Thursday, November 1, 2007

Surf the world

The following appeared in Real Travel Magazine in July 2007


Ever dreamt of riding the waves in a far-off destination but been unsure where to start? Here Tim Kevan guides you through six top surf spots around the world.

Subject to the risks presented by terrorism, Bali is the perfect place both to learn to surf and also for perfect waves for the best surfers in the world. For beginners the best place to learn in Kuta beach which is just near Legian where you will find much of the cheaper and best value accommodation. For the experienced surfer, one of the most consistent spots is Uluwatu which also lies near Padang Padang and its famous tubes. However, it tends to be crowded and extremely dangerous with the reef not far below the surface. If you’re thinking of staying for a longer time, one bit of advice once given by a fellow surfer was to invest in some fishing net and to offer it as a gift to one of the locals. He’d followed this same advice which had led him being introduced to the locals and eventually being given accommodation within one of their homes. As for getting there, flights are to Denpasar Airport (Kuta) which is an international terminal. For much of the time the best way to get around is by hiring a motorbike and getting shoulder straps for your surfboard. Bemo (taxi) drivers are everywhere if you want the surfing adrenalin rush on the land instead. Boat trips can be taken to spots such as G-Land. As for equipment, there are about 20 major well-stocked surf shops and again it is best to enquire with them as to lessons. Try to avoid January and February with its heavy afternoon rains and heavy humidity.

Gold Coast, Australia
Australia’s Gold Coast is one of the most famous surfing areas in the world, sitting as it does at the south of Queensland. Coolangetta is the best place to stay with youth hostels, budget hotels and motels all providing excellent value. To get there, international flights go to Brisbane and then you can get internal flights to Coolangetta or just drive an hour and a half. Buses from Sydney tend to take about 20 hours. Getting around can be by the Surf Side Buses or bikes although hire cars also tend to be reasonably priced. Beginners might try the beachbreaks north of Burleigh Heads with Broadbeach and Miami being two of the best spots. Ironically, ‘Surfer’s Paradise’ tends to be more dedicated to swmmers and so watch out for the flags. For the best surfers, a jewell in the crown is Kirra, the longest small wave barrel in the world. In the town of Coolangetta itself the best waves are at Greenmount Point and then Snapper Rocks just around the corner. Try to avoid September to November when the winds often interfere with the surf. There are more than 50 surf shops which are again the best place to start both for the equipment and also for asking about lessons. When there’s no surf, consider checking out Sea World, Sanctuary and Fleays among many attractions. Make sure that you respect the locals who can sometimes get aggressive in the sea if you’re not careful and get the highest sunblock you can find.

Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Costa Rica has surfing on both its east and west coasts from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans respectively. However, it is the west coast which provides a perfect destination for anyone learning to surf with consistent year round waves, lots of beach breaks to play in and tons of point breaks to improve further. Tamarindo’s Playa Grande is a good place to start with its excellent beach break and even the odd tutle in the line-up. The coast to the south is littered with good breaks from Langosta to Nosara. Just to the south of this at Punta Guiones, the reefs pick up any swell and can get big. For the really committed, two famous breaks which are a boat ride and four-wheel drive away are Potero Grande (also known as ‘Ollie’s point’ after Colonel Oliver North’s landing of weapons nearby) and Playa Naranjo in the north. To get there, San Jose is the main airport. There are also flights from Miami which land straight in Liberia (Guanacaste). There are daily flights to Tamarindo. May to November is the rainy season when most spots can only be reached by four wheel drive. Otherwise, the roads are much improved than in the past and a normal hire car will do although avoid driving at night. The bus system is also cheap and efficient. As for accommodation, there are numerous hotels in Tamarindo and also cheaper cabinas. Avellanes, Junquilla and Nosara are also good places to stay.

San Diego, California, USA
For many people, when they think of surfing, they think of the Beach Boys and surfing the Californian coast. A particularly concentrated area of good surfing Californian spots is around San Diego. To get there, you can fly to LA and then either get a connecting flight, drive down in about two hours or train it in about three. Once there, public transport isn’t much good and so you can either hire a car or alternatively stay in La Jolla where there is good access to the most number of spots. If the surf isn’t working, visit Sea World and the wave House Flowrider in Mission Beach. There is also baseball and football played at the dome. There are numerous beaches both to the north and the south. Easy waves can be found from Carlsbad to Encinatas. For the intermediate surfer, try Cardiff Reef which is particularly popular with longboarders. For the more adventurous, there is Blacks beach which is accessible via a fifteen minute cliff climb after which you may well find hollow waves. Big Blacks is for the really experienced surfers. If there’s a south swell and you want to get its full force then you can head to the south side of san Diego bay for spots such as Coronado and Silver Strand State beach. You’ll find numerous surf shops at Ocean Beach which tends to be a popular spot for San Diego based surfers.

St.Francis Bay, South Africa
Ever since the release of Bruce Brown’s surf movie Endless Summer about some surfers travelling the world in search of the perfect wave, surfers the world over have been aware of St.Francis Bay and the seemingly perfect wave of Cape St.Francis that just went on and on. This has now been over-shadowed by the discovery of Jeffrey’s Bay just nearby which is considered the best right hand break in the world. So much so that as Tom Anderson famously describes in Riding the Magic Carpet (Summersdale Publishing), he made it his life’s mission to ride that particular wave. However, the area, positioned between Cape Town and Durban, has far more to offer than just two famous breaks with some of the most consistent surf in the whole of South Africa. As for getting around, car rentals tend to be cheap and there are numerous hostels catering for surfers. Better quality options are the Cape St.Francis Holiday resort and the J-Bay Beach Hotel. They will direct you to the best person from whom to get surf lessons that season. The best time to go is between April and October when the winds tend to be better for surfing. However, if you want the best of the weather then it’s the other half of the year. Whilst it is certainly possible to learn on some of these beaches, this area is really best-suited to the experienced surfer. Take advice from the locals and beware of the sharks!

Cote Basque, France
One of the first places to take up surfing in Europe was the French resort of Biarritz situated in the South West and the whole of the surrounding area remains an excellent place to surf for those of all level of experience. It has the particular advantage of cheap direct flights which have opened up the area in recent years. The disadvantage of this is that at times some of the more popular beaches can become over-crowded. The main beach in Biarritz is the Grand Plage which tends to deliver heavy waves for the better surfers. However, just to the south and still within walking distance of the town centre is the Cote des Basques which is a great place for longboarders and therefore particularly suitable for beginners. The waves are gentle here and the beach is sheltered from afternoon breezes from the north west. If the swell gets a bit big then the waves tend to be smaller further down the coast at Hendaye Plage. Further afield, Spain is just a drive through the Pyrenees and you might even consider a trip to Pamplona and running with the bulls in the summer. As for getting around, you could stay in Biarritz and simply walk to the nearby beaches. Otherwise a car is essential. There are lots of campsites available from May to September and numerous hotels throughout the area from budget up to 4-star. Boards can be hired from the surf shop on the sea front at the Grand Plage.

Further information
Two particular British companies which provide surf holidays are: GSD ( and Surf South West ( For further reading, see The World Stormrider Guide (Low Pressure), Surfing: A Beginner’s Manual by Wayne Alderson (Fernhurst Books, 1996), Surfer's Start-up: Beginner's Guide to Surfing by Doug Werner (Tracks Publishing, 1999) and

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