One of the most spectacular things that can be seen in the nature is a big wave in the sea that approaches the coast, grows up, turns into a tube, and crashes in an explosion of water and seafoam. If it is not too big, you can play with the wave, but if it is too big, you can only watch it from afar. But if you know how to surf, you can ride it! Such big waves can’t be seen everywhere, but there are places that conditions make these waves perfect. Let’s visit the 10 best surfing places in the world, and enjoy their beautiful waves!
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About the waves
First, let’s talk a bit about geography and physics. Sea waves are not different than any other wave in the nature- sound waves, seismic waves, even gravitational waves. Or, to illustrate it clearer- do you know what is a “Mexican wave”? In a football match, people consecutively stand up rising their hands, then sit down. Thus, they create a wave that moves around the stadium. But the people don’t move forward, only up and down.
The same happens with the water molecules. In an ideal situation, they move only up and down. Or, if they move forward, it is due to other factors- wind or underwater currents. Anyway, sea waves are formed mainly by the wind. In the open sea, waves are quite chaotic, and if the wind is too strong, it causes the upper parts of the waves to turn into foam. These waves never get a good tube shape and never crash by falling (they only foam). But when they reach the coast, things become different.
Now, another important factor comes- the seabed. While the depth decreases, the lower (underwater) part of the wave starts fractioning with the seabed and its speed slows. But and the same time, the upper part of the wave still keeps its initial speed longer time. Thus, the wave becomes higher and higher, its front part steeper and steeper, and it gets stable direction toward the coast.
In general, there are two types of coastal waves- the first type is when the normal open-sea waves caused by the wind approach the coast. These waves are not so “organized”, even near the coast, they break a bit far from the coast before they become enough steep.
And the second type of wave comes from the depth of the sea. The open sea can be flat and calm, then gradually, like a hidden monster, a large wave starts growing. The closer to the coast, the higher it’s growing until it forms a beautiful surfing wave. It crashes spectacularly, like an explosion, and its foaming remains to reach the coast. This type of coastal wave is called swell, and they are the perfect waves for surfing.
How about a tsunami?
Probably you have heard about surfers, riding 5, 10, 15 m or even higher swell waves? These waves reach the coast and disappear. But at the same time, a tsunami that is only 5 m can cause flood and destruction much deep on the land. Why?
It is because a tsunami is something totally different. It is not a wave, it is a sea flood. No “Mexican wave” here. In the tsunami, the water molecules this time go straight forward, pushed by an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. It is like “all the people in the stadium start running in one direction like a flood”.
A tsunami can’t be surfed, because due to its nature, it doesn’t form a tube shape, it is just a chaotic mass of water moving toward the coast. If someone tries to surf it, he would just become like one of the debris driven by the tsunami, and chances to survive are not too big.
Surf, seasons, conditions
The perfect surfing waves require perfect swell conditions. And they depend on many factors like climate, direction to the open sea, the shape of the coastline, the seabed, and the underwater currents. Also, they are not the same throughout the year, but there are high and low seasons. Even the best swell waves are perfect only during a specific season.
Hawaii is a good example. If you are a surf lover, you must have seen videos of giant swell waves and surfing contests, probably you have been there, and maybe you have even surfed such waves. But they are formed only in winter when strong currents come from the far north of the Pacific Ocean, caused by the winter storms there. Without any obstructions, they reach the northern coasts of the Hawaii islands and in a combination of the proper type of seabed, they create the perfect surfing waves.
But during the summer, there are no such currents, and there are no big swell waves.
Hawaii is definitely one of the 10 best surfing places in the world. But let’s see what the other 9 places are.
The 10 best surfing places in the world
There are thousands of places where the combination of swell, terrain, coastline, climate, and seabed create excellent surfing conditions. But some of these places are really outstanding and can rank in the Top 10. In fact, it is difficult to choose only 10, but this is a list of places that are well-valuated by many people, websites, other charts, and just their geographical nature.
Nosara, Costa Rica
Our first stop is at the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Nosara is a town, located in the hilly area, not far from the coast. There are three beaches near the town, called Nosara, Pelada, and Guiones. And there are a lot of hotels and small resorts beside them, which is no strange since these beaches are some of the best in the whole country of Costa Rica.
