Where Are The Waves?
If you’re trying to surf your summer weekends away, don’t waste time anywhere else. These five beach towns are where the pros go to throw down, and you should, too.
Daytona Beach is a short hour and a half away for those dipping their toes in the surfing waters. Because of the influx of tourists each summer, it’s likely the most crowded destination in Florida. But if you find a spot in the water, try to do it near the Main Street Pier.
Want to catch waves where 11-time world champ Kelly Slater learned to do the same? Sebastian Inlet it is. Check out First Peak near the jetty for veteran surf and Second or Third Peak for intermediate and beginner waves. The shape of the inlet means it catches swells from multiple directions, so for your almost three-hour drive, you’re guaranteed great waves.
Cocoa Beach is known as the East Coast’s Surf City, and for good reason: There are waves for everyone. (Also, it’s Kelly Slater’s hometown and just a few minutes from Satellite Beach, home of C.J. and Damien Hobgood.) Check out beaches on The Streets—13th, 14th, 15th and on—for ideal swell. Other landmark-named beaches with the best swells are First Light, Second Light and Tables. This is a two-hour-and-15-minute drive you won’t regret for a moment.
If you’re looking to surf the Gulf, Pensacola is a solid option. It’s the farthest away at just over five hours, but The Wall and The Pier offer some of the most beautiful beaches and rideable waves in the state.
Jacksonville Beach is just over two hours away, and if you get there before 10am, the parking isn’t as bad as they say. If you’re looking for less crowded beaches, drive a little further north to Mayport Poles or Hanna Park. Both have great surf but fewer swimmers to dodge.
School’s In This Summer
Florida has no shortage of surf schools, but some stand out thanks to their perfect locations and 5-star ratings. Check out the following and see if they sound right for your first intro course!
Ron Jon Surf School
Cocoa Beach’s claim to fame is surfing, and that’s why it’s home to Ron Jon Surf Shop. Try your hand at surfing, standup paddleboarding or kitesurfing with the help of their instructors. They offer private, small group and group rates. Call for pricing, but know that the board is included. Just bring your towel!
150 E Columbia Lane, Cocoa Beach
Sebastian Inlet Surf & Sport
Want to learn on “Florida’s best wave?” Located in the infamous Inlet, this locally owned and operated school offers lessons from $40 to $70 as well as rentals for those with the experience but not the equipment. And if you’re thinking full emersion lesson, they also offer a weekend surf experience in Costa Rica.
8898 S Hwy A1A, Melbourne Beach
Pure Life Surf School
Daytona Beach’s Pure Life Surf School offers instructors who have taught all over the world, with private and group lessons available. Fees are $60 to $95 and include a board, rash guard and a wetsuit if you go in the colder months. They also offer standup paddleboarding for anyone looking to take up SUPing. Book online for maximum ease.
2705 South Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach Shores
St. Augustine Surf School
One of the highest rated schools in the state is St. Augustine Surf School, which offers 90-minute longboarding lessons for $75 one-on-one or as low as $55 in a group. Book online ahead of time to reserve your space. If you want to caffeinate as the locals do after the beach, less than 10 minutes away is one of the best coffeehouses in St. Aug, The Kookaburra. Shoes and shirt not required. This writer recommends The Honey Badger, basically a Cinnamon Toast Crunch latte.
5401 A1A S, St. Augustine
Surf Report Breakdown
Just like checking the weather, a smart surfer always checks the surf report to see how the waves are looking before they head out. A quick Google search of your destination’s surf report will get you to the right site, but sometimes the lingo (just like any other surf slang) can be hard to decipher the first time. Here’s what makes for good surf, and what that report is really saying.
Swell direction: All you need to know is that a swell is described by the direction it originates from. A west swell formed in the west, and if your destination’s beach faces west, well that’s just perfect. A southwest swell, however, will be coming at you from an angle and create different kinds of waves.
Wave height: How big the waves will be is definitely a need-to-know number. Height and intervals between waves is read by offshore buoys, and most surf reports will interpret the data for you. For example, 3 feet and 10 seconds means 3-foot waves pass the buoy at 10 seconds apart. The biggest factor in wave size, however, is the swell interval. The longer the interval, the larger the waves when they reach your area. At 3 feet and four seconds, don’t bother showing up. But 3 feet at 20 seconds? You should probably get to the beach immediately.
Tides: Some beaches create better waves at high tide than low tide, and vice versa. Water depth hides or exposes peaks and valleys in the ocean floor, which can cause waves to break. Find out if the beach in question is known as a low tide break or a high tide break, and time your visit based on the tide schedules.
Local winds: Offshore winds are responsible for creating swells, and the swells grow as they travel closer to shore. However, local winds can make or break a promising swell. Onshore wind—wind blowing from behind or across waves onto the shoreline—causes choppy surf that is difficult to ride. Winds that blow offshore and directly into the waves hold them up for a moment while breaking and keep the surf clean. The ideal condition is no wind at all, which results in the glassy water surface all surfers live for. If you see glassy on the report, start heading for the door.
Wave break: Waves break depending on the geography of the shoreline—when a wave finds topography to expend its energy on, it rolls up into a wave shape and crashes back down.
Beach break: The most common of the three, most places you surf will be beach breaks. Waves usually break within 100 yards of the shoreline as the ocean floor rises up to meet the swell. Although they aren’t hard to access, they can be unpredictable in direction and harder to catch as a result.
