“Besides surfing what else do you think about?” “Not much really…” When I first started surfing, it was all I wanted to do. I was young and used to hitchhike up and down the Australian coast with my friends, sleeping in bushes overnight if we discovered new surf spots that were too far for our parents to drive us. Even when I started travelling the world, surfing was still all I wanted to do and as a result, most of the destinations I’ve visited have revolved heavily around surfing. Obviously, it’s impossible to ignore the cultural side of the destinations you visit, so after a while I started to mix the two – but surfing will always be my number one travel love. So here’s a list of the ten best surfing spots around the world I’ll never forget – no matter how much I continue to travel and surf.
I went to Iceland in the middle of winter, which I highly recommend. The days were short and the weather was as extreme (think sun to black-out snow storms in a few hours) but this meant you just have to be that much more motivated. The coastline of Iceland is rugged and raw – and you’ll soon realise you’re exposed to everything the elements have to throw at you. The dark mornings were spent driving to find the right spot for sunrise – and a point or cove that was protected from the wind. It was hit or miss but when you manage against all odds to nail it well, they were moments I’ll never forget. Imagine sitting in the ocean and seeing nothing – not a single person, car or building for as far as you can see – but giant snow-covered volcanic mountains. It’s an almost inconceivable experience. Not to mention being barrelled while looking out at snow gently landing on the water… Mind-blowing. Iceland still holds the spot for my most memorable surf of all time.
Iceland 📷: @holidayfromwhere
Western Sahara and Iceland were surprisingly similar despite being extreme opposites in weather conditions. This was another desolate place where you can easily go countless miles without encountering another soul. The landscape was so arid and desolate, you constantly feel isolated from the rest of the world, but in the best possible way. There wasn’t a lot of info about surfing here so planning was difficult but that really just added to the adventure. We decided to jump right in and hired some vans with a couple of friends, packed the boards and food and just drove. We checked Google Earth for possible point breaks and reef set-ups and just stopped everywhere we thought it might be good. This led us to some incredible discoveries with no one anywhere. After almost a month there, we only encountered other surfers a couple times. The points were long and fun and the surf was consistent, especially in winter, which is when we were there. Getting chased up the beach by the military for ‘accidentally’ paddling out in a restricted zone is something I’ll never forget either.
Dakhlah, Western Sahara 📷: @giacomo_brando
The north shore of Oahu in Hawaii is this intense testing ground for surfing. It’s the place every professional and up-and-coming surfer flocks to from around the world every year just to get a little taste of what this seven mile stretch of beach has to offer. I’ve done three different seasons there but the first was the most memorable for sure. It’s something you’ll never forget. All surfers have had countless videos of this place have been playing in their head for years (building both fear and excitement). When you’re finally there and the swell picks up you can’t help but be extremely nervous, second guessing your ability to surf this iconic destination. The first time you surf big Pipeline (a surf reef break off Ehukai Beach Park in Pupukea on O’ahu’s North Shore) it’s this constant flow of pure adrenaline. There’s a chaotic mix of professionals, hungry amateurs, testosterone-fuelled locals and waves that stand bigger than most of the houses we grew up in. This sort of sounds scary or horrible but if you’ve grown up surfing then you’ll be in complete awe at the whole situation. You’ll witness the heaviest beatings by waves you’re ever going to see but also the biggest, most extreme barrels being ridden by the greatest wave riders on the planet. It took me over three hours to get my first wave out there, (not from lack of trying – the crowds can be a little intense when it gets perfect) but when I finally did it was the biggest wave I had ever been inside at that point. Hawaii is not like anywhere else you will ever go surfing: its islands are filled with so much beauty that most travellers would love to explore but I know people who’ve been there many times and never seen a waterfall or climbed a mountain. The ocean is the drawcard for most surfers here and if you think you’re ready then going is a decision you’ll never regret. Personally, I spent most of my time at surf spots Pipe and nearby Backdoor but if you want something more relaxed then head to a nearby spot the locals call V Land. It’s about a 15-minute drive away and has super fun barrels plus a far more relaxed vibe. Keiki Shorebreak, located on the Oahu’s North Shore, is also another great escape for some fun waves where you won’t have to worry about your life for a few hours.
