From Spain to El Salvador, our round-up of the best surfing sites from Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth covers some spectacular breaks. So whether you’re a seasoned surfer or you’ve never been near a board in your life – let alone caught a wave or hung ten – give one of these surfing experiences a try.
Surfing utopia at Raglan, New Zealand
The laidback town of Raglan, about 150km southwest of Auckland, is beloved by in-the-know surfers for both its legendary left-handers and its bohemian vibe. Lines of perfect breakers appear like blue corduroy along the shore here, watched over by the majestic Mount Karioi or “Sleeping Lady”.
For beginners, the best place to paddle out is sandy-bottomed Ngarunui Beach, 5km out of town. For seasoned surfers, the wildest rides are found at Manu Bay, around 8km from Raglan, which starred in the cult 1960s surf flick, Endless Summer. Manu’s exposed point break provides one of the longest and most consistent waves on the planet and it regularly hosts pro surfing competitions. Ideally, it’s best sampled at low tide when there are offshore, southeasterly winds, but you’ll find it packed with grinning, wet-suited locals whatever the weather.
Have a swell time in Taghazout, Morocco
Ice-cream headaches, chilly wetsuits in snow-covered car parks and blown-out waves beneath leaden skies; a north European winter can make the most dedicated surfer think twice. Why bother when in a few hours, many landlocked surfers could access perfect right-hand points, blue skies, 16°C water and the exoticism of Africa? Small wonder Taghazout is spoken of in revered tones.
The ramshackle fishing village, 20km from Agadir international airport, has come a long way. A hippy hangout in the 1960s, Taghazout is now known for great winter waves. Come late November, the first visitors arrive to join a clique of hardcore locals. By January, when low-pressure systems barrel west across the North Atlantic to lash northern countries with storm-force winds and rain, the breaks are busy with an accomplished international crew. And it’s cheap, too, when double rooms sourced from local families cost around 450dh a week and a tajine can be had for the price of a beer back home.
From Agadir airport, buses (to Essaouira) or taxis go to Taghazout. Most accommodation is through local host families; alternatively try Auberge Amouage Taghazout (00 212 (0) 2820 0272).
Surfing the coast of light: from Tarifa to Tangier, Spain
No Spanish town is more synonymous with wind than Tarifa. Facing down Morocco across the Gibraltar Straits, it’s both a windsurfing magnet and a suicide blackspot where the relentless gusting can literally drive people mad. But don’t let that put you off; you’re more likely to be driven to distraction in the concrete inferno of Costas Brava, Blanca or Sol, an orgy of development from which the Costa de la Luz has thus far abstained. In contrast, Tarifa is a whitewashed rendezvous, a chimerical canvas where the Med meets the Atlantic, the Poniente wind meets the Levante and Africa meets Europe.
Climatic conditions for wind- and kitesurfing are optimal in the afternoon and early evening once the Levante hits its stride, although beginners are usually schooled in the morning. There are several rental places in Tarifa itself, and other facilities further up the crescent of bleached-sand beach. When the sun goes down, Tangier’s lights start beckoning, and it is possible (just) to get your afternoon’s surfing fix before heading to Morocco for the evening, avoiding the daytime scrum of quayside touts, and arriving just as sunset breathes new energy into the city’s pavement cafés.
FRS (www.frs.es) run ferries between Tarifa and Tangier (up to 7 daily; 35min).
Catching a wave on Vancouver Island, British Columbia
For some of the wildest surfing in the world, head to the shipwreck-strewn west coast of Vancouver Island, also known as “the graveyard of the Pacific”. Flanked by the lush temperate rainforest of the 130km-long Pacific Rim National Park, the waters here are ferocious. Swells reach up to six metres, and epic storms uproot trees, sending drifting logs down the face of waves. Whales have been known to sneak up on unsuspecting surfers, diving under their boards and lifting them clean out of the water. As if that weren’t enough abuse, barking, territorial sealions often chase these thrill-seekers from the ocean back to shore. On land, it’s just as wild – bald eagles soar between giant trees, and wolves and black bears forage for food amid piles of sun-bleached driftwood.
Even in summer, when swells ease to a gentle one to two metres, the water remains bone-chillingly cold, hovering around 13°C. Still, plenty of wannabe wave riders flock to the chilled-out surf centre of Tofino to practise their “pop-ups”, but a thick skin – or a thick wetsuit – is required. Come winter, the waves start pummelling in from the Pacific with all the force of a boxer’s knock-out punch. For the novice, this is the time to peel off the wetsuit and watch the waves roll in from the blissful confines of a seaside hot tub.
Surfing at La Libertad, El Salvador
It’s not surprising that the beach in La Libertad is packed on Sundays. The port town is less than an hour’s drive from the choked capital of San Salvador, its oceanfront restaurants serve the finest mariscada (creamy seafood soup) in the country and, of course, there’s el surf. The western end of the beach here has one of the longest right point breaks, prosaically called punta roca (rocky point), in the world. On a good day – and with year-round warm water and consistent and uncrowded waves there are plenty of those – skilled surfistas can ride a thousand yards from the head of the point into the beach. Amateur surfers, meanwhile, opt for the section of gentler waves, known as La Paz, that roll into the mid-shore.
It’s rare to walk through the town without seeing one of the local boys running barefoot, board under arm, down to the sea or hanging outside the Hospital de las Tablas while a dent or tear is repaired. Some, like Jimmy Rottingham, whose American father kick-started the expat surf scene when he arrived in the 1970s (witness the psychedelic surfboards on the walls of Punta Roca restaurant), have become semi-professional.
Puerto La Libertad is 34km south of San Salvador; there are frequent buses. In La Libertad, you can rent boards from Mango’s Lounge and Hospital de Tablas.
Surf boats on the southern seas, The Maldives
Imagine a series of perfect tropical reef breaks populated by parrotfish, turtles and manta rays, over which crystalline waves roll with regularity. Surf conditions like these are hard to find, but charter a surf boat in the Maldives and you can anchor off the break of your choice early in the morning, when waves like these will be there for the taking. When the late risers paddle out, simply clamber back onto your floating hotel and enjoy a leisurely breakfast while you sail away to more distant, isolated areas.
A two-week trip here in peak surf season (July/August) may net you fourteen consecutive days of head-high surf. You’ll never need to wear more than board shorts, a rash vest and plenty of sun cream, and it’s easy enough to get in five sessions a day, since you’re literally living next to the breaks. Downtime can be spent snorkelling the reefs, chilling out on deck with a book or snoozing in the sea breeze.
You should be a good intermediate or advanced surfer with experience of surfing reefs, as there are no beach breaks in the Maldives. Xoxxisurf (www.xoxxisurf.com) offers one-week surf-boat charters.