The three beaches of Nosara look straight toward the west-southwest, straight to the open Pacific. This creates perfect conditions for the southwest swells that hit the coast. These swells depend on the cycles of El Nino and La Nina, and the best season for them, hence for surfing is between March and October.
How to reach, explore and enjoy Nosara
Nosara is located in the northwestern part of Costa Rica. If you come from the capital San Jose, you have to travel 6 hours by bus (there is a daily bus from 5:30 am) or to drive 4-5 hours by car. Once you reach Nosara, you can choose a hotel or another type of accommodation, and you can start enjoying yourself.
This place is popular for two activities: surfing and yoga. Guiones Beach offers the best surf breaks due to its perfect combination of seabed and currents, so this is the main surfing center, one of the best in the world. There are opportunities for everyone- from beginners to professionals. But even if you are not into surfing, you can play the waves of the beach, and enjoy all other activities in the area- various kinds of sports (and yoga), wild trekking, exploring the nearby rivers and their wildlife, and many others.
Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia
Bali is one of the most popular islands in the world, attracting millions of tourists and backpackers for its beaches, unique local culture, stunningly beautiful nature, and nightlife. And luckily, due to its specific geographical shape and position, it also reveals a great opportunity for surfing.
This opportunity can be found on the west end of the small Bukit Peninsula, the southernmost appendix of Bali Island. The coast here faces the Indian Ocean, and the swells coming from the open waters meet perfect conditions for surfing. As a result, they form beautiful tube-shaped waves, reaching a height between 4 and 7 m.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy Uluwatu
Uluwatu is not far from Denpasar, the largest city in Bali. You just have to go to Kuta, and take a bus from DFS Bus Bay. It travels 40 mins to Uluwatu. Or, you can use local transport like a taxi or bajaj to reach the spot.
The best surfing season in Uluwatu is from May to September. This is during the southern winter and the distant winter storms from the far south create the swell that hits Uluwatu. There are several breaks in the area, called Bombie, Temples, Outside Corner, Racetracks, and The Peak, where you can enjoy surfing. And here you can find opportunities not only for professionals but also for beginners.
And if you want to enjoy the place better, you can find accommodation in the resort of Uluwatu, and explore the other attractions in the area- the cliffs, the forests, and the local culture around.
Fiji is one of the larger archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean. And its islands offer a lot of opportunities for exploring, beaches, hiking, local culture, and many more. These activities include surfing. But there is one small island, a part of Fiji Archipelago that presents so perfect surfing conditions that it has become one of the best surfing places in the world. This is the reef near the small islands of Tavarua and Namotu, and the surfing spot is called Cloudbreak.
Cloudbreak is located at the western end of the Fiji Archipelago, and it receives swells coming from the west. When they reach the reef, they form some of the most perfect waves on the Earth. This is due to the specific seafloor that descends into the depth in ledges. The best season for the swells is between April and October, during the winter storms in the south. And the name “Cloudbreak” comes from the local name Nakuru Kuru Malagi- “Thundercloud Reef”.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy Cloudbreak
It is a bit luxurious (and expensive), but worth traveling. First, you have to reach Nadi, the nearest city on the neighboring big island of Viti Levu. You can do it by 4 h 10 min travel by bus from Suva (there are 5 buses daily), by car (for 3 hours) or by plane (for 30 min). Once you reach Nadi, you have to travel to one of the resorts- Namotu or Tavarua. You have to book your stay there, and they will transfer you by boat to their island.
Again, staying on Namotu or Tavarua islands is a luxury pleasure. If you are a surfer, you can spend the time enjoying the beautiful Cloudbreak swell. There are several other surfing spots nearby, but not of the quality of Cloudbreak, but at least more proper for beginners. And if you can’t surf (and don’t want to learn), you can still enjoy watching the waves, the surfers, and the whole tropical paradise of the area.
Jeffreys Bay, South Africa
Now, we go to the southeastern coast of South Africa. Here is the edge of the Indian Ocean, and the coast is directly open to the Antarctic influence from the south. And here, around the city of Jeffreys Bay, the coast looks toward the southeast. Along with the proper seabed, coastline curve, and local currents, this area provides some of the best swells in the world.
