Time to get your surf boards up and swimsuits on!
While we’re all melting off in Singapore’s sweltering heat, let’s divert your attention to perhaps, planning your future beach destination. After all, all that sun’s got to at least have some plus points, right? And so we’ve rounded up of some of the best cities and places around the world to surf.
Peruse these options to indulge in a little armchair visual travelling, or add these to your future travel bucket list.
1. Chennai, Tamil Nadu State, India
Chennai offers all the best of India, but with a less frenetic pace and cleaner air than northern cities. So it can be the perfect home for singles, couples and families having a global adventure.
Covelong (or Kovalam, as it’s also known) is a fishing village turned surf spot about an hour’s drive outside the city. It has a genuine social surfing movement and many of India’s best surfers live nearby, or give lessons here. Plus, the waves are reliable – Covelong has both beach and reef breaks, and surfers talk about right-hand break points that are more dependable than anywhere else in India. Swells are usually around five foot, but in the monsoon season from May to September they rise to over eight feet, with plenty of rain. This makes them suited to advanced or pro surfers only.
Also, the Ocean Delight Surf School was founded by one of the area’s top surfers. Plus, the Covelong Point Surf Festival was an annual event taking place pre-Covid where surf-, yoga- and music-lovers from all over the world congregate for a three-day festival. The festival was halted in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Tip: Covelong Point Social Surf School has a cafe, lounge, and guest rooms right on the beach. Part of the earnings are used to fund social projects in the village. You can even get free surfing lessons during the annual Covelong Point Surf, Music & Yoga Festival, which usually happens in August.
2. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
One of the most popular surfing spots in Vietnam, Vung Tau is just 90-kilometres from Ho Chi Minh city. It has lots of accommodation options ranging from guesthouses to modern hotels and a buzzing nightlife scene, so it’s ideal for a weekend getaway for both local and foreign tourists.
The entire long beach is surf-able. But surfers prefer the back beach instead of the front. Stretching over 3-kilometres, it has numerous unnamed breaks with powerful, reliable waves to suit every surfing level. Insiders say the best time to surf at Vung Tau is during the early mornings of winter, when the wind is not too strong.
Right in the centre of the back beach is Vung Tau Beach Club, a beach bar and water sports school where you can book kitesurfing trips, hire surf gear and get paddle boarding lessons.
Tip: In Vietnam the temperature hovers between 25- and 30-degree Celsius, with warm water all year. For experienced and pro surfers the best time to surf in Vietnam is November to March. During this time, monsoon winds make the swell rise to eight foot. Go here to check out a list of many hotels around the vicinity.
3. Newquay, Cornwall, UK
The county of Cornwall has a much milder climate than the rest of the UK, because it’s in the far southwest of the country. Plus the peninsula juts out into the Atlantic, so the beaches here have great swells – especially Fistral Beach in Newquay.
A location with one of the biggest pro-surf competitions in Europe, Newquay is a hit with surfers due to its big, powerful waves that can swell up to eight foot. A heads up: Fistral can get crowded, especially in summer, but there are several other surf beaches just a short drive away.
Newquay is about five hours from London by train, or just over an hour from the nearest big town of Plymouth. But it’d be smart to hire a car or taxi, or be prepared to wait a long time for local buses – public transport in Cornwall is spotty, at best.
Tip: If you’re more of a beginner surfer, consider driving an extra 30 minutes to Polzeath beach. It’s mildly sloped and sheltered, plus the gentle waves here suit beginners. Plus Polzeath is also close to the pretty seaside town of Padstow. This town is an international destination for foodies, thanks to several seafood restaurants run by celebrity television chef, Rick Stein.
4. Waikiki, Oahu Island, Hawaii
Laid-back Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore is called the “international capital of surfing” because the famous Waimea Bay beaches are close by, along with Sunset Beach and Ehukai – better known as the Banzai Pipeline.
Peak season in Haleiwa is during December to February, when the waves are at their biggest – up to 30 foot. But this charming little town is worth a visit at any time. With an appealing mix of surf shops, art galleries, eateries and boutiques, expect nothing short of photogenic. Haleiwa was founded back in the 1900s to service the surrounding sugar plantations, and you can still see lovely old wooden buildings all around the town.
Tip: If you’re visiting Haleiwa with little children, stick to North Shore beaches with calmer waters, such as Kuilima Cove at Turtle Bay Resort and Haleiwa Beach Park. Also, snorkelling fans love Kuilima Cove, Sharks Cove and Pupukea Beach Park.
5. Orlando, Florida, USA
You may not have heard of Cocoa Beach in Florida – but surfers and spacemen have. The hometown of iconic pro surfer Kelly Slater, Cocoa Beach lies on a barrier of sand separated from Florida’s mainland by the Banana River. This gives it wide beaches and reliable swells coming in from the Atlantic ocean.
There’s plenty of places to book surf lessons, a cute pier and more surf shops than you can shake a leg rope at. This part of Florida is called the Space Coast because it’s just 33 minutes drive from the NASA Kennedy Space Centre. The centre has hosted all of America’s manned spaceflights since the late 1960s, including all of the space shuttle’s 135 missions. You can book tours of Kennedy Space Centre here.
