20 Places To Surf Before 2020 (Is Over)
How many of these do you have left?
Way back in 2017 — before #MeToo, Brexit, and Aussie bushfires — when Stab was still warming itself beneath the steam of the printing press, we ran a cover story called “20 Places To Surf Before 2020.” It featured far out places and promised exotic waves in places like Norway, Oman, Angola, and more. The perfect article to birth an inferiority complex in even the most well-inked passports.
Now it’s 2020 and, except for a protest or two (the bacterial DMZ), the global surf community’s been on a COVID lockdown for most of the year. Very little travel. We’re just reliving old trips and dreaming up new ones. And it made us curious — did anyone actually do it? Reach all 20, that is? No. Of course not. But did anyone come close? If so, how close?
As we’ve mentioned, COVID might actually be the perfect time for surf exploration, and Stab is committed to helping those at the tip of the traveling spear. Each week, till this pandemic is in the rearview we’ll be sharing a trip you can — and probably should — take. Maybe it’ll be a wave pool. Maybe it’ll be an exotic-domestic trip you’d never considered. Or maybe it’ll be across the globe, to one of the 20 locations listed below. Norway’s starting to reopen. Cuba can’t stay closed forever. Russia’s not that far away.
Know a place that’s welcoming surfers? Have a hack that can get people out of Australia? Email me at [email protected]
Find the original feature, penned by Elliot Struck, below.
Light the campfire, shuck me a fresh oyster and pop the lid off that moonshine! Surf travel is too easy in the new age, and overcrowding, to Stab, signals the need to dial that trajectory a little further. While we’re unashamedly partial to a body of water that houses enjoyable waves in close proximity to a city bursting with champagne bubbles and friendly peoples, there’s also a need, somewhere deep, for pure isolation and the thrill of being the first man to surf a wave. From Mauritania, to the Faroe Islands, to Italy, to Cuba, to Oman, to Western Sahara and beyond, here’s 20 places that you truly must try to surf before 2020.
If you’re anything like Stab, you’ll see this and wonder when the last time you were so deeply stirred by a surf photo was. This right, which represents Icelandic surfing at its most silky, is no mirage, either – it’s a consistent, hollow wave that doesn’t close out.
Ever wanted to dance with the devil in the pale (green) moonlight? Iceland, a first world country with every possible modern amenity, engaging culture and world class waves is still, somehow, very young as a surf culture (though, no less enthusiastic for it). “You’d never envision that you could find waves that good, in a place that cold,” says photographer Chris Burkard. “I didn’t know what to think, I thought I’d landed on the moon.” And he’s right. The selection of photos Burkard sent Stab for this location was the hardest to whittle down: Endless surreal, otherworldly landscape with perfect barrels grinding through the foreground. “I fell in love with the whole environment and everything about the location itself,” continues Burkard. “It’s a bit of a spiritual experience. There’s an insane surf scene there now, which is the coolest part. There’s some great surfers and talented photographers, and even some guys running some low-key surf tourism, which is done in a cool way because it allows people to go and see the place for themselves if they want to. You don’t have to travel around with them – if you prefer, they’ll just tell you where to go. Don’t try and figure it all out yourself. If you tap into the local scene, you get a different experience and see a lot of places you never would have gone to, had you not had the help. It’s so easy online now, in Iceland it’ll take you 10 minutes to find another Icelandic surfer who’ll show you around.” Get there within the next three years, before it’s overrun with travelling surfers looking for an ice-cream headache and some dinner party stories.
Waves: Points in the surrounding fjords that break on large swells, beachies with 40-knot offshores and violent currents, and thick shelves in the more remote northern areas. Nothing subtle, here.
Cuisine: “You have to try the rotten shark,” says Burkard. “It’s a delicacy, and it’s a kinda disgusting one, but it’s worth giving it a go once in your life. It won’t be the best meal you’ll have. But it’ll certainly be a memorable one. There was a time when the food in Iceland and Norway was brutal, just so bad and expensive. Now they have everything, they’ve figured it out.”
Nightlife: During the summer, Iceland never gets dark. Cities like Reykjavik don’t sleep. Which isn’t to say there’s no partying – it just doesn’t really happen at “night.” Once you’re out into the remote areas (where the better waves are), there’s usually not a whole lot more than one or two restaurants, bars, and bakeries per town.
Sharks: Greenland sharks are present in the North Atlantic – they’re the ones known for eating polar bears, horses, sheep, and seals.
Locals: There’s a small group of core surfers in Iceland who spend their days exploring every inch of the country’s coastline. Hours of driving are usually necessary to follow weather conditions and find waves. Ride in a local’s slipstream, if possible. You’ll save yourself a lot of searching.
Best time of year: Winter! It ain’t gonna be warm, but it’ll be memorable.
What you’ll need: A varied quiver is very important here. You can expect to find everything from two foot points to thick shelves. Water temp varies greatly by location and time of year. You’ll want a 6mm suit with the thickest booties and gloves you can find if you go in the winter.
Angola? Yes, there is surf. This nation in Southern Africa, dripping in varied terrain like tropical Atlantic beaches, a labyrinth of rivers and sub-Saharan desert that extends across the border into Namibia, is home to some incredible lefts that haven’t been blown out a la Skeleton Bay yet. The capital, Luanda, which in 2015 was the world’s most expensive city, is built on a rather wild divide: At the top, oil-rich biz class, and at the bottom, gutter-poor locals. Thus, unsurprisingly, corruption and bribery is rife. Luckily, the world-class lefts are found a world away down in the south where the true locals of Angola welcome travellers with open arms. Culturally, expect a mix of post-colonial Portuguese with local Angolan tribal influence. You’ll need Angolan kwanza and US bucks in your pocket, and a little Portuguese dialect will go a long way.
Waves: The Angolan coastline favours long, left, sand-bottom points. Think: Playful Skeleton Bay. Only, completely uncrowded.