Oahu, Hawii 📷: @wypeoutchef
Tonga has become a popular travel destination in the last few years and for good reason. This super dreamy tropical island is the perfect place to go if you have a husband or wife that does not surf. The whale watching and the beaches are arguably some of the most pristine and incredible in the world, which is perfect because the surf can actually be a little fickle here. I was here in peak season during a supposedly good year and got amazing waves – but it was countless perfect barrels for eight hours one day and then the next day, nothing. This is where what the rest of the island has to offer really comes in handy: the sand is golden, the coconut trees are tall and the water is crystal clear (so bring a mask and snorkel also). This really was more of a relaxing surf holiday than the other places I’ve mentioned so far and if I’d had a partner with me it would have been perfect. I was constantly walking around thinking to myself how romantic everything was. The main surf area here is in the north-west corner of the island and consists of a string of super fun reefs, my two favourites being Corners and The Bowl.
Ha`atafu, Tonga 📷: @sparrowfarlow
Peru might not be the first place that pops into your head when you think of surf destinations but its long coastline holds some absolutely incredible waves. This includes the world’s longest left-hand point, Playa Chicama, which is heaven if you’re a goofy footer or just love surfing backhand. There’s also a strange anomaly that happens in the north of Peru that I’ve never experienced before where two currents meet just south of an amazing point break called Cabo Blanco. This means, unlike most places where water temps gradually increase or decrease as you head north and south, the water in Cabo Blanco is almost board shorts temp all year (but you head 20 minutes south and you are going to be far more comfortable in a steamer). Outside of the surf, I absolutely loved Peru for the fact I could spend two weeks on the beach scoring amazing waves then take a bus for a few hours and be hiking incredible snow-capped mountains or walking through ancient cities. Not to mention it borders the cold water heavy reef setups of Chile to the south and the warm water tropical beach breaks of Ecuador to the north.
Huanchaco, Peru 📷: @clarak
Nicaragua is one of my all-time favourite surf destinations. If you arrive in the south, you’ll instantly find yourself on a small stretch of coast that’s blessed with offshore winds almost every day of the year. This is due to an inland lake that creates a microclimate perfect for surfing. There’s also a dozen or so places to surf around there and loads of great hostels in San Juan Del Sur. Volcano boarding is also a super fun flat day activity to try near here too. As you head further north, you get this crazy variety of waves from large bombies (that’s Australian for big waves that break a bit further out to sea), reef setups, wedges and incredible beach breaks. Places like The Boom, far up in the north, have consistently fun waves year round. It can be crowded in Nicaragua but it’s also easy to get away from the crowds if you’re willing to put in a little more effort or have your own car. Gallo Pinto (a traditional dish of bean and rice) is also a huge win in this part of the world and makes a perfect after-surf meal, which is something I miss almost every day.
Australia is probably the most wave-diverse place in the world. Granted, the coast stretches forever but if you’re planning a surf trip and you want a specific type of wave, all you have to do is pick the right part of Australia and go. Noosa to Sydney has a constant string of amazing point breaks that are incredible for longboards or beginners or when they’re pumping, they’re amazing for experienced riders. The Gold Coast to the NSW South Coast is filled with incredible beach breaks, break walls and reefs for everything from small day fun to big heaving beasts. The area from the Victorian border all the way to Western Australia is a largely unpopulated area where you can find amazing waves just for you and a few friends with the exceptions of Melbourne and Adelaide. Western Australia is the state that has non-stop swell; it may not always be perfect but there is ALWAYS waves if you are really keen to surf. On the rare occasion that there’s no surf, you can normally spend your time hanging out on any number of incredible white or golden sand beaches. The perfect surf trip in Australia is the right vehicle (station wagon, 4WD or van), a tent, a gas cooker, a few different sized boards and then as much time as you can possibly get off work. Having said that, I’ve packed multiple boards into a two-door hatchback and driven across Australia twice – so don’t let a small car hold you back. If you’re looking to get into surfing or just improve on the basics places like Noosa, the Gold Coast and Byron Bay are perfect for this. There are a lot of different hostels in these areas and they generally offer surfing lessons, which include everything you need plus an instructor and dropped morning and afternoon transfers. It could also be the start of a lifelong love affair.
