Best Cold Water Surfing Spots in the World
Cold water surf adventures, unlike the typical tropical surf trips, provide a unique challenge of fighting the elements. These trips frequently lead to beautiful landscapes, isolated communities, dedicated locals, and fewer tourists, making them a must-try for any surfer. Getting big waves is just the cherry on top.
Because many warm-water venues have grown severely overcrowded, cold water surfing has recently gained popularity. Here's a quick rundown of some of the best cold water surf spots to get you inspired for your next adventure!
Best Cold Water Surf Spots in North America
When thinking about surfing, the Pacific Northwest may not be your immediate go-to destination. This region, extending from British Columbia to Northern California, is known for its rain, chill, and gusty winds. Wearing a wetsuit is a year-round necessity here, even during the summer. However, the Pacific Northwest's untamed coastline, stunning vistas, and absence of crowds render it an exceptionally enticing surf spot.
Tofino on Vancouver Island's west coast is Canada's surf capital. Its stunning PNW scenery includes rocky shores and lush rainforests. North Chesterman Beach is a popular spot with consistent beach breaks, but it can get crowded when the waves are good, so remember surf etiquette!
If you seek a year-round surf destination with consistent waves, consider Westport, Washington, specifically Westhaven State Park. It caters to surfers of all expertise levels.
Surfing in these colder waters poses challenges such as freezing temperatures, changing weather, and powerful currents. However, the consistent waves, uncrowded breaks, magnificent natural beauty, and a strong sense of adventure will drive you to this location.
New England, known for its ancient cities and gorgeous scenery, also has a vibrant surfing community along its large coastline. Surfing is becoming more popular because it provides an escape and connection with nature, which is much needed in these difficult times.
New England's surf scene stands out by its ruggedness and unique waves, which can be ideal when conditions are favorable. Despite the lack of deep, strong waves like in Hawaii or Florida, local surfers have a profound appreciation for the region's unpredictable currents and chaos. Each surf site has its own distinctive vibe, adding an element of randomness that makes each location special.
Ruggles — Newport, Rhode Island
Rhode Island's 400-mile shoreline benefits from southeast hurricane swells in the late summer and fall, as well as strong northeast swells in the winter. Summers are flatter, but they are ideal for newbies. The waves are shaped by the offshore breezes, giving it a consistent and exceptional surf spot.
(photo from @capecodsurf)
Cape Cod — Massachusetts
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has a 40-mile stretch of beach breaks that come alive during post-storm winter swells, thanks to constant southwest offshore winds. Summers are quieter, but October provides great A-frame rights and lefts from Eastham to North Truro.
Alaska is known for its breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife, and surprisingly, quality surf breaks. It is located in the northwestern portion of North America, just across the Bering Strait. The peaceful absence of crowds sets apart Alaskan surfing. You're more likely to share the lineup with ice chunks than other surfers, and the possibility of riding unspoiled waves remains high.
If you thought California or the Pacific Northwest were cold, wait till you dip into Alaskan seas, where the average temperature is 52 degrees.
(photo from @visitsoutheastalaska )
The primary surf areas include Yakutat, home to the largest number of surfers in the state, Kodiak Island with its diverse surf breaks, and Sitka. However, due to unusual daylight cycles and bone-chilling water temperatures in the 30s, the winter months of Alaska bring unique challenges for surfers. The more surfer-friendly seasons are fall and spring, as summers are typically flat.
Follow this link to watch a short video on the areas happenings. Such a cool place!
Because the water's low salt content affects buoyancy, surfers frequently require boards with extra volume. Rivermouth breakers with unusual sandbars can be found in Alaska, but point and reef breaks are relatively tiny because of the cold water.
Best Cold Water Surf Destination in Europe
(photo from @ellithor)
Iceland's 5000-kilometer coastline hides a unique treasure - virgin surfing terrain. While many surfers travel the world in search of the ideal wave, Icelanders and a rising number of foreign surfers have access to this hidden gem. Although cold water surfing is becoming more popular among both locals and visitors, it remains a difficult challenge that demands a thorough understanding of polar waters, waves, and strategy. It is the very challenge that draws surfers to the water.
(photo from @karl_shakur)
Iceland's peak surfing season runs from October to March, when the country is buffeted by storms from all directions. This time of year, it's as if the waves themselves are calling out to surfers, promising a thrilling and daring experience. This period, however, brings with it greater risks, such as windstorms and snowstorms, which surfers must be aware of.