Cuisine: The country’s colonial history is reflected in its Portuguese-influenced cuisine. There’s some palatable meat stews and quite enjoyable fish dishes.
Nightlife: Don’t come here to party. Unless you’re planning a few nights in capital Luanda, entertainment in the desert is mostly non-existent.
Sharks: Surprisingly, no concern. Don’t sweat it.
Locals: When it comes to surfing, there are no locals. You may run into a handful of travelling expats. But, be prepared to surf on your own – a lot.
Best time of year: May to September, which in Angola are the winter months.
What you’ll need: A 3/2mm wetsuit, regular shortboards, good travel insurance, camping equipment, water, sunscreen.
Bow, white devil: Bow your head to the economic power, to the unfathomable efficiency, to the flawless preservation of culture, to the culinary superiority, to the technological advancements, to the kinkiest-ever sex industry, that is the incomparable nation of Japan. And once you’re done bowing, stretch your legs out on the bullet train as you burn towards the coast at a silent 320km per hour. You’re gonna need your rest for those rivermouth barrels. Slurp a ramen, guzzle a Kirin and get to know one of the most bizarre, entertaining places you’ve ever been. Endless crowds of beautiful (though notoriously difficult to engage) women, and a food culture that David Chang believes is the world’s best, all wrapped in a pulsing shroud of kitsch neon. Surf-wise, typhoons are king here. Remember Kai Neville’s Dear Suburbia? The grinding, almost Sand Spit-esque right that Dane Reynolds and co light up? And those mutant tubs John Florence stands tall in? Yeah, timing is everything here, and if you nail it, you’ll know it. Though, Japan’s a safe bet either way, because even if the conditions don’t come through, you’re hardly stuck in no-man’s land: Instead you’re surrounded by more cultural hits and potential mischief than you’ll ever be able to consume. But, don’t sleep on it. Crowds have been growing steadily year on year, and surfing is most certainly popular. It won’t be long until solo sessions are unattainable. Get the bone broth while it’s hot.
Waves: Beachies, and some of the world’s best rivermouths, when they’re on. There’s some mysto reefs in the north, but jump to “locals” before rolling up all excited.
Cuisine: Where to begin. Despite what the west’s bastardised version of Japanese cuisine tells you, sushi train isn’t ubiquitous. Ramen, udon, and most kinds of meat served over rice are the staples in most places. Which isn’t to say you won’t come across some of the best sushi you’ve ever eaten. You’ll also eat a LOT of minimart food, which is far better than it sounds. Really, Japan’s food culture is too incredibly varied to do justice here.
Nightlife: Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world for nightlife. Every suburb boasts its own unique spectrum of dining, drinking and debauch. Sake and karaoke, while somewhat cliched, are musts.
Sharks: The country certainly ain’t notorious for them.
Locals: A wide spectrum; For the most part, overly-friendly and thrilled to offer hospitality. On the other end, some spots are controlled by Yakuza members, who’ll only allow a certain number of surfers in the water at one time, regardless of how famous they are.
Best time of year: July to September. Typhoon season, honey.
What you’ll need: Small wave boards and one step up, unless you’re chasing a typhoon, in which case you’ll want as much performance volume as you can stuff in your coffin.
Thanks to Globe’s film, Strange Rumblings, the world swiftly came to realise that Mozambique, the southern African nation whose long Indian Ocean coastline is dotted with popular beaches like Tofo, as well as offshore marine parks, was also home to a Superbank-esque righthander, now known as the African Kirra. Visually, Mozam is a trip: In the Quirimbas Archipelago, a 250km stretch of coral islands, mangrove-covered Ibo Island has colonial-era ruins surviving from a period of Portuguese rule. While Mozambique is known for the surf at Ponto do Ouro, Tofo and African Kirra, they’re but a pinch in the hand of other amazing tropical waves on offer. Yep. And that’s only half of the paradise puzzle: Mozambique is the Caribbean of Africa. Warm, blue water and mellow, safe vibes. Know any Portuguese? Don’t be shy. And, some Metical, South African Rand and a few Euros will all get you what you need.
Waves: Warm, tropical blue righthand points, beachbreaks and reefs. Quite heavenly, to be honest.
Cuisine: Portuguese is the main player here. Matapa is a common sauce, made from cassava leaves or other greens, ground peanuts or coconut, and sometimes with shrimp. The staple food for many Mozambicans is ncima, a thick porridge made from maize/corn flour. Cassava and rice are also eaten as staple carbs. Perfect for a long day of rifling endless fluoro tubes.
Nightlife: Island vibes. Outdoor and very active in most towns and villages. Oh, and… Rum!
Sharks: Very sharky, as with most east African countries. Zambezi/Bull sharks. But, no recent attacks or encounters reported.
Locals: Some very talented locals in the Ponto do Ouro and Tofo areas, but otherwise very few. There’s a lot of South African and European expats in the same areas. Outside of these, however… no one.
Best time of year: There’s waves year-round. Big, southerly winter swells wrapping around from South Africa are best during April to September, and shorter, punchier cyclone swells in summer.
What you’ll need: Trunks, regular shortboards, travel insurance, sunscreen, water.
As a surfing destination, the 7,107 islands of The Philippines are greatly overshadowed by nearby Indonesia, but on their day, the waves in The Philippines can have every bit of the quality of its more famous neighbour – only with a fraction of the crowds. With several swell sources, including ferocious western Pacific typhoons, the many charted coral reef waves on the eastern side of the country have earned a reputation for quality – and for maddening inconsistency, being either very good, or dead flat. The western side of the country on the South China Sea, more recently renamed the “West Philippine Sea” in a frenzy of anti-Chinese patriotism, is actually more popular with Filipino surfers and has the most local surfers in the country, by far. What do they speak? Certainly not Spanish, despite being a Spanish colony for more than 300 years. There are many regional languages with Spanish vocabulary including dominant Tagalog, Visayan, and Ilocano, but thanks to the American colonial period, all Filipinos speak basic English with a distinctive accent. Since they can’t pronounce the letter “F”, locals will ask if you’re “here for surping?” Filipino culture has been described as “300 years in a convent with the Spanish and 50 years in Hollywood with the Americans.” By far the most westernised country in Asia, The Philippines is also one of the most Catholic countries in the world, with 88 percent of the population describing themselves as God-fearing Roman Catholics. The level of westernisation makes travelling in The Philippines easy, compared to Indonesia or other Asian countries, as there’s always someone who speaks English nearby.