The swell in Jeffreys Bay is quite constant, you can enjoy breaking waves all year round, but still, the best is during the winter months, from May to October. Yes, in winter the water is too cool, but with neoprene, surfers can enjoy spectacular wave riding. At that time, the tubular shape of the waves and their hollowness are at their best.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy Jeffreys Bay
Jeffreys Bay is reachable from all the big cities in South Africa, although it is located quite far from them. If you come from Capetown by bus, you have to travel for more than 8 hours by TransLux Express (there are two buses daily), or 12 hours 30 min by Baz Bus (it leaves at 8:30 am). From Durban, the bus journey is longer- more than 15 hours, and from Johannesburg even longer. If you travel by car, it is a bit faster, but still would take a whole day.
Once you arrive in Jeffreys Bay, you can arrange your surfing holiday there. The city is not exactly a luxury resort, but just an ordinary settlement. But due to its popularity as a surfing spot, many new hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs have been established. In summer, the waves are not the best, but the beaches are excellent, and in winter, even if you are not a surfer, you can enjoy the spectacular swell and the surfing contests.
The Philippines Archipelago is on the eastern side of the whole Southeast Asia island system. So, the eastern coast of the Philippines islands faces the open Pacific directly. Not only that, but the seafloor descends steeply eastward to the deep Philippines Trench, from where the oceanic currents from various levels of depth mix and create strong swells on the eastern Philippines coast. But the most perfect conditions for surfing exist on one of the islands- Siargao.
Siargao Island is located northeast of the large Mindanao Island. It is a tropical paradise, covered mainly by a coconut palm forest, and surrounded by coral reefs. Spectacular swells break on the reefs, creating a lot of surfing spots around the eastern coasts of the island. But the best spot, called also “The Surfing Capital of the Philippines” is Cloud 9- a popular place with annual surfing contests.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy Siargao
The most popular way to reach Siargao Island is from Surigao, a city, located on the northernmost tip of Mindanao Island. Several morning boats travel about 2 hours and a half to Dapa, the main port of the island. You can also travel by plane- there are planes from Manila and Cebu. Once you reach Siargao and Dapa, you have to take a local tricycle that will take you to the main resort of the island- General Luna.
Once you reach General Luna, you can also easily reach the surfing spots, in particular- Cloud 9, located some 3 km north of the resort town. And if you want to enjoy the best of the Siargao swells, the most proper season is from August to December, when the swells are highest and most beautiful. You can surf by yourself, or you can just watch the surfing contests from the wooden platform built on the reef. Finally, you can combine your surfing pleasure with all other tropical paradise opportunities that Siargao presents- beaches, diving, island hopping, and many more.
The coast of Morocco is exposed to the open Atlantic Ocean, mainly toward the northwest. Thus, the ocean swells hit the coast from this direction, creating waves in various shapes and intensities. But there is one point, where the conditions are perfect for such waves that the point can be ranked as one of the best surfing places in the world. This is the coast of the city of Safi, in the southern part of the country.
When the swells reach the coast at Safi, the result is beautiful waves in tubular shape that can break for 500 m. The coast and the bottom are rocky, with no long beaches nearby, so the nature of the local waves depends on the rocky seabed at the coast. And the best surfing season in this place is between October and April, during the winter months.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy Safi
If you travel around Morocco, you can include Safi in your itinerary. It is not far from Marrakesh, one of the tourist pearls in the country. Also, it is not far from Casablanca. There are buses between these cities and Safi that travel about 2-3 hours. In fact, you can just explore the Atlantic coast of Morocco, touching amazing nature and local culture.
Once you arrive in Safi, you can combine surfing, or just surf watching, with the local culture and history. There are interesting sites, such as the fortress and towers of Bab Jdid, Bab Lakouas, the Mausoleum of Ouled Ben Zmirou, Tajine, and more. The local market is also worth visiting, just like many other markets in Morocco. And finally, if you are looking just for a beach, you can go north of the city and enjoy Plage de Safi.
