It’s tricky learning how to surf. It’s one of the most challenging sports to master, and if you’ve already begun your surfing journey, you’ll know this firsthand. But even the best surfers never truly master the ocean and always try to improve their surfing or challenge themselves in new waves. It’s a never-ending process.
While that may sound intimidating if you’re just starting, don’t stress. You have to take it one step at a time. But rather than grabbing any old board and heading out to the next beach you see, there are some important factors you need to consider first.
One of the most important things is the location, as learning to surf requires specific conditions. When those variables come together can create an awesome, safe, and enjoyable first surf experience. So no, your first surf session doesn’t have to involve tumbling around in the whitewater and dragging a huge foamy behind you by the leg rope.
Your first surf should be safe and fun and make you want to come back for more; after all, you want to become addicted like me, right? Before we dive into the best beginner surf destinations in the USA, let’s discover why choosing the right spot is crucial and the most important factors you must consider when choosing a spot. We have a ton to get through, so let’s dive right in.
Why is Choosing The Right Spot Important for Beginners?
Learning & Progression
Nothing puts a beginner off more than bad conditions. 99% of the time, it leads to a horrible first experience and can put some people off for life. Conditions make the difference between spending your first surf lesson mostly underwater and frustrated or having the time of your life!
As you progress, the right conditions are crucial in allowing you to practice specific things, for example, going from riding the whitewater to surfing the unbroken wave. You’ll need the right waves to do this.
Surfing can be dangerous. After all, you’re in the ocean, which is unpredictable and infinitely more powerful than even the best surfers. All of which are humbled by it at some stage. As a beginner, you want calm, clean waves breaking over sand–conditions that make surfing as easy as possible.
The right spot/conditions are make or break for beginner surf enjoyment. If you’re surfing a powerful reef break with huge waves, you’ll probably hate it and want to quit surfing forever. Whereas if you head to a lovely beach break with small waves, you’ll have a great time. So what should you consider when choosing a spot?
Key Factors to Consider When Choosing A Beginner Surf Spot
In Surfing, there are several types of waves, well actually, there are countless, but most of them fit into four categories:
Beachbreak – Waves breaking over sand
Reef break – Waves breaking over coral or rock reef
Rivermouth – Waves breaking into or across the mouth of a river
Pointbreak – Waves breaking down the edge of a headland or outcrop of land
While some of the world’s best surf spots are reef and pointbreaks, due to the predictability of how they break, as a beginner, aim for a beach break as sand is much softer than the reef (duh), and the waves are generally more forgiving.
As a beginner, the smaller the waves, the better. You want waves with enough power to push you along in the whitewater but with minimal consequence if you fall. It also makes walking/paddling and handling your board significantly easier as less water moves around.
Wave Consistency/Swell Exposure
There are beginner and advanced surf spots in surfing, and one of the most notable factors that separate the two is the exposure to swell. The more exposed a break is to swell (meaning it faces directly toward the prominent swell direction), the less suitable it is for beginners, as the waves are bigger and more powerful more often. Instead, you want a sheltered break, less exposed to swell.
At some spots, crowds play a major role in your surf experience. The more people in the lineup (the area where surfers position themselves to catch waves), the fewer waves there are for you. And, of course, you want to maximize your wave count and the time spent on your feet.
Local Surf Culture
Having a friendly vibe in and around the water is essential when learning to surf. Despite their laid-back reputation, surfers are far from it in some spots! Local surfers can be hostile and even aggressive toward novice riders at some locations. Thankfully, the best beginner surf spots in the USA don’t have this issue.
Accessibility & Facilities
You need great facilities around you to make surfing easy and enjoyable. Rocking up to an empty windswept beach on your lonesome to surf isn’t that appealing. Instead, you want to choose a beach with a car park, easy access, surf school, showers, changing rooms, and a cafe for a cuppa, never goes a miss. These small things combine to make that first surf experience all the better.
Best Beginner Surf Spots in the USA
While there are hundreds of places to learn surfing in the States, we’ve narrowed things down to only the best. Spots with infrastructure and combine conditions and accessibility to make your first surf experience as best as possible. From Florida to California and Hawaii, here are the best beginner surf spots in the USA.
Best Beginner Spots in California
A wave that needs to introduction, a pointbreak style wave perfect for learners and surfers who ride longboards. Malibu is an iconic wave and a break that has become synonymous with American surf culture. When it’s one, one of the best waves in California. If you’re learning to surf or ride a longboard, Malibu’s mellow, slow-paced pointbreak is a dream.
Despite this, Malibu has some crazy crowds, and it can be difficult to ride a wave yourself. Luckily, if the point gets too much, just around the headland lies Zuma, a beach break that can have fun waves for all abilities. Zuma can be a great place to learn how to surf as the beach is long and flat–perfect for learning.