Waves: Powerful and hollow reef waves on the Pacific side. From August to November, it can be absolutely world-class with a solid typhoon swell and seasonal offshore southwest “Habagat” winds. Softer point, reef and beachbreak waves on the West Philippine Sea coast, from the northeast “Amihan” monsoon from November to February.
Cuisine: Filipino food has a grim reputation among foreign visitors, who marvel at the national appetite for American-style junk food, including Coca-Cola by the litre, fast food from the ubiquitous Jollibee chain, vast quantities of glazed donuts (which are a national obsession), hot dogs for breakfast, and cases of imported canned fruit; all while virtually ignoring the wide variety of fresh fruits growing in tropical profusion all over the archipelago.
Nightlife: Fast and furious in Manila, Cebu and Davao City – more lively nightclubs and bars with attractive dancing gals than you can possibly count, and plenty of cold San Miguel Pale Pilsen and Tanduay Rhum available. Many a surfer has gone on a flat spell bender in town for a week or more, only to be sucked into the maelstrom and never seen on the coast again. You have been warned.
Sharks: We can assume there are a few left, but with millions of subsistence fishermen on the sea daily, it’s a short life for most marine creatures in The Philippines… before they get caught and eaten.
Locals: There are many enthusiastic local surfers, mainly on the West Philippine Sea side of the country, with scattered outposts like Baler on the more remote Pacific side. Known to be very friendly with visitors, Filipino surfers are somewhat behind their Indonesian rivals in development, but rapidly catching up in equipment and contest experience.
What you’ll need: A sleek tubeshooter for major typhoon swells on the Pacific side, a standard thruster or quad for the West Philippine Sea waves with a longboard in reserve for the points. The Philippines is too warm for a wetsuit at any time of year.
Is there a less obvious surf destination than Oman? Surprisingly, it’s a thrilling one. The coastline enjoys considerable swell from the Arabian Sea, and the occasional long-period Indian Ocean superswell. There are quite a few sand points on the coast which are regularly surfed, and the large offshore island of Masirah has numerous quality waves. Of course, as in many desert regions, wind can be a significant factor on the quality of the waves. While it isn’t all peaches with the neighbours, Oman is easily the safest country in the Middle East. A stable government, great roads, good infrastructure, many foreign residents and none of the violent chaos of nearby Yemen or the oppressive religiosity of Saudi Arabia or Iran. You’ll hear a lot of Arabic with an Omani accent, but English is quite common due to a longstanding military alliance with the UK and more recently, the USA. Like other countries in the region, there are basically two cultures in Oman: The traditional (and quite conservative) Omani Arab world, and the the rest of the population, which consists of Indians, Filipinos, Sri Lankans, and people of many other nationalities working in the country. Omani citizens are at the top – everyone else works for them. But enough of that… how about the surf?
Waves: Frequent windswell from the Arabian Sea affects the coast of Oman, all the way to the border with Yemen in the south. While the ancient capital of Muscat is sheltered inside the Gulf of Aden, a short drive to the exposed coast at Al-Ashkhara or further south to Salalah will show the potential. Swell? Occasional Arabian Sea cyclones or very large, long-period Indian Ocean groundswells affect the coast of Oman from April to October, and light up the best right points on the mainland and the reefbreaks of Masirah Island with excellent surf.
Cuisine: Healthy Middle Eastern fare, with plenty of imported rice, flat bread and Pepsi-Cola, which seems to have a lock on soft drink in the country. Beer is hard to get and spirits are virtually unknown.
Nightlife: Not much, but interesting when you can find it in the capital of Muscat. Imported Moroccan go-go dancers are a treat, as are the chubby (but graceful) dancers in the Indian nightclubs.
Sharks: Thousands of small-ish sharks are regularly caught and exported for the meat and fin trade, so they are definitely out there, as are an incredible amount of fish.
Locals: A few indigenous Omani surfers, though the closest thing to a “local” would be the many surfers from Dubai in the UAE, who drop everything and drive across the desert to Oman at the first sign of a swell to enjoy the Indian Ocean juice at several popular pointbreaks. Nearby hotels even cater to visiting surfers.
What you’ll need: Standard shortboard for the better days at the points and the thumping beachbreaks on Masirah Island. Water temps are quite warm, though a vest will come in handy for the occasional windchill.
Given the way it’s perceived by the outside world (picture the beautifully Photoshopped image of Putin riding a bear, shirtless), it’s very surprising to learn that Russia has potential to be a surf mecca. Kamchatka is the pleasure zone here, and according to photographer Chris Burkard, it’s an untapped fountain of surf bliss. “Kamchatka is one of the most incredibly beautiful places I’ve ever been to,” he says. “It’s a place that is so ripe for discovery. There could so easily be the next J-Bay there. If it’s anywhere, it’s out there. That’s my honest opinion. But it’s a place that’s gonna take some time.” Given the Russian condition, Burkard says that the safest he felt there was out in the middle of nowhere – away from people. But, that comes with its caveats. “We went to a place that’s rampant with bears,” he recalls. “They’re everywhere. It’s the biggest brown bear population in the world. We surfed with an old Russian military truck, all through the volcanic black sand beaches. It was wild.” A good tip? Don’t just fly in there with no plans. “It’s not so much sketchy as it’s… I would never want to go there solo, without a fixer – someone dialled in. Hire a fixer, say “here’s where we wanna go, how do we access these places?” and they’ll have an idea. The people that work there are used to this stuff. They organise trips for people like Travis Rice to go heli-boarding. Google “travel Kamchatka” – it’s surprising how easy it is to find someone who’ll take you around.” Simple! And, how about the must-do, must-see, must-try experiences in Russia? “Just try to stay alive.”