San Clemente, California
The southern coast of California is looking toward the southwest, from where the strong local currents of the Pacific bring some of the best swells in the whole of the Americas. There are many surfing spots, but the local conditions are the best at San Clemente- a charming town, located south of Los Angeles, with Spanish architecture, and nice mountain and sea views. The coastline along the town is covered mainly by sand beaches, known for their surfing opportunities.
The best swells usually hit here from October to April. They come from the winter storms of the northwest. But sometimes, a distant echo from the far South Pacific winds reaches San Clemente too. When it happens, you can enjoy a unique opportunity to combine playing on the beach with surfing. There are several surfing spots at the San Clemente coast, and the best of them is Trestles Beach, which is protruded into the ocean.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy San Clemente
San Clemente is located an hour and a half by train, and an hour drive from Los Angeles. Although the town is well-known for its surfing conditions, it has remained relatively calm, without too many crowds. There are not too many hotels to stay there too, but they are still enough if you want to remain there for a longer time. Besides hotels, you can find Airbnb, guesthouses, or other places to sleep.
The combination of the calmness, beautiful swells, and the nature around, especially its beaches is really worth staying in San Clemente. But there is something more- here you can find a Museum of Surfing, also called Surfing Heritage and Culture Center. By exhibitions and other events, here you can enjoy a good and entertaining education about surfing.
Now, we go to the westernmost coasts of mainland Europe- the coast of Portugal. It is directly exposed to the currents and swells of the open Atlantic Ocean. But there is a place where the swells are stronger than everywhere. This is the coast of Nazare, a small city, located north of the capital Lisbon.
What makes Nazare swell unique is the sea bottom. The coast of the Pyrenees is surrounded by the continental shelf that stretches deep and far into the ocean. But in front of Nazare, the shelf is cracked by a huge and deep underwater canyon, called Nazare Canyon. The currents from the ocean flow into the canyon, then rise above it like through a funnel. When it mixes with the other currents, the result is some of the highest swell waves in the world!
How to reach, explore, and enjoy Nazare
Nazare is not far from Lisbon. Several afternoon buses travel from Lisbon to Nazare for about 2 hours. And if you go there by car, you can arrive in just an hour and a half. Nazare is a resort town, with hotels, restaurants, bars, nice local streets, and stunning seacoast views. There are two large beaches that are excellent during the summer. However, if you want to see the big waves, the best season is winter- from October to March.
The best sport to observe the giant swells is the Fortress Sao Miguel Arcanjo, built on the Promontorio da Nazare. This promontory separates the Northern (Praia do Norte) from the Southern beaches (Praia da Nazare) and provides excellent views of the breaking waves. There are surfing contests every year, and this place, along with the Praia do Norte become a scene of surfing celebration.
Now, we go deep into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. The island of Tahiti has a shape of a strange asteroid with one big, and one small part joined together. And here, on the smaller part of the island, called Tahiti Iti, you can find a nice resort village- Teahupo’o. Its coast looks south-southwestward, and here is where you can find one of the most unique surfing places in the world.
The surfing waves of Teahupo’o are different than the “normal” waves. They don’t come like a “water mountain” that gradually gets steeper until breaks. And they don’t reach 15-20 m height like in Hawaii. Instead, the waves appear unexpectedly from the depths, suddenly become not just tube-shaped but hollow inside, and crash fiercely on the reef.
This is due to the specific shape of the seabed. The coral reef rises suddenly from the deep bottom, creating a contrasting shallow zone. When the waves reach it, their bottom is literally blocked by the reef, but the rest of the wave proceeds with the same speed, crashing far ahead of the bottom. It is breathtaking, but such kind of swells makes Teahupo’o one of the most dangerous surfing places on our planet.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy Teahupo’o
First, you have to arrive in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti. There is a bus twice a day traveling from Papeete to Teahupo’o, on the southern coastal road. It arrives in Teahupo’o for 2 hours. Once you arrive there, you have to find your hotel or another place for accommodation and enjoy the beauty of the waves and the area.
