Surfing is experiencing exponential growth these years and many "mainlanders" are drawn to it during a trip to the ocean. The popularity of the sport is due to those incredible images we see in the media and the dream of a lifetime at the beach. Even big advertisers have jumped on the symbols of freedom and fulfillment that surfing represents.
While it's true that surfing frees both body and mind, those who are just starting out can encounter the complexity of the sport. Knowing the ocean to the point of wielding a board on the surface of its waves requires a lot of patience, perseverance and... A good place to jump in for the first time.
As in all activities that depend on the weather, it is best to learn in optimal conditions (tips at the bottom of the article). For surfing, it can quickly turn into a nightmare if the sea is too rough, or nostalgic if there are no waves. After having surfed about fifty beaches around the world, I will discuss those with the best potential for safe learning.
Numbering for easy reading; there is no particular order.
1. Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Kuta Beach is one of the main beaches in Bali and the waves are very constant year-round. This is one of the easiest beaches to learn surfing because the sandy bottom has the perfect depth and the waves break slowly. In addition, the beach is very wide so there is space for everyone. There are plenty of surf teachers waiting right on the beach, so you don't have to book in advance. Catch waves on large boards ensuring maximum flotation.
2. Waikiki, Hawaii, USA
Obviously, Hawaii must be on this list, for having been the cradle of surfing, but also because the beaches live up to their reputation. It should not be taken for granted that all Hawaii beaches are suitable for beginners. Some are reserved for local or international pros (real pros), due to the strength of the waves and their proximity to the coral reef. However, Waikiki stands out from the crowd with consistent, easy-to-ride waves and plenty of tourists trying surfing during their trip. It is therefore safe to practice the sport and it is convenient to book a lesson at a local surf school.
3. Byron Bay, Australia
A mecca for surfers and travelers alike, this village is filled with experienced surfers available to teach. The point of Byron Bay collects the swell to form beautiful waves which remain of very acceptable size for a beginner. The water is not very deep and the bottom is sandy. Learn to surf on a safe Australian beach, in the heart of a legendary surf village.
4. Tofino, British Columbia, Canada
The reputation of Vancouver Island, especially Tofino, is well established among surfers around the world. This is Canada's surf lifestyle capital. Because many continental Canadians come here to surf for the first time, there are several surf schools including Surf Sister which is the largest surf school in the world with all female instructors. Tofino may not have the warmth and palm trees of other surf destinations, but experiencing cold water surrounded by northern beaches certainly has a great added value.
5. Punta Mita, Sayulita, Mexico
A village known for surfing, the waves breaking in Punta Mita are gentle, in the warm water of the Pacific. Surf schools are plentiful. This is a great place to take classes and then practice on your own later in the day.
6. Playa Carmen, Mal Pais, Costa Rica
The Mal Pais region receives constant swells and a stable, warm temperature year round. In a very accessible country, this could be a good destination for family learning. The waves are easy to catch, you would almost think they were made for learning to surf. Several schools and surf camps have been established there for this reason.
7. Weligama, Sri Lanka
As in Kuta Beach in Bali, several surf schools await you directly on the beach. Taking a class there is literally a snap. The beach overlooks a bay protected from the big ocean swells, so the waves are relatively calm and good for making your first attempts. The sandy bottom just makes things safer.
8. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
While there is no surfing directly in San Juan del Sur, many nearby beaches receive exposure to swells. Several surf schools based in San Juan del Sur will drive to other beaches according to the surf conditions and the level of their clients. Most of these beaches have the potential to safely get you surfing your first waves. Many tourists try their first surf session in San Juan, so the instructors are used to beginners.
9. Manly Beach, Sydney, Australia
Learning to surf while traveling in Sydney enhances the Australian experience. Manly Beach is one of Sydney's renowned beaches and the waves break gently there most of the time. Several surf schools and surf shops are located nearby and it is better to book a session with an instructor. Australian sun obliges, have a good quality sunscreen with you!
10. KSF, Montreal, Canada
The popularity of surfing in Montreal has exploded in recent years. You can surf in the river, on an endless wave of fresh water. The two main river waves have the advantage of being fairly consistent throughout the year. Surfing school KSF, founded by Hugo Lavictoire offers lessons from spring to fall. This is a great way to learn to surf because all the learnings of the river can be carried over to a future trip to the Ocean. No need, to have previous surfing experience. Indulge in a different activity near your home, perhaps even a day trip for locals!
À propos des conditions météorologiques
All of these locations have conditions that will favor exposure to ideal waves. The wind, the size and direction of the swell, and spacing of the waves are factors that have a different impact on each spot.
We can still establish some constants for a beginner looking for optimal conditions. Favor no wind, or an offshore wind, which blows towards the ocean. Aim to surf in a swell between 0.6m and 1.5m (2 to 5 feet). Regarding the period between waves, they will have a constant shape above 10 seconds and could be messy below 8 seconds.
Check out magicseaweed.com for comprehensive weather information on each location. Some places also have a tide to take into account.
The bigger your board, the more you float, increasing the chances of catching waves easily. Take the time to seek the advice of someone who knows the area so that you are aware of any potential hazards or areas to avoid.
Wishing you amazing surf discoveries! - François
Photo : Élodie Gagné - Bells Beach, Australia