Waves: Mainly endless open stretches of black sand beachbreaks. Large rivermouths and some potential reef setups. But the black sand beachies are most prominent, and some “super heavy ones” at that, says Burkard.
Cuisine: If you’re heading out to Kamchatka, you’re packing for yourself, so get whatever will last. Russia’s hardly famous for its food. But that’s not why you came here anyway, right?
Nightlife: If you’re heading out on the Kamchatka Peninsula, you’ll only have yourself for entertainment. Plenty of trouble to find in the bigger cities, though. Need a wife?
Sharks: Nothing that’s really known to attack humans. Not a big concern. Be more worried about the bears.
Locals: The salmon poachers are the real locals out there.
Best time of year: August to November for Kamchatka.
What you’ll need: Quite a bit of foam volume, as the beaches can get good but are never really huge. A 5mm hooded suit with booties (gloves optional). Oh, and some bear boxes/a gun for the grizzlies. Yep, seriously.
On the off-chance that you were wondering how we came to settle on this issue’s cover, it played out like so: Every single location we visit here had one standout image from the selections we were sent – with the exception of Mauritania. The image you see here worked better as a double (that shipwreck!) and it was decided that the remaining image was also the best cover option.
Ever heard of Mauritania? This nation was created in 1960 from the territory of colonial French West Africa, as a buffer between the Black Christians to the south and the Muslim Arabs to the north. The country is overwhelmingly desert, with vast areas completely unpopulated. The capital of Nouakchott has grown from a fishing village at independence to a city of more than one million people. The primary area of interest for surfers is the Nouadhibou Peninsula in the far north, near the city of Nouadhibou. This area is technically No Man’s Land, formerly divided in colonial days between the Spanish Sahara and French West Africa with a fence down the middle of the peninsula, which has since been removed. Since the Spanish left in 1975, there’s been serious fighting on the peninsula between Morocco and Mauritania, and the area has been under the control of the Mauritanian Army since 1990. There is a de facto international border about 20 clicks north of the peninsula, crossed regularly in both directions by private and commercial vehicles. You’ll hear French and Arabic, and English is seldom heard outside the community of potential African migrants in Nouadhibou. The culture of the Sahara is strong in Mauritania, with many people living urban lifestyles in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou but maintaining a connection to the vast, empty interior of the Sahara Desert. Surfing is hardly a national sport.
Waves: Large, long-period north Atlantic groundswell from October to April is the recipe for pointbreak perfection on the Nouadhibou Peninsula. December and January are the two months with the least local wind.
Cuisine: Basic fare, with plenty of rice and meat. Great fishing on the Peninsula, but most of the fish are for export and not consumed locally.
Nightlife: None to speak of other than a few basic restaurants in Nouadhibou town. With thousands of African migrants in Nouadhibou looking for funding to continue their journey to Europe, white guys walking around at night looking for a good time is not recommended – at all.
Sharks: Certainly a few around. The Raft of the Medusa, a famous painting in the Louvre Museum in Paris, depicts the aftermath of a shipwreck off the coast of Mauritania in 1816, in which hundreds of people died, many of them eaten by sharks.
Locals: No local surfers in Nouadhibou, but a small crew of friendly, mostly French expatriates in Nouakchott who surf The Wharf and other spots on a regular basis.
What you’ll need: Pack for solid pointbreak surf on bigger swells, and with several spots on the Peninsula able to hold as big as it gets, a two-board quiver would be a good idea. Wetsuits are necessary, since it can be quite cold early in the morning with offshore winds.
Are you a goofyfooter? Or, a regular footer who loves to drag? Chile is your jam. Know how many incredible left points like this there are in the country? Well, no one does. The whole nation is a coastline. Go get it.
Geographically, Chile is essentially one big coast. It’s long, narrow, and stretches down South America’s edge (more than 6,000 clicks of Pacific Ocean coastline, mama). So, yeah, there is surf. Literally thousands of potential spots, waiting for you to shuck. Varied, too; Every kinda setup you might hope to come across, often breaking with a similar power and genetic makeup to what you might find in California. “As soon as I got there, I realised this place was really just… California,” says photographer Chris Burkard. “I was surprised to see how similar it was. They grow the same food, the temperature is super similar, there were a lot of things that made me reminiscent of the area where my house is. It was like surfing places around home, except with perfect waves – Chile was somewhere that, to this day, I don’t think I’ve seen more pointbreak ruler-edge surf.” Now, there’s a lot of ways you can explore Chile, but according to Burkard, it’s still best experienced from the front seat of a vehicle. “Chile is safe and straight forward enough that you can jump in a car and drive up and down the coast. Given that it’s one of the biggest countries in the world, obviously it’ll take some time. You’re not just gonna go over there and get your spot right away. But you can still do a great, classic road trip where you hop in the car, point it where you wanna go, and drive there. And you’ll definitely stumble across waves that way. There’s so many sandbars everywhere. The wave that you saw 10 minutes down the road might be the best wave. That’s what makes it such a unique spot. It’s accessible, and as long as you know a little bit of Spanish, you’re going to be fine.”
Waves: “Sometimes you’re searching 10 days in the rain to get one good day, but when it happens… it was some of the best surf I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Burkard. Think: Amazing pointbreaks (a whole lot of them), some incredible reefs and plenty of enjoyable beachbreaks.
Cuisine: The avocados and the wine are what make Chile great. You’re in South America! Eat fresh fish whenever possible.
Nightlife: Depends on where you find yourself. Some of the best points in the country are more remote and you’re lucky to be within distance of anything more then a local pub or gas station. If you wanna get fruity and you’re happy to settle for an enjoyable beachie, then you’ll certainly have some fun.