The best season to visit Teahupo’o is between March and June. But again, surfing the hollow waves of Teahupo’o is only for advanced surfers. The waves don’t get too high, normally around 2-3 m, only sometimes more, but not more than 7 m. And if you are a beginner, better watch the waves and the professional surfers from a boat, or train in easier and safer locations nearby!
North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
Undoubtedly, the Hawaii Islands are among the top surfing destinations in the world. With their location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, directly exposed to the heavy swells that come from the northern winter storms, the islands can offer opportunities to see and ride some of the highest waves on our planet. And the best area where you can see it, with the best conditions, is the North Shore of Oahu Island.
From all the islands of Hawaii, Oahu has the best coastline exposition toward the north. This part of the coastline, called the North Shore looks northward and northwestward. In addition, the proper seabed and currents create perfect swell, sometimes reaching more than 20 m of height. There are a lot of surfing points in the area, of which Banzai Pipeline is the best, and is a spot of many surfing contests.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy the North Shore of Oahu
The North Shore of Oahu is easily reachable from Honolulu. This city is the main starting point for the islands of Hawaii, and before you depart from there, you would want to explore this place. There are a lot of things to do in Honolulu, and when you enjoy the activities that you like, you can go to the north.
So, from Honolulu, you can easily reach the North Shore of Oahu for an hour and a half by bus, or just for 40 min by car. And the main city on the coast is Haleiwa, a nice resort-town with a lot of entertainment and no lack of surfing atmosphere. There are a lot of attractions in the town, from nice beaches and nightlife parties to shark watching underwater (in a cage), since diving in Hawaii is another experience you should not miss.
Again, the best season for big waves is winter, from November to April. During the rest of the time, the ocean is calm and you can’t expect big waves. So, if you come in winter, Haleiwa can be your “base camp” for surfing or just surf watching. The main surfing spots are located northwest of Haleiwa, where you can enjoy the perfect tube waves of Laniakea, Waimea, Sunset, and Banzai Pipeline.
Honorable mention: Mentawai
This is a very exotic place, relatively far from the tourist crowd. If you look at the map of Indonesia and zoom over Sumatra Island, you can notice a chain of small islands, accompanying Sumatra from the southwest. They are grouped into several archipelagos. One of these archipelagos is Mentawai, consisting of the islands of Siberut, Sipora, North Pagai, South Pagai, and many more smaller islands and islets around them.
These islands are directly exposed to the currents and waves of the Indian Ocean. As a result, these currents form one of the most beautiful swells on the Earth. The waves are not too tall, but due to the perfect combination of currents and bottom topography, they feature really brilliant tubes.
How to reach, explore, and enjoy the Mentawai
Until only recently, the Mentawai Islands were almost separated from the rest of the world. Even today, some Mentawai people still live in the jungle like they lived for thousands of years, far from the modern civilization. But today, with the discovery of the outstanding swells, these islands drew attention of the surfers, and after them, the attention of non-surfing tourists.
As a result, the government launched regular fast ferry service from the city of Padang, the capital of West Sumatra province. You can reach Padang through Minangkabau Airport, and from Mentawai Fast Harbour (located in the southern part of the city, at the mouth of Nurbaya River), you can travel by fast ferry (three times a week to Sipora, three times a week to Siberut, and once a week to North Pagai) for about 3-4 hours. Once you arrive there, you can stay in local homestays or newly built luxurious surf camp resorts.
More surfing places
Besides these 10 best surfing places in the world, of course, there are many more that could be included in the Top 10 (if someone else makes the chart). I would include them too, but now we just try to choose the 10 best, and the choice is not easy. Among other candidates, I would mention Mavericks in California, Noosa in Australia, Barra da Tijuca in Brazil, Ensenada in Mexico, Playa Chicama in Peru, Tulear in Madagascar, La Sauzaie in France, Rossnowlagh in Ireland, Shivas in India, 90-mile beach in New Zealand (one of the longest beaches in the world), and many more.
So, if you are a surfer, you have a variety of choices to enjoy your favorite sport. But even if you are not, just watching the fury of nature is so spectacular, not just from an entertainment point of view, but just as observing this majestic beauty is worth 100%!
Want to see more charts of best natural features and go to explore them?
Take a look at the following ones:
Check some books about surfing!
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.