Point break: These make for world-class surfing, and they’re behind legendary spots like Jeffries Bay and Malibu. A natural point in the coastline or a manmade feature, such as a jetty, causes the waves to break left or right exclusively and provides longer rides than beach breakers.
Reef break: Arguably the most consistent waves in the world happen at reef break locations. As waves break over rock beds or coral reefs, they arch up quickly into fast, hollow waves. They’re the freight trains of waves, lining riders up for aerials maneuvers or pipeline rides like you’d see in a movie. But because of their power (and the fact that only a few feet of water separate surfer from sharp reefs), these waves should only be taken by true veterans.
Catch These Competitions
Want to see what seasoned surfers can do with the right waves? Or maybe the kids want a chance to try? Check out these upcoming events for fun spectating for falling in love with a new sport.
Gnarley Charley Surf Series
Weekends from June 5 through Nov. 3
Gnarley Charley grew up surfing in Daytona Beach, and now travels Florida teaching young surfers how to advance in competitions and improve their performance, while also reminding them to have fun. They’re all over the state but spend lots of time in Satellite Beach, Cocoa Beach and New Smyrna Beach.
For more information or to sign up your grom, call (386) 690-SURF or visit gnarlycharleysurfseries.com.
Super Grom Surf Festival 2017
Saturday, June 17, 9am-3pm
Jax Beach Pier, Jacksonville Beach
Grom, n. a young surfer, usually age 15 or below. The cutest contest in the surf world, this day is dedicated to participants age 10 and under. Through this event, the Florida Surfing Association encourages families to get outside and enjoy surfing their local beaches.
For more information or to register your little surfer, visit floridasurfing.org.
Silent Surfing 2017
Wednesday, July 19, 9am-12pm
6th Ave. N, Jacksonville Beach
Each year, the Florida Surfing Association seeks to share their “surf stoke” with a group of people not commonly given the chance: deaf or hard of hearing athletes. In a beginner-friendly, push-and-surf-style competition, these new surfers can take on the waves with the help of instructors and ASL interpreters by their sides.
For more information, visit floridasurfing.org/event/silent-surfing.
Sebastian Inlet Regular Joe Surf Festival
Saturday, Sept. 16 and Sunday, Sept. 17, 8am-6pm
North Jetty, Sebastian Inlet State Park
It’s a surf competition for the non-pros! Check out some of the best local surfers shred the waves they know and love in this benefit contest for the Sebastian Inlet Charter of Surfrider Foundation. In case of bad waves, backup dates are September 23 and 24. Free with park entrance fee.
For more information, call (321) 574-0600 or visit sebastianinletsurfshop.com.
Atlantic Surfing Federation Championship Surf Contest
Friday, Oct. 6 through Sunday, Oct. 8, 7:30am-5:30pm
North Jetty, Sebastian Inlet State Park
Another North Jetty gem, check out this amateur-level contest as surfers from all over the state compete for the championship title. Free with park entrance fee.
For more information, visit atlanticsurfing.org.
Quiksilver’s King of the Peak
Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 and Sunday, Nov. 5, 8am-6pm
North Jetty, Sebastian Inlet State Park
Someone has to be crowned King of the Peak this year, and with a major organizer like Quiksilver, this is an event not to miss. Free with park entrance fee.
For more information, visit quicksilver.com.
Sweet Gear, Bro
If you’re feeling like you might have the hang of hanging ten, it’s time to start buying your own gear for your surfing days. Or maybe you’re a seasoned beach bum looking for some cool additions? Either way, here are some new, unique and classic items to add to your stash.
When it comes to board shorts, surfers need breathability and durability (because let’s face it, even the best boarders eat their fair share of sand). Enter the Quiksilver New Wave Highline Boardshorts. Covered in a proprietary Dry Flight coating, these shorts don’t allow water to absorb into the material. That means they stay lightweight, dry quickly and maximize mobility. They also have heat-bonded seams for ultimate durability. They’re some of the priciest shorts on the market, but for avid surfers, they might be worth the investment. $199.50, quicksilver.com.
Board bags from Rareform are made from billboards, which means each bag is completely unique and those billboards aren’t piling up in landfills. Yay style, yay environment. (Bonus: You may recognize these board bags if you’re a fan of Shark Tank.) $88-229, rareform.com.
Tired of itty bitty bikini malfunctions? Seea offers suits designed by pro surfer Amanda Chinchelli for women who want to get in the water without holding onto their tops and bottoms the whole time. They’re stylish, reversible and made of a breathable neoprene alternative that wicks moisture away from the body. Choose from one-piece, two-piece, and other styles. $50-$150, theseea.com.
Future Fins let the rider customize their experience. Do you want more speed, better balance or increased control? Now you can choose without purchasing multiple boards. $110, futurefins.com.
Set to be released August 1, Hound of the Sea is a memoir detailing Garrett McNamara’s seemingly insane quest to surf the largest waves on Earth. He set the world record for surfing a 78-foot wave in 2011 only to break it two years later, and readers will learn from the legend himself why chasing deadly swells has become his life’s passion. Pre-order the book on Amazon.com for $10.99 in paperback or $12.99 for Kindle.
Every surfer has their favorite brand of wax. For most, Sticky Bumps is the holy grail. It’s been getting the job done, fuss-free, since 1940. Beginners in need of wax should visit stickybumps.com immediately, drop $13.50 on their first box and never look back. It works in every water temperature, too, so no Florida temps will melt it from your board. If you didn’t know, now you know.
Sources: visitflorida.com, rootsrated.com, ocregister.com, thesurfingsite.com, surfing-waves.com