Sharks: As with most places, there are some Great Whites out there, but there’s been seven shark attacks in Chile since 1934. They’re hardly a major concern.
Locals: There’s a blossoming local scene, but you can always find waves to yourself. Localism isn’t really an issue, though with Chile becoming more of a surf destination, that could change.
Best time of year: September to November is when those grinding points spring to life, and that’s where Chile really shines.
What you’ll need: Hire a sturdy 4×4, and pack it with 4/3mm neoprene and fishes, step-downs, and performance shooters.
“This is in the far south of Italy, one of the few places where you can still find uncrowded waves,” says the photographer, Roberto Montanari. “This wave is one of the area’s main waves, so it’s also one of the more crowded. But most of the time you can drive along the coast and see many lonely peaks breaking. It’s also a location not well known by most of the Italian surfers, because the area isn’t overexposed by the media yet, and the locals tend to preserve it as much as possible…” Hence why we won’t be naming this spot. Go do your research.
Owner of one of history’s richest cultural tapestries, Italy has generously given the world so very many gifts. But as we’ve recently come to learn, it still has more to give. Namely: Fun, skatepark waves, served Mediterranean-style. If surfing Lowers-esque peaks in trunks under a warm sun, before driving 20 minutes to a Roman Trattoria to wash down exquisite pizza with the smoothest wine in view of a 1,900-year-old structure is your jam, then Italy gots the toast. Admittedly, the island of Sardinia is home to the best waves and most paradise-vibe conditions. Capo Mannu, a Sardinian right and left, can get up to eight feet. But realistically, “scoring” in Italy will look more like four to six feet of rippable faces. There’s fun waves elsewhere too, the most surprising of which break just outside Rome. The two main winds you’ll need to know for the coast of Rome are Scirocco and Libeccio – they’re the wave-makers. Libeccio is the key to the best waves, mainly righthanders. Scirocco is responsible for the lefts, but also brings real bad weather, with low period intervals. Still, when you’re so close to one of the world’s greatest cities, you could do worse for surfing conditions. Italians are famously full of life, so try to roll with it apres-dark. There’s plenty of party hubs in Rome if you do your research, and if all else fails, ask: Ma dove si fa festa? (Where’s the party tonight?)
Waves: Surprisingly, everything from pointbreaks to ledges and beachies. Just don’t expect much power – it is the Mediterranean Sea. Picture a weaker SoCal with a completely different landscape. Nothing scary, everything fun. Sardinia is the pick, with good options in Puglia, Tuscany and Rome.
Cuisine: Oh, sweet baby Yeezus. Not only will the pizza and pasta be the best you’ve ever tasted, but the seafood is exquisite and Italians really know how to prepare meat.
Nightlife: Good times are easy to stumble on in Rome, no doubt – it’s one of the world’s greatest cities – and you’ll get fun waves 20 minutes away. Sardinia has a good nightlife in the summertime, but the waves ain’t as good.
Sharks: The Mediterranean certainly doesn’t top the list of places to worry about getting chomped.
Locals: Italians generally take great pride in their attire and hair curation; Italian surfers, less so, making them easy to spot. But one thing Italian surfers share with the rest of Italy, is passion. Banzai, near Rome, can get kinda rammed, but you can get spots in Sardinia to yourself.
Best time of year: “November and December, March and April,” says Leo Fioravanti. “The winter is pretty consistent, it’ll be fun four times a week. From spring to summer you’ll surf but not as often. During summer it sometimes goes flat for two months, which can happen. But so does the North Shore. Plus, you can still get some waves here and there.”
What you’ll need: In March and April, you’ll want a 4/3mm suit, but in November you can sneak a 3/2mm. Trunks only in summer. Bring an all-round shortboard, but also a groveller (swell can be inconsistent). You won’t be needing a step-up.
Yeah, this wave is as user-friendly as it looks. “Norway is a huge country, so it all depends on where you’re going, what you’re doing, what your goal is,” says Chris Burkard. “When I went to the Lofoten Islands, that to me was the most wave-rich and incredible spot. You’re surfing slabs, points, perfect beachbreaks, it gets the largest amount of swell in the world, those islands. I really was baffled by the whole environment of the place. There’s always a photograph you leave behind there.”
If you’re into devastatingly beautiful setups and gorgeous, open-minded people, then button that parka and step off the plane into Norway. This is a big country, so a plan is required to yield max pleasure. But if you’re simply after the most wave-rich zone, then take photographer Chris Burkard’s lead and shoot for the Lofoten Islands. “You’re surfing slabs, points, perfect beachbreaks… it gets the largest amount of swell in the world, those islands,” he says. “I really was baffled by the whole environment. There’s always a photograph you leave behind there. It’s a really hard place to score. Iceland, there’s always somewhere to go, because it’s an island, you can just go to the other side of the island. But in Norway, you’re settling in a spot. You’ll have the best trip of your life, then go there the next year and have the gnarliest experience you’ve ever had. These places take time.” Now, while half the attraction here might be the, uh, characteristics of Nordic peoples, real talk: In Norway, where you surf is very remote. Like, the middle of nowhere. Unlike in Iceland, where you’re always a couple of miles or hours away from a town, in Norway you can find yourself surfing in no-man’s land, seven or eight hours away from a hub. But right now might be the best time there’s ever been to travel to Norway for surf: It’s very, very far from being crowded, and the Norwegians have put their backs to the time when food in Norway was brutally bad and expensive, and have figured out what people who travel there want to eat. And, it ain’t rotten fish.
Waves: Pointbreaks, ledges, some fun beachbreaks. Harsh conditions (strong offshores, and a good chance of surfing in snow), but some absolute gems to be found.
Cuisine: “The fish, for sure,” says Burkard. “But try to decide before you get there how you feel about whale, as there’s a good chance you’ll be offered it. If you’re in a family home and it’s tradition… you’re probably not really gonna bum anyone out turning it down, but don’t hesitate – have your answer ready.”