It is important to understand that the surf in Iceland is often not suitable for beginners. The greatest waves can break alarmingly close to steep rocks and cliffs that need prior experience before braving the chilly Icelandic seas.
Extreme caution, physical fitness, and adherence to the cardinal rule of Icelandic surfers - never surf alone - are all required for those heading into these difficult waves.
(photo from @dgsc)
Scotland has been a frequent stop on the O'Neill Cold Water Classic tour, which visits some of the world's best cold water surf spots.
The country has beautiful golden sandy beaches, a long and exposed coastline, with seas ranging from deep blue to emerald green. Scotland, surrounded by massive North Atlantic and northern swells, ensures a consistent supply of big, uncrowded waves for anyone prepared to withstand the cold water conditions.
The best time to surf in Thurso is between October and April, when the already cold waters are cooled by an icy torrent from the River Thurso, which flows down from the Flow Country.
Thurso tradition claims that a visitor to Thurso Castle was among the first to ride the waves here in the 1960s. Traveling surfers were a novelty for decades, sharing their boards and stories of warmer waters in seemingly distant areas with curious Thursonians. Cold-water surfing is becoming more popular, thanks to advancements in wetsuit technology, increasing publicity, and social networking.
The Isle of Lewis is another wonderful surfing spot. Its lovely waters are embellished with fine white sands and feature diverse shades of blue, making it a veritable heaven for surfers. The island's swells are spectacular in most spots, with Dalmore beach standing out as a standout due to its intriguing well-formed beachbreak. When the conditions become difficult and the stakes are heightened, it's better to leave the surfing to the professionals.
(photo by @fairminer )
Norway is one of the world's northernmost surfing destinations, surrounded by towering mountains, huge glaciers, and deep coastal fjords. As a result, the water here is extremely cold, and the beaches may sometimes be covered in snow during the winter.
Norway's booming surf industry keeps on growing despite the intense cold and limited daylight during the winter season when the best waves pour in. Summer, on the other hand, has smaller and less regular waves but compensates with up to 24 hours of uninterrupted sunlight, giving surfers more time to enjoy the waves and the beach. Norway is one of the world's most unique surf destinations, with waves set against the backdrop of amazing, wild Nordic landscapes.
(photo by @danielmikkelsen)
The combination of incredible waves, friendly locals, and the raw beauty of Nordic nature clearly characterizes Norway as an unmatched surf destination. Imagine riding waves against a scenery of 1,000-meter-high mountains!
Unstad is the most well-known surf place in the Lofoten Islands, and possibly the best in Norway. This beach break is best suited to west-northwest swells and offshore east-southwest winds. Unstad has three unique breaks, all of which have a combination of sandy seabeds and rocky point breaks. The best season to surf Unstad is from November to March, however rideable waves can be found all year.
Hoddevik is another fantastic surfing spot in Norway. Because the swells have to work harder to get through the fjords, the resulting sets are milder and more mellow compared to other surf spots.
Best Winter Surf Spots in Oceania
(photo by @zolli.visuals )
New Zealand, often known as the "Land of the Long White Cloud," is famed not only for its breathtaking vistas and the legacy of "The Lord of the Rings," but it is also a hidden paradise for surfers of all skill levels.
New Zealand is located in the Pacific Ocean southeast of Australia and consists of two large islands: the warmer North Island and the cooler South Island. It is known as an "extreme sports capital" and has a rugged natural environment that includes earthquakes, active volcanoes, and hot springs.
With almost 10,000 miles (15,000 kilometers) of coastline, New Zealand has lots of little bays, capes, and surf locations. You'll find world-class alternatives here whether you prefer point breakers, reef breaks, or beach breaks.
Surfing is possible in New Zealand all year. Summer temperatures range from December to March, with temperatures decreasing from north to south. Winter on the South Island is harsh, and it is mostly enjoyed by dedicated Kiwi surfers. Between September and April, when Southern Ocean low-pressure systems and Coral Sea cyclones produce reliable swell sources, is the greatest time to surf.
Raglan, a little village on the desolate west coast of the North Island, is the center of New Zealand's surfing culture. It is home to Manu Bay, often known as "The Point," which is notable for having the world's longest left-hand break. In ideal conditions, rides here can last up to two kilometers, or ten minutes.
