From mellow tides to testing tubes, some of the world's best destinations for skilled and amateur surfers alike.
Top spots where even amateurs can catch a wave
"King waves kill" reads the huge sign that greets you on the way to the aptly named Tombstones, a break which lies more than 1,000 kilometres north of Perth near a remote sheep station on the Western Australia coast. It is one of the finest surfing spots in Australia if not the world, but the brutal waves and unforgiving setting keep all but the most experienced surfers out of the water. So it is with many of the world's so-called best surfing breaks - they are remarkable, awe-inspiring waves reserved for experts. There is another, broader tribe of surfers made up of beginners and irregulars, hungry to experience the rush of balancing on a fibreglass board and being propelled along by the power of the ocean. They demand a different kind of surfing destination. These places are not necessarily the best breaks in the world, but they are some of the best surfing spots, replete with hospitable communities and a range of reasonably safe waves to surf.
Since the 1960s, Morocco's Atlantic coast has been part of a well-worn trail for artists and musicians seeking spiritual fulfillment. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, among others, visited the walled town of Essaouira. Add to this hippie pedigree a steady flow of accessible waves and the coast has unsurprisingly become a very popular destination for all manner of laid-back watersports. While Essaouira is famous for wind surfing, further down the coast the tiny Berber village of Taghazout has become a surfing hub. Just 18km north of Agadir, the village has a relaxed atmosphere and a wide variety of breaks suitable for beginners and more experienced surfers. Winter (November to March) sees the biggest waves and the largest crowds, while the summer months (April to October) offer warmer waters and mellower surf. Surf Maroc (Taghazout; www.surfmaroc.co.uk; 00 44 1794 322 709) rents out boards and wetsuits and provides a range of accommodation. It offers complete surfing holiday packages from US$392 (Dh1,439) per person, per week.
A trip to Indo forms part of a near-mythical quest for many surfers. The lure of white sand, palm trees, cheap accommodation and amazing waves is not hard to comprehend. Yet the thousands of islands, countless reef breaks and perfect but huge barrelling waves can be a bit daunting. Bali is a good place to start, although it must be remembered that many Western governments have issued warnings about a high threat from terrorism in the area (check the latest travel advice before making any plans). Kuta Beach is a busy, meandering stretch of sand which has been a focus for surfers in the region since the 1960s. There is a wide variety of beach breaks with varying degrees of difficulty and crowding. The best surf is between April to October, which roughly corresponds with Bali's dry season. There is a plethora of surfing shops in the area, including the Curl, Surfer Girl and Ulu's. For a place to stay, try Rita's House (Gang Sorga, Kuta, Bali: 00 62 361 751 760), where a basic room costs $13.75 (Dh50) per night.
Kenya is famous for many things - safaris, mountains, deserts, paradisiacal beaches - but surfing is not commonly listed among its attractions. The sport is in its infancy, with only a handful of documented breaks. Once you take into account the threat from crocodiles around the mouths of rivers as well as sea snakes, it may start to become clear why the breaks are so sparsely populated. Nevertheless, the idyllic setting combined with the country's abundance of other attractions make it a worthwhile if challenging surfing destination. The best place to head is Malindi Bay, about 120km from Mombasa, which is suitable for all surfers. The waves in Kenya are fickle and very dependent on weather conditions. The biggest waves come in June and July, while November and December promise sunshine, calm seas and pleasant if inconsistent surf. Angel's Bay Resort ( Lamu Road, Malindi; www.angelsbayresort.com [in Italian with information in Englishthat can be downloaded]; 00 254 42 83026) has accommodation starting from $64 (Dh235) per person per night.
Ghana is a true surfing paradise: great swathes of white sand, warm water, good surf and no crowds. Since gaining independence in 1957, the country has been a pillar of peace and stability in a volatile region. Apart from threats of malaria and hepatitis, the country is very safe to visit. With more than 500km of coastline, there is a glut of surfing spots to choose from, many of which are uncharted. Busua Beach, home to Ghana's only surf shop, is about 200km west of the capital Accra and three-to-four hours journey by car. It is a great place to spend a few weeks. Ghana has good surf throughout the year, but from May to October the swell from the Atlantic Ocean picks up as the temperatures drop slightly. This period is the best time for more advanced surfers to visit. The Black Star Surf Shop (Agona Junction, Ahanta West District; www.blackstarsurfshop.com; 00 11 2332 7522 4969) provides surfing tours from $376 (Dh1,381) per person, per week, including accommodation.