Nightlife: If you’re hitting the Lofoten Islands, there’s not a whole lot more than very quaint and mellow small villages. Obviously there’s good times to be had in the bigger cities.
Sharks: For the most part, this isn’t something you’ll need to worry about. It certainly isn’t a big concern.
Locals: There’s a few Norwegian surfers around now, but very few are from the Lofoten Islands (the most wave-rich zone).
Best time of year: August to November is the best time for North Atlantic swells.
What you’ll need: A snowmobile to actually get out and check new waves. Performance shortboards work great here, especially when the waves get bigger and the ocean is rougher.
A less-frequently seen angle of a highly-documented wave. Skeleton Bay is by far the most well known surf destination on this list, but its inclusion here is due to the fact that, because of shifting sand patterns, the wave may well be a shell of its former self in a few short years. Best get there sharpish.
Namibia is by no means a new frontier when it comes to surfing. It’s been a shangri la for goofyfooters since imagery of the sand-bottom Skeleton Bay left started spilling onto magazine pages. But, sand patterns suggest that the wave quality we’re used to may well be endangered. That in mind, you should certainly be trying to get yourself there within the next three years. Despite its popularity among surf media, this is very much still the wild: Skeleton Bay sits where the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean coast. When you’re not racing down the famous lefthander, you’ll be privy to some diverse wildlife (including a significant cheetah population, and the occasional jackal), and German colonial-era architecture in capital Windhoek and coastal town Swakopmund. In the north, Etosha National Park’s salt pan draws game like rhinos and giraffes. But the real diamond is Skeleton Bay. The spot is remote, and Namibia is one of the world’s least populated countries (only 2.1 people per square kilometre) – meaning the gals are lonely and the crowds are bearable. Colonial German and Afrikaans make for a diverse and interesting local populous. Over 70% of Namibians belong to dark skinned, Bantu speaking peoples such as the Ovambo and Herero. Good news for Australians and Americans? English is the main dialect. Oh, and you’ll need Namibian dollars and South African rand.
Waves: World-class left points, reefs and beachbreaks on offer around the only three coastal towns; Luderitz, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.
Cuisine: Biltong (an air-dried meat, which is a bar snack staple, usually made from beef or kudu). Game, like antelope, ostrich or zebra, cooked on a braai (barbecue). Potjiekos (one-pot bush stew, usually cooked over a camp fire, and made with just about anything – although, chicken and vegetable is common).
Nightlife: There’s some great seafood restaurants and bars available in Swakopmund.
Sharks: No concern. I mean, they’re there, and occasionally you’ll see a mutilated seal carcass wash up, but… best not to think about ‘em.
Locals: A small, but healthy core group of locals in Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Luderitz.
Best time of year: The winter months of May to September. And yeah, it gets cold…
What you’ll need: 4/3mm and/or 3/2mm wetsuits, warm clothing for wind in winter, and sun and sand protection in summer.
A huge amount of stupidly fun hollow reefs, and an even bigger shark population? If you like your thrills served a little dangerously, this could be quite a time. Is surfing beneath that backdrop worth the paddle across the channel? Maybe!
Ah, Madagascar. This huge island nation off the southeast coast of Africa is home to thousands of animal species that you won’t find anywhere else, and a cultural mix of Southeast Asia, East Africa and European influence. The French occupation in particular left its mark, with bustling markets in every city filled with french dialect and fresh baguettes. Aside from the local currency, Malagasy ariary, you can also keep some Euros in the wallet. Madagascar is a wild ecosystem of rainforests, beaches and reefs. Two things in particular to be aware of, here. First, since it is the world’s third-least developed country, it’s virtually impossible to explore by land, save a few cities with an airstrip. Your best option for travelling the coastline in search of waves is by boat. Second, despite the cultural diversity, all Malagasy people have one overlap: fady. Essentially taboos that arose from ancient folk tales, fady is very powerful and governs daily life across Madagascar. While exploring the east coast, we came across one village which has developed new fady toward strangers; a major distrust and anger toward anyone not from their village, especially westerners, due to the terrifying and very real problem of human trafficking (kids being stolen by “small boats” like our surfboards, that were presumably canoes). Paddling in through the lineup from the boat, we were greeted with children running to the huts, screaming, and the men of the village gathering and staring out at us, anger and protection in their eyes. But don’t worry: It certainly isn’t like that everywhere.
Waves: You’ll likely encounter every variation of wave-type here, but the majority of setups are fast, hollow reefs.
Cuisine: Malagasy is one varied cuisine. You’ll taste influences from Southeast Asia, Africa, India, China and Europe. Zebu, the domesticated humped cattle, is unique to Madagascar and is similar to beef, though it’s well adapted to the tropical temperatures, and tastes more like rich game.
Nightlife: Whatever you can find outside of the capital Antananarivo. Beware of pick-pocketing in the capital though, especially at night.
Sharks: Uh, this is one of the sharkiest locations on earth. You’ll hear stories of 100-plus sharks caught in fishing nets every night on the east coast. And, fisherman pulled off the beach by large Zambezi/Bull sharks while fishing.
Locals: You’ll encounter some Malagasy locals in the more populated areas of Tuliar and Fort Dauphin. Some European expats, too. But otherwise, few and far between.
Best time of year: Winter months May to September for the south west coast, and summer months February to April for the east coast cyclones.
What you’ll need: Trunks, regular shortboards, good travel insurance, shark shields of any kind, sunscreen, water.