Bells Beach, Australia 📷: @jonospiteriphotography
Italy seems like a highly unlikely place for a surf trip but as it turns out there’s quite a big surf scene there. The first time I went I was just travelling through Europe and had my boards in the car after France, Spain and Portugal. I was in a small town called Levanto just north of Cinque Terre. We were planning on doing the Cinque Terre hike the following day. The weather turned terrible and we ended up sleeping in the car that night and got pounded by some crazy storm. When we awoke in the morning it was completely calm and we drove to the beach to watch the sunrise and go for a swim. As the sun started to rise we saw these perfect little shoulder high waves, so we suited up and got straight out there. We were the first ones in the water and not expecting to see a single other person, then seemingly out of no-where Italians sporting massive smiles started to appear in their wetsuits with their boards. A surf scene was the last thing I ever expected to see in such a picturesque little town like this one that must only have a handful of surfing days each year. Italy was like no other country I have surfed in, waves were sporadic and I never saw it big but looking in from the ocean especially in certain areas like the one mentioned above, the view from the water is something I do not think I’ll ever experience anywhere else.
Levanto, Italy 📷: @holidayfromwhere
The Cook Islands
I went to the Cook Islands in the middle of their winter and the water was so warm it was impossible to wear anything other than board shorts. There were fun waves and good winds almost all day every day. The surf never really got big but was almost always around head high or a little bigger. Surfing in the Cook Islands is just a constant mix of amazing barrels. However, it had the most shallow reef setups I’ve ever surfed, to the point where if you came off your board there was a 90% chance you’d hit the bottom. I came back with a few more scars than when I left but the number of amazing waves scored was worth it. Culturally it was quite vibrant: the main island is tiny and takes 30 minutes to circle completely on a scooter. There’s also this beautiful big mountain to climb over that pokes directly out of the middle of the island. White sand beaches, warm water, palm trees and crystal clear water all feature heavily here as well. Plus, it’s only a 6-hour flight from Australia…
Rarotonga, Cook Islands 📷: @ardieljimenez
When you say Puerto Rico and surfing, everyone talks about Rincon. Yeah, it’s super fun but you’ll always find a hundred people there and it’s far from the best wave on the island. If you rent a car and just drive north of Rincon, you’ll find so many incredible waves with hardly anyone to share them. If you’re really interested in empty waves, you could probably find one to yourself every day. Typically, winter is the best season for waves in Puerto Rico and it ranges from real big and real heavy to super fun and long. Puerto Rico itself is an eclectic, obscure mix of Latin and US culture. It’s bright and beautiful, with people singing and dancing and speaking Spanish, but then they also have Walmart. Outside of surfing, there were actually endless activities to do here – so much so that after a month I felt like I’d not even scratched the surface of the many waterfalls, mountains and all the other natural beauty that is so abundant there.
Rincón, Puerto Rico 📷: @zachpearsonphotography
❓ What’s the most unforgettable place you’ve surfed? Tell us in the comments below 👇
🏄 Hankering for more surf action? Read these articles:
- 20 Surf Hostels So Gorgeous You’ll Want To Take Up Surfing
- Best Surfing Beaches in Australia for World-Class Waves
- The Ultimate Garden Route Road Trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town
About the author
Dane Faurschou is a photographer, surfer and traveller from Byron Bay, Australia, who splits his time between the ocean and the mountains. Currently, he’s driving from Canada to Patagonia to search out as many waves and mountains as possible and anything else in between. Follow his adventures on his blog, Instagram and Facebook.