manhattan, such as Long Beach and Fire Island, former lifelong surfer John Beattie says in his film “A Hundred Miles to The End” it gets no more special than Montauk, particularly at places like Ditch Plains.
Visitors can also check out the Montauk Oceans Institute and Surf Museum, located near the historic Montauk Point Lighthouse. The Ocean Resort Inn and Beach Plum Resort are among the more than 50 places to stay in this seaside resort town.
Santa Cruz, California
Named as the best surf town in America by none other than the venerable Surfer Magazine, Santa Cruz clearly lives up to its reputation. After all, this seaside community is the birthplace of surfing on the U.S. mainland, when three Hawaiian princes rode their redwood surfboards here in 1885, and even the Hawaiian royals and Surfer Magazine acknowledge Santa Cruz as the real Surf City. But there’s certainly a lot more that contributes the city’s reputation as a world-class destination for surfers.
There are several consistent surf breaks in the area, most notably at Pleasure Point and the famous Steamer Lane, whose chilly waters helped contribute to the creation of the first neoprene surfing wetsuit by Jack O’Neill, founder of the company that’s synonymous with surf gear all over the world. The promontory overlooking Steamer Lane is an excellent spot watch the surfing action, especially for top competitions like the Coldwater Classic, the longest running surf contest in North America. Lighthouse Point is also the location for the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, which chronicles the history of surfing and the world’s first surfing museum, celebrating its 30th anniversary later this year. Lastly, about an hour north of Santa Cruz is Mavericks, the legendary surf spot near Half Moon Bay and the location for one of the highest profile competitions on the planet for big wave surfing. Excellent places to stay in Santa Cruz include the hip boutique Hotel Paradox and the Dream Inn, just minutes from the historic Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com