If you’re looking at this wave in the ultra rare region of the Aleutian Islands, thinking that it looks fickle, mysto, mirage; You’re absolutely wrong. Stop reading this right now and go watch the trailer for Cradle Of Storms. Watch Alex Gray drag through this very left. And then, come back and read what other wonders the Aleutians hold…
14. Aleutian Islands
Straight up, surfing in the Aleutian Islands is not a simple task. Everything from getting there, to exploring for surf, to eats, to suitable attire, requires planning (a lot of it). If you’re a spot swell, book tomorrow’s red eye-kinda guy/gal, then perhaps this isn’t the trip for you. But, if you can dial things well in advance, you’ll create potential for some popular page-worthy discoveries (you may recall the film, Cradle Of Storms, in which Alex Gray surfs what he describes as the best waves he’s ever seen). This is one raw, natural and surreal climate. The Aleutians were America’s stronghold against Russia, and following the War, never quite recovered. They aren’t on many people’s to-do list. “We found a weird mixture of old military base ruins, and really small villages that might’ve thrived at one point, but are now all but diminished,” recalls photographer Chris Burkard. “It’s a ghost town feel. We went to one village that had about 12 occupants.” Now, the majority of your time spent here will be exploring, but chances are wildly high that you’ll be the first to surf a spot if you discover one. “There is SO much untapped surf there,” says Burkard. “It’s a place that I feel embodies what cold water surf travel is all about. If you want it bad enough, you could find crazy, crazy adventures out there.” Just don’t expect an audience of Aleut people when you’re surfing (or really, much company when you’re not surfing). Though, hopefully you won’t notice… “Surfing-wise, it was some of the best surf I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Burkard. “Ever. There’s something about how the reefs are set up and how the location is organised, it’s one of the better locations in the world for surf, yet completely untapped. The best way to put it is, that it’s like the wild west. It’s the place where storms start.”
Waves: There’s a bunch of different islands. The really open, ultra-raw ones have the best waves. There’s incredible shelf setups and pointbreaks to be found. Just be aware: The best islands (wave-wise) are the least likely to have any access for you.
Cuisine: Anything that somebody hunts or cooks for you, you should try. The Aleutians definitely aren’t known for their cuisine.
Nightlife: Nonexistent. Don’t come here to party. This is about surf, exploration, and getting well outside your comfort zone.
Sharks: There are Great Whites (along with some less aggressive shark breeds) in Aleutian waters, but the theory is that they’re quite well feed.
Locals: Like, three people and a dog. None of whom surf. Seriously; don’t come here to socialise.
Best time of year: Go between (and including) September and December.
What you’ll need: Quad bikes are a must for getting around. You’ll also need rain gear, a 5/4 with boots and gloves, and a heck ton of patience.
This Tel Aviv breakwall is about as good as waves get in Israel – see any D’bah resemblance here? But don’t go booking a flight expecting this every other day, though you should know that as far as enjoyable surf and good time culture goes, Tel Aviv has a very enthusiastic mix.
You wanna visit a place where the preciousness, and fleetingness of life is crystal clear, and celebrated 24/7 with a hedonistic attitude? Welcome to Tel Aviv, the brightest city in Israel, a country surrounded on all sides by unfriendly neighbours. Stuffed with gorgeous, military-trained gals and a good-time nightlife, Tel Aviv is home to a culinary melting pot (though excels, obviously, when it comes to fresh falafels and expertly-made hummus), warm water, and some D’bah-esque beachbreaks. Ok, maybe that’s a little generous, but there is a whole lot of fun to be had. There’s a good amount of waves along the Israeli coastline, but if you want that surf / apres-surf mix (which you do), then TA is the place. While the best waves are in Haifa, in the Bat Galim ghetto (which isn’t the world’s best place to leave a hire care), you’ll have more than enough fun at Hilton and Topsea in Tel Aviv – and the locals are far more welcoming; Gorgeous women sunning themselves on the beach and a very, very enthusiastic (though rather green) local surf populace in the water. The area is dripping in history to immerse yourself in, and a trip to Jerusalem and the dead sea is a must. Otherwise… surf all day, party all night, Mediterranean style.
Waves: Beachies! And, more beachies. Sand-bottom setups and trunks… one of the finest combinations imaginable. It doesn’t get swell too often, so crowds can get a little crazy when it’s on. In fact, Tel Aviv and Bondi aren’t too dissimilar.
Cuisine: Hummus! Falafels! Grilled meats! Mediterranean seafood! All the best parts of middle-eastern dining.
Nightlife: Insanely good. Beautiful women, and plenty of options to party. Some amazing clubs, and opportunity 24/7. With so much surrounding unrest, the general attitude within is one of peace and love.
Sharks: Non existent!
Locals: Welcoming, but very green. Drop-ins are commonplace. And, not out of carelessness – it just isn’t deemed as a bad thing to share a wave. Surf etiquette is quite different, here.
Best time of year: Waves land randomly all year, but January to February is best.
What you’ll need: Small wave boards only. Not much heart rate elevation to be found. Trunks mostly, and a short-sleeve 3/2 in winter. Oh, and some patience.
What a bizarre natural miracle the points of Algeria are. Throw in a rainbow for added oddity, and get to know some of the most memorable surf sessions (regardless of waves) you’ll ever experience. Just don’t forget to dial your visa well in advance.
Here’s one for those who don’t worry themselves with things like a bit of light civil unrest. Welcome to Algeria! This beautiful country has a long coastline facing the Mediterranean, with consistent swell from the famous northerly Mistral wind between October and April. A small community of enthusiastic surfers exists around Algiers and the the city of Annaba in the east, near the Tunisian border, where you’re likely to find waves. But the biggest obstacle in visiting Algeria for surfing – or any other reason – is the visa process. It’s long, difficult and expensive. The country had a violent separation from France in the 1960’s and a brutal civil war with Islamists in the 1990’s, and some parts of the desert interior are still currently unsafe for foreigners to visit. But in the more welcoming zones, you’ll find French, North African Arabic or indigenous Berber speakers, with a deeply intertwined French culture thanks to Algeria being an integral part of France until 1962.
Waves: Longish-period winter windswell, with many point and beachbreaks on offer.
Cuisine: Delicious Mediterranean fare with considerable French influence, excellent coffee and fantastic fruits and vegetables.