With nearly 1,000km of Atlantic coastline running the entire length of the country, it is little surprise that Portugal has become a very popular destination for surfers. The fishing village of Ericeira, 50km north of Lisbon, is the heart of this burgeoning scene. Picturesque white buildings with terracotta roofs, steep cliffs and tiny restaurants serving excellent fish and seafood dishes make the village a delightful place to visit, but it is the waves that have put this place on the world map. Various festivals and events take place during the summer, including a few dedicated to the area's two specialities of seafood and surfing. About 40km up the coast, the neighbouring village of Peniche hosts an ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Championship in October. Surfing is possible throughout the year, but during the summer months (June to September) the Nortada wind starts to blow in the afternoons, making conditions more messy. Surf Ericeira (Rua do Carmo, 22-3D 2655-253, Ericeira; www.surfericeira.com; 00 351 936 413 741) contains details of a wide range of places to stay as well as information about four surfing camps which operate in the area. Prices for a week-long surf package, including accommodation, start at around $476 (Dh1,749) per person.
Stuck out in the Atlantic more than 100km off the coast of North Africa, it would be strange if the shores of the Canary Islands did not have good waves. Fuerteventura - the second-largest island of this archipelago whose name incidentally comes not from melodious, yellow birds, but rather from the fierce dogs (canis from the Latin for dog) which once roamed the islands - has the finest beaches and the best surf, particularly on the north coast. The island has primarily been known as a windsurfing and kitesurfing destination, particularly during the summer months when the winds can be strong and unpredictable. But between November and April the winds die down and the waves are often excellent for surfing. This time of year is also out of season for the tourist-laden island, so accommodation is often cheaper and the atmosphere even more laid-back. Natural Surf Camp (Calle los Llanitos 3, Fuerte Ventura; www.livethelife.eu; 00 34 616 596 827) costs $464 (Dh1,704) per person for a week, including accommodation.
One of Europe's oldest surfing destinations, France is home to some of the finest beach breaks in the world. Thanks to the North Atlantic's oft-sizeable swell, the country's west coast is littered with waves which can be surfed, from Brittany in the north to Biarritz in the south. But it is the sandy beaches of the Aquitaine coast, particularly around Hossegor, which receive the most praise and attention. The beaches of this little town regularly host international surfing competitions, and are home to an assortment of breaks suitable for all standards of surfer. The best waves are between September and November, powered by storms in the North Atlantic. During the summer months (June to August) the water is warmer, but the waves are smaller and much more crowded. Kevin Olsen Surf House (1888 Avenue du Golf, 40150, Hossegor; www.kosurfhouse.com; 00 33 5 58 47 91 04) provides surfing tours including accommodation and lessons from $639 (Dh2,347) per person.
The seaside town of Zarautz, just over 20km from the city of San Sebastian, has in recent years become one of Spain's most popular and famous surfing spots. Located in Basque country on the southern coast of the Bay of Biscay, the town's beach is nearly three km long and has a wide variety of breaks for all standards of surfer. As with the French town of Hossegor, which lies 80km up the coast, the best waves come with the North Atlantic storms in autumn and winter. In the summer months (June to September), the water temperature is much more pleasant but the beach can become very crowded. Many more bays with excellent waves lie within a short drive up and down the coast if the town breaks become too heavily peopled. Surf Holidays (www.surfholidays.com, 00 353 1 482 2828) provides surfing lessons, including board and wetsuit hire, for $174 per person for five days.
The coastline of northern New South Wales is beautiful and sparsely populated. Land meets sea in an epic way: wide, sweeping parentheses of sand are pounded by the long, rolling waves from the Pacific Ocean. Byron Bay, 165km south of Brisbane, is the most famous and popular of the towns on this coast, but there are scores of other bays with fewer people around - and excellent surf. Crescent Head, about 550km north of Sydney, has a rich surfing history and has attracted Malibu riders since the 1960s. On a good day, its right-hand point break provides a long and eventful ride, giving longboarders time to shimmy up and down their boards with style and grace. The town hosts the Malibu Classic in May and becomes unbearably busy during the Christmas holidays, but the rest of the time it's a surfer's delight. Crescent Head Holiday Park (Pacific Street, Crescent Head, NSW 2440; http://bit.ly/bVAdSc; 00 61 2 6566 0261) is located close to the beach and provides a range of accommodation, including camping with power from $24 (Dh87) for two people and cabins from $76 (Dh280).
More than a year since the end of the civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers, surfing is beginning to blossom in Sri Lanka. Arugam Bay, one of the country's finest surfing spots, hosted the Sri Lankan Airlines Pro Surf tournament in June. It was a great success. Arugam Bay consists of a handful of villages on the east coast of the island with the nearby town of Pottuvil providing the bulk of accommodation and supplies. The website www.arugam.info coordinates a taxi-sharing service to and from the capital's airport. The main break is a powerful right-hand point break, but there is a wide range of other places to take to the water. On the east coast the waves are best from March to November, while on the west coast the season runs from around November to March.
The Stardust Beach Hotel (Arugam Bay, Pottuvil; www.arugambay.com; 00 94 632 248 191) provides beach cabins for $30 (Dh110) and rooms for $60 (Dh220).