(photo by @toneback)
Piha, a black sand beach on Auckland's West Coast, is another notable surf destination. While it has good waves and is close to the city, it may get busy, especially on weekends.
(photo by @theseaisformephotography )
Tasmania is a hidden jewel set on the verge of the South Pacific and the Southern Ocean. It has large sandy bays, rainforests that merge with reefs, and a welcome lack of crowds when compared to other Australian surf locations.
The shores of Tasmania have plenty of surf conditions, from large swells on the west coast to cruisy sets on sandy banks in the east. Tasmania has it all, whether you're a beginner or looking for monster barrels.
Tasmania's natural charm and raw beauty, located around 240 kilometers off Victoria's coast, set it special. Morning surf workouts frequently involve sharing the waves with dolphins in a peaceful ocean mist. Hikes up Cradle Mountain and swims in the rainforests can also be combined with your surfing adventures. It's a must-see for those looking for a one-of-a-kind surfing experience.
Shipstern Bluff and Clifton Beach are two of Tasmania's most popular surf locations.
Shipstern Bluff is world-famous for having some of the highest waves on Tasmania's southeastern coast, with waves reaching heights of up to 10 meters (32.8 ft). Because of the massive waves, surfing here demands extreme caution. It has drawn surfers from all over the world, including world champions such as Andy Irons and Kelly Slater, who come to ride the spectacular waves. A 45-minute climb is required to reach Shipstern Bluff.
Clifton Beach, on the other hand, is ideal for beginners. It is located on Tasmania's East Coast, within the South Arm Peninsula, and has a regularly enjoyable beach break. Autumn is the best time to catch waves at Clifton Beach. The northern end has perfect wind conditions, while the southern end has the optimum swell direction. The water here is beautiful and pristine, making for spectacular photo ops.
How to Plan a Cold Water Surf Trip
Planning a cold water surf trip can be an exciting adventure, but it involves more planning than warm water destinations.
At some point, every surfer's trip has a moment when they make an impulsive decision to go on their trip to a faraway surf destination. However, without proper surf trip planning, you may miss out on making the most of your getaway time.
We asked expert surfers and travelers to give important tips for organizing the perfect surf trip, so you don't miss a wave.
Choose Your Destination
The first step in planning a surf trip is determining where you want to go. Look for cold water surf spots that suit your interests and skill level.
Check Surf Seasons & Conditions
Determine when it's best to visit your preferred surfing spot. Cold water surf seasons may differ from warm water surf seasons, so choose the best period for waves and conditions.
Prepare Proper Gear
Cold water surfing requires the use of specific gear to keep you warm and safe. Make sure you have
- Thick wetsuit (5/4mm or 6/5/4mm is recommended)
- Boots, gloves, and a hood
- Surfboard suitable for cold water conditions
- Leash, wax, and any other surf accessories
- Cold water-specific wax for your board
- Thermal rash guard for extra warmth
- Insulated surfboard bag for traveling
- Waterparka, the ultimate post-surf jacket
- A dry bag packpack, to keep everything dry
Prepare Your Travel Documents
Check the expiration date of your passport and any visa requirements for your chosen destination. Check that your trip insurance includes coverage for surfing and cold water conditions.
Make a Reservation
Look for and book accommodations near your surf areas. Consider surf camps or surf-friendly hotels that cater to the demands of surfers.
Do Your Research
Research the surf places in your chosen location. Understand the different types of waves, the difficulty levels, and any nearby hazards.
Take Safety Precautions
Cold water surf conditions can be difficult. Make sure you have all of the appropriate safety gear, such as a surf leash and a personal flotation device (PFD). Keep local emergency services and contact information handy. Keep an eye out on the weather and surf forecasts before and throughout your vacation. Make flexible arrangements to make the most of the surf conditions.
Exploring the best cold water surfing spots can be an exciting trip, but it comes with its own set of challenges and requires careful planning. It's important to invest in proper cold water surfing gear to keep you warm and safe in icy waters if you want to truly appreciate these incredible destinations.
So, chase the waves in Iceland's icy seas, Scotland's craggy shores, or any other cold water surf destinations, but remember to bring proper gear and beware of the safety precautions for an unforgettable and safe surfing experience.