The town of Cocoa Beach is just one hour’s drive from Orlando International Airport, and 30 minutes drive from the city’s other international airport, Orlando Melbourne International Airport.
Tip: Do you remember the 1960s TV sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie”? It was filmed along the Space Coast and the plot followed the lives of Jeannie, a magic genie (played by Barbara Eden) and Nelson, a NASA astronaut (played by Larry Hagman). It was set in Cocoa Beach and check this out: You can still visit Nelson’s house.
6. Londonderry, County Derry, Island of Ireland
Londonderry City, or Derry City as it’s also known, is a great base for exploring the north coast of Ireland, where the surf is cold but colossal. You can head right to Northern Ireland or drive left to Donegal in the Republic of Ireland. Either route offers excellent surfing.
Best of all is Bundoran which is just a 90-minute drive from Londonderry in Donegal county. Known for a stellar reef break called The Peak, Bundoran is also self-titled as “Ireland’s capital of fun!” and there’s plenty to do at night, with a summer music festival and a wealth of music pubs and bars. The Kicking Donkey & George’s Bar is worth the trip, alone. Or you can get in the water at Ballybunion, Achill Island, Inishowen peninsula and Lahinch, to name a few top spots. Find out more at The Irish Surfing Association and also Inishowen Surf School.
If you decide to turn right from Londonderry, Castlerock’s just a short train trip away – and the coastal train trip has been called the prettiest route in Europe. As for Portrush, it’s famous for the best pub music in Northern Ireland. Find the location of surf beaches and surf schools at Outdoor NI.
Tip: Do explore Derry City. The old city centre is enclosed by a massive wall, built in 1613-1619. These walls make Derry one of the finest examples of walled cities in Europe. The town is also famous for microbreweries, cafes and pubs with excellent live music and “craic” – an Irish Gaelic word that roughly means “having fun, together”.
7. Biarritz, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France
The home of surfing in France is Biarritz, an elegant seaside town on the Basque coast of southwestern France. A popular resort since European royalty began visiting in the 1800s, it’s now a major surfing destination. And no wonder, since it has long, sandy beaches, surf schools and the silhouettes of the Pyrenees in the background. As a bonus, Biarritz is also close to the gorgeous medieval town of Bayonne. A fascinating mix of Basque, Gascon and French culture, Bayonne has all the style, weekend markets and cuisine you expect from a French town, but fewer tourists.
But what if you are based in Paris? Well… it depends on how much time you’ve got. Surfing at Biarritz is great for a short break, but the thriving Paris surf scene is mainly centred on the beaches of Normandy, just one or two hours drive away from the capital. In winter, the Normandy water is really rough, so it’s for experts only. However in summer, it’s popular with everyone, even beginners. Popular spots include the port of Le Havre, which has a beach break by the mouth of the river Seine, and the sandy beaches of Cherbourg.
A final word about wetsuits: In Biarritz, water temperatures peak around 20- to 25-degrees Celsius (68 to 77-degree Fahrenheit), so a two millimetre long sleeve shorty wetsuit can be enough. But you need to pull out something warmer for Normandy, where the water temperature stays a chilly 16- to 20-degrees Celsius. You need a fully sealed wetsuit, gloves and surf shoes, even in summer.
Tip: Paris to Biarritz is seven long and tiring hours, if you drive. The fastest way is via a French bullet train, the TurboTrain à Grande Vitesse or TGV. TGV inOui goes to Bayonne five times a day from Montparnasse station in Paris. The journey takes around four hours, and the train has free Wi-Fi access onboard. Biarritz is 10 minutes from Bayonne, either in a taxi or on a local train.
8. Taitung City, Taitung, Taiwan
Just a 30-minute drive north from Taitung City is the sufring centre of Dulan. Once an aboriginal village lining highway 11 in southeast Taiwan, Dulan has evolved into a haven for surfers, backpackers and artists. It’s also brimming with budget hostels, tasteful B&Bs to stay in. The town also has an appealing artsy air, with arts and craft markets and concerts in the Sintung Sugar Factory Culture Park. Plus, it’s easy to find Western dishes and Indian food around Dulan, because so many expats and global locals have settled in the area.
But for surfers, the real pull is Dulan’s long, empty black sand beach. In winter, strong weaves attract expert surfers, while beginners prefer the summer, when the Pacific ocean is warmer and the waves are smaller. Even if you don’t surf, there’s plenty to see. You can hike up seaside cliffs and drive into the nearby Dulan Forest, a mountainous forest sacred to the local Ami and Taibalang aboriginal tribes.
If you’re not driving down Highway 11, the best way to get to Dulan from Taipei is to fly from Songshan airport to Taitung city. Get a train to Taitung, and rent a car or scooter from outside Taitung train station (local or international license required). One final word: Remember Dulan may be affected by typhoons, mainly in August and September.
Tip: Unless you’re confident speaking Mandarin or Hokkien it can be easier to book your accommodation and trips ahead, in English. You can do it via Klook, or book direct at Surf House Taiwan. The latter arranges rentals, classes, rides to the best waves, and has deals for long-term stays in Dulan – plus its website is conveniently in English.
