The Best Beginner Waves in North America

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Produced in partnership with Founders Brewing Co.

Every great surfer starts somewhere. The next one might be you. Find out by taking the first step and stealing away for a day (or a few) at one of these beginner-friendly breaks. At these five killer spots, you’ll find predictable surf, helpful instruction, and a sandy bottom (great if you should inevitably fall…over and over). Who knows? One surf session could be the start of a great new chapter for you. There’s only one way to find out.

La Jolla Shores, CA

La Jolla Shores in La Jolla San Diego, Southern California
Shutterstock

One of the most popular surf spots in San Diego got that way for a reason: La Jolla Shores features a unique, long flat sandbar that’s ideal for learners, and consistent surf year-round (though it’s best from late fall to early spring). The wind-protected beach break features a unique amount of variability among those gentle waves, too: Since the surf gets bigger the higher up the beach you walk, there’s room to check your progress, even in a single session. Surf Diva offers rentals along with lessons for beginners and intermediates. Once you’ve maxed out on the board, grab a snorkel and check out a few of the seven caves that are part of the La Jolla Underwater Park, where you’ll encounter everything from leopard sharks to brilliant orange garibaldi goldfish.

Hanalei Bay, Kauai, HI

sunrise off the coast over Hanalei Ba
Shutterstock

When you’re waiting for surf atop a board in Hanalei Bay, it’s easy to get awe-struck by the view: zoom out and you might catch multiple rainbows rising from the misty mountains. But then, just as predictably, you catch a wave: this two-mile-wide North Shore spot delivers right-breaking barrels on the regular, and a soft sandy bottom lends forgiveness. Average water temperatures in the mid-70s make longer sessions a sure bet; book a few days here and you might be surprised how much you improve. Beware of strong currents, and winter surf (September through May) that could test your abilities. Book lessons at Hanalei Surf School and you may land a session taught by a pro like Evan Valiere.

 

Kill Devil Hills, NC

Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
Shutterstock

The East Coast’s biggest, best, and most reliable surf can be found on the spindly chain of islands called the Outer Banks, which juts out miles into the Atlantic, nearly to the continental shelf. And though word has gotten out—you’ll find crowds on a good day, for sure—these breaks tend to be less populated than other spots along the Atlantic coast. Water warmed by the gulf stream means you can forego wearing a wetsuit much of the year, and when you do need to wear one, it’s worth it: Winter swells can bring tubes galore. Even in spotty summer surf, the folks at Outer Banks Surf School can get you wave-riding in short order.

 

Belmar, NJ

Attempting to surf in New Jersey can be an exercise fraught with crowds, rules and restrictions, and difficulty accessing the good breaks. That’s not the case in Belmar, where you’ll find beach and jetty breaks that are fun even when they’re not firing hurricane-aided 8-footers…along with parking spots (hey, don’t underestimate the need). Eastern Lines stands at one of the best breaks in the area near 16th Avenue, rents boards and wetsuits, and offers lessons daily from late May through September. The latter month brings the best waves and the Belmar Pro competition.

 

Tofino, BC, Canada

surfing in Tofino BC
Shutterstock

If you’ve ever dreamed of surfing in a pristine Pacific Northwest setting—cold water, plenty of atmospheric light and fog, rocky, pine-studded coastlines—well, put Tofino on your bucket list. The small surf town is still getting used to its newfound popularity, but it’s far from crowded. Beginners should start in Cox Bay, a wide, long beach-break that offers plenty of chances to fall off your board safely before conquering it, with help from the folks at Tofino Surf School. Winter brings the biggest waves (and coldest air and water temps—beware), along with storms so fierce and varied that “Storm Watching” is a local thing (Google it). Who needs the sun to surf, anyway?

 

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Gear to Grab Some Waves:

 

The Cooler, Quicker Foam-Topped Board

surfboard catch surf

Available from 6’ to 9’, the CatchSurf LOG provides plenty of float to up your number of caught waves in no time. The supremely rideable board features triple wood stringers for stiffness and removable fins for maneuverability, along with high-visibility retro graphics. Ride one and you might put that warehouse club board you’ve been rocking away for good. [$375; catchsurf.com]

 

A Burn-Banning Rash Guard

patagonia rash guard

Even if your beginner, warm-water surf session isn’t anything serious, you should still take sun protection seriously. The easiest way to do it is to don a rash guard like Patagonia’s R0 Hoody, which has plenty of flex, along with 50+ UPF sun protection—allowing you to live to surf another day, skin intact. [$65; patagonia.com]

 

A Reef-Safe Sunscreen

raw sunscreen

Conventional sunscreen destroys reefs, and a vanguard of countries and states (such as Hawaii) have already outlawed it. Raw Love Reef Safe Sunscreen takes a more eco-conscious approach (and gets around the bans) by using zinc to block out UVA, UVB, and broad spectrum rays to 35 SPF. [$25, rawlovesunscreen.com]

 

A Versatile All-Day Ale

All Day Vacay IPA
Authentic Asheville

Summer beer just got a whole lot better. Founders All Day Vacay features soft wheat malt, low bitterness, and stone fruit and citrus notes, along with the mild hoppiness you’re already familiar with. At a sessionable 4.6 percent ABV, you can enjoy a few over the course of a day in and out of the waves. [foundersbrewing.com]

 

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