Just outside of Ventura lies another epic beginner surf spot. Ventura is famed for its perfect pointbreaks and for producing one of the most influential surfers to ever live in Dane Reynolds. But nestled between the perfect pointbreaks and pro surfers are some epic spots for learning. Mondos is a long flat beach with mellow forgiving waves; the ideal place to learn in a thriving surf town.
Doheny State Beach, Dana Point
Doheny state beach is one of the best beginner surf spots in the USA. Another long flat beach (see the trend here?), with mellow, whitewater waves breaking over it most of the time. Doheny is just north of San Clemente, one of the world’s best surf towns, with a wave-rich coastline that hosts Trestles, a high-performance A-frame pointbreak where the world’s best battle it out for the WSL finals every September.
Best Beginner Spots in Florida
On the East Coast, you won’t find the same swell consistency or wave quality as in California, but what you will find are warmer waters, even sunnier skies, and more beginner-friendly waves. The state has hundreds of beaches perfect for learning, but rather than break them all down, here are the top two.
Cocoa Beach is famous in surfing as it’s the hometown of 11x world champion and surfing legend Kelly Slater. A small beach town with mushy beach break waves most of the year. This makes Kelly’s prowess in waves of consequence even more mind-blowing!
As a beginner, Cocoa Beach offers the perfect combination of soft waves, surf infrastructure (surf schools, hire shops, stores, and easy access), excellent weather, and warm water. If you’re in Florida and want one of the best places to learn surfing, you’ll be hard-pushed to find better.
New Smyrna is another Floridian wave and a spot that’s produced some of the state’s best surfers. While New Smyrna Beach does get bigger waves occasionally, most of the time, the waves are mushy and forgiving. There are countless surf schools to hire the right equipment and tap into some professional surf coach knowledge.
Best Beginner Spots in Hawaii
Where better to learn surfing in America than where it all started? Hawaii and surfing are synonymous worldwide, and the sport is firmly ingrained into the way of life throughout the islands.
Although Waikiki is a reef break, the waves peel perfectly before fizzling into deep water–allowing you to catch your first waves and quickly progress onto riding unbroken waves at the same spot. Pretty cool, right? Honolulu, known to locals as a “town,” has countless surf schools where you can hire a board or take lessons.
Further along, the Honolulu coast lies Ala Moana, a wave that, on its day, produces world-class barreling waves for advanced surfers. However, the wave is a mellow reef break peak on a typical day! The only downside is that it’s a reef break and one of the shallower spots on our list.
Puena Point, North Shore
Just across from Halewia, a world-class and infamous break on Oahu’s famous North Shore, is a forgiving and less frightening wave. Puena point breaks in the shadow of a reef further out, so the waves become softer by the time they break. This gives you an excellent opportunity to sample some North Shore waves without the terror typically associated with a stretch of coast known as the seven-mile miracle.
Best Beginner Spots From Around the World
Outside the States, there are some incredible places for learning how to surf, many of which are located in beautiful bucket list-type destinations.
Bali has been attracting surfers and tourists for decades. The Indonesian island, dubbed the “island of the gods,” beautifully combines culture, affordability, and climate. Oh, and the waves aren’t bad, either! Bali has terrific waves for all abilities, but as a beginner, some great places to start include Old Mans in Canngu, Kuta Beach in Kuta, and on a small day, Padang Padang in Uluwatu.
Australia’s Gold Coast is one of the top surf destinations on the planet: sunny skies, warm waters, and enough surf spots to keep you occupied for a lifetime. The golden sands that line the coast provide the perfect learning conditions. Check out Surfers Paradise, Coolangatta, and Cabarita to get started. Greenmount Beach in Coolangatta is one of my personal favorites.
Another nation that combines a tropical climate and great surf. Costa Rica has a thriving tourist /digital nomad industry with hundreds of world-class and beginner-friendly waves. If you’re looking for the best country to head to on vacation to learn how to surf, check out Santa Teresa and Jaco.
Best Beginner Surf Spots USA – Summary
We are extremely lucky in the US to have many incredible surf spots dotted around our coastline. Many of the best beginner surf spots in the USA are just short drive or quick domestic flight from many cities in North America. We hope this guide has helped you choose where to learn surfing in the US easier! Now you know what to look for conditions-wise and where to go, it’s time to get out there and give it a crack. Good luck and happy surfing.!
Dan Harmon is a content writer and full-time surf travel enthusiast. He travels the world full-time while creating surf content, traveling to the world’s best surf destinations, and hunting out some lesser-known corners. You can follow more of Dan’s travels over on his YouTube Channel, website, and Instagram.