9. Copenhagen, Denmark
The waves are cold, so unless you are 100-percent Viking, you’ll need a fully sealed wetsuit, even in August. Despite this, the region known as “Thy Land” attracts water sports fans from all over North Europe, including Oslo in Norway, Copenhagen in Denmark, Gothenburg in Sweden and even Hamburg in North Germany, Most people take a train or drive to the Jutland ferry port of Hirtshals, then drive down 90 minutes into the surfing-zone of “Thy”. This whole coast is full of places that teach surfing, windsurfing, stand up paddleboarding – you name a water sport and they teach it, often in English and several other European languages as well.
The premier surf town in the region is Klitmøller, which now has so many surf schools and surf tourists that it’s got the nickname “Cold Hawaii” – where the world cup in windsurfing takes also place during summer, which is June to September. The only downside to Klitmøller is the crowd – on summer days you’ll have to queue to get a shot at a wave.
Tip: Scandinavians have a real fondness for heavy metal music. In Finland there’s even a church with heavy metal services and a long-haired but fresh-faced metal band, instead of a choir. If you share this heavy metal enthusiasm, you’ll be thrilled to know the “Heavy Agger” Heavy Metal Festival is held in the surf town of Agger in Jutland. It’s usually in May.
10. Gold Coast City, Queensland, Australia
Gold Coast City is the name for a surf-mad city in Queensland – plus it’s the name of the coast it sits on. It’s a little confusing, we know. Just remember Gold Coast City is a great place to access 57-kilometres of pristine coastline. Beaches here are so long you can find waves to suit every skill level, from gentle waist-high waves for beginners to some of the world’s toughest breaks.
If you like to mix glitz with your surfing, the glamorous beachside suburb of Surfer’s Paradise has luxury hotels, cocktail bars and towering glass skyscrapers overlooking the beach – it’s the sort of place where you can wear a gold bikini and diamonds and fit right in. If you prefer a funkier cafe culture, stay in Broadbeach, which gives you better access to southern beaches like Kirra and Currumbin.
Kirra Beach is home to many pro surfers thanks to its challenging right hand break. Even further south is Snapper, a rocky outcrop nestled into Rainbow Bay near the border with New South Wales. The famous point break forms the beginning of the man-made Superbank – one of the most famous breaks in the world. It’s such a consistent place to catch waves and it’s also home to major professional surf competitions.
Tip: Beginners and intermediate surfers looking to improve their skills can head to Currumbin. It has lots of surf schools and a variety of waves to suit different skill levels. The region is also home to a rainforest sanctuary, with 27-hectares of interactive wildlife displays including resident crocodiles, kangaroos, koalas and marsupials just to name a few.
11. Huntington Beach, California, USA
There are so many great surfing spots up and down the West Coast. So why choose Huntington Beach? From a surfing point of view, it’s a classic beach break. It catches any swell on offer and will often have waves even if other spots along the west coast are flat. Plus it’s close to the city of Los Angeles, with enough dining and sightseeing options to make the drive worth the traffic.
If you’re an experienced surfer, the best time to surf is in winter because bigger swells roll in and the summer crowd are no longer surfing. But considering there are 10 miles of beach break and five distinctive beach areas to choose from, even in high summer you should be able to find a spot without someone in your way. Add countless surf schools, the International Surfing Museum and enough surf shops to outfit every surfer in America, and you can see there’s plenty of good reasons why Huntington Beach reigns as the official Surf City USA.
Tip: If you’re had enough of the water, try a stroll down iconic Huntington Beach Pier. One of the longest piers on the West Coast, it’s the most photographed spot in town. And it deserves to be. You can watch surfers, go fishing or grab a meal at Ruby’s. The pier is free and open daily from 5 a.m. to midnight. Just note there’s no dogs and no smoking.
12. Bali, Indonesia
Bali has such consistently excellent surf, it’s the location for several major international surfing competitions. The best places to surf depend on the time of year. Between April and October the southwest beaches are good, thanks to swells from the Indian Ocean and trade winds blowing from the south-east. During the wet season, the trade winds switch direction. The best surf spots then switch to the eastern coast, to beaches like Keramas.
The Bali landscape is also incredibly varied, with volcanic Mount Agung dominating the North, jungles and rice paddies in the middle and sandy white beaches in the South. All this means you can visit Bali many times and have a different experience each time.
So which beach to choose? If you love food, the wide northern beach of Batu Bolong is great for beginners – plus it’s close to the sophisticated bars and restaurants of the Canguu district. Kedungu Beach is much more low-key. Popular with local surfers, this gorgeous black-sand beach is close to the famous Tanah Lot Temple. Kuta Beach has a reputation as clubbing central, but it’s also a very safe place to learn to surf, because it’s one of the very few surf breaks in Bali without a reef bottom.
Tip: If you’re an experienced surfer, you’ll want detailed locations of exactly the right beach to go to, at exactly the right time. In which case, you can subscribe to surfindonesia.com, which has month-by-month breakdown of breaks, swells, winds, and maps of the best surfing spots.
By Tara Barker