Nightlife: Surprisingly good. Many restaurants and a few bars and cafés in the French style. Locals are very friendly with foreigners, as they don’t see many visitors, and surfers are unheard of.
Sharks: Local surfers will tell you that they don’t see many sharks, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Locals: Hardly any local surfers. But Algerians are quite friendly with visitors. Some French language is necessary to converse, and being a football fan is a bonus. The great Frenchman, Zinedine Zidane, is of Algerian origin. Many Algerians play for top clubs in France and elsewhere in Europe, and they’re regarded with awe at home.
What you’ll need: Standard shortboard for good swell days, and a longboard comes in handy for smaller conditions if you can get your hands on one. Wetsuit? Yes, in the winter swell season a 3/2 should be enough rubber, but perhaps a 4/3 with booties for the coldest period (January to March). You can wear trunks in high summer, but swells at that time are rare.
The biggest turn off for most people about Faroe culture is that they’re still real dependant on the brutal slaughtering of whales. If you can stomach that (and while there, you may have to literally do so), then this might just be one of the most extraordinary surf destinations in the world. The tight bay you see here is not only home to the wedge right pictured, but also a New Zealand-esque sand-bottom left at the other end of the beach.
17. Faroe Islands
Pull your goddamn socks up, because we’re going in deep here. The tiny chain of Faroe Islands is located between Iceland and Scotland, and owned by Denmark. Now, you should know that the Faroe culture is, uh, how to put this lightly… internationally loathed. Why? Because of their kink for barbarically slaughtering whales! And, they don’t care what you think about it. Their climate is brutal, life is hard, and they have no better solution. “They understand that although it’s barbaric and gruesome, it’s how their culture has survived for the last thousand years,” says photographer Chris Burkard. “They’re asking, ok, how are we going to get food? It’s just a stark reality, this is their life.” Whale, to natives of the Faroe Islands, means survival. This is a fact you’re gonna have to swallow when you travel there (perhaps literally). And if you’re into amazing, empty waves and wild culture shock, then travelling there is absolutely worth it. “They just don’t care about tourism at all,” says Burkard. “They’re not there to serve anybody or do anything for you. It’s raw, and I kinda loved that. Too often we’re inundated with people trying to sell us stuff. None of that there.” Now, the Faroes really require commitment, time and patience if you’re hoping to score surf. The simple act of hopping between the 14 islands via ferry may well be iced by a storm or huge swell. But, when things do manage to line up… “We found incredible surf,” says Burkard. “If you put some time in, you would see some really special things.”
Waves: Beachbreaks, points, and slabbing setups. Tons of potential, but unfortunately, access is often difficult to impossible, at best. Which makes those discoveries all the more rewarding.
Cuisine: It’s full on, no two ways about it. “It’s the kinda place where, if you’re offered something, try to accept it, but be aware that it might be one of the more gross meals you’ll ever eat in your life,” says Burkard. “When we were there, they fed us rotten lamb.”
Nightlife: Nope. No. Not at all. You’ll probably be lucky if you see more than 100 people during a week-long stay.
Sharks: There hasn’t been enough surfing there to determine shark activity. But, Greenland sharks are present in the North Atlantic. Heard of ‘em? They’re known for eating polar bears, horses, sheep, and seals…
Locals: Most people haven’t even seen a surfer.
Best time of year: December to February. Don’t bother outside those months.
What you’ll need: Variation! Unless you score some juice, small wave/groveller crafts are usually the call. Oh, and if you’re going in winter… 6mm suits with the thickest booties and gloves you can find.
You like playful left points, fresh Chinese food and sipping on potent Baiju liquor? Taiwan could be the zone for you! China is the bravest new surf hub – go slice a piece while it’s still tender.
The island of Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China, is in many ways more traditionally Chinese than the giant People’s Republic of China just across the narrow strait on the mainland. Since the influx of the defeated Kuomintang Army in 1949, after the victorious Communists declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, these migrants have sought to preserve their separate political culture against encroachment from the mainland at all costs – except a declaration of independence, which is a red line even the most committed “splittist” will not cross. Surf? Thirty years ago, it didn’t exist in Taiwan. The entire coastline was a national security area under the control of the Army, on constant alert for an invasion from the mainland. Fortunately, business has taken the lead from politics and the forging of better commercial relations between the ROC and the PRC has relaxed political tensions, making the coastline accessible to all – including surfers. Locals dialect is traditional Mandarin Chinese, spoken and written (no “simplified” characters for Taiwan, thanks). English is quite common and from Taiwan’s history as a colony of Imperial Japan, many older generation Taiwanese are Japanese speakers. Culturally, you’ll encounter traditional Chinese values with a considerable amount of American and Japanese influence. Taiwan seeks to maintain its political autonomy at all costs and the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? Ok, let’s talk surf…
Waves: Several swell sources, from western Pacific typhoons from July to November to the Northeast monsoon from November to March.
Cuisine: Chinese and more Chinese, fresh and perfect – that is, if you like Chinese food. Taiwan is famous for great food, but if you need western grub there are a wide variety of fast food chains, everything from tacos to burgers to fried chicken. But, uh, don’t do that.
Nightlife: Quite lively in Taipei, but non-existent in the rural parts of Taiwan other than drinking sessions with a bottle of potent Baiju liquor and Taiwan Beer.
Sharks: Considering the huge Taiwan fishing industry, the massive Taiwanese appetite for seafood and the market for shark fin, there can’t be many sharks still alive in the waters around Taiwan.
Locals: Surfing has boomed in recent years and Taiwan has thousands of local surfers, with the breaks around Taipei thronged with beginners and intermediates every weekend. There are a considerable number of experienced and dedicated local surfers along with a core group of long-term expatriate foreign surfers in the south, around Kenting and the east coast town of Taitung.
What you’ll need: Standard shortboard for most swells, and a step-up may come in handy for bigger days thanks to major typhoon swells on either the east or west coast, when wave size can get up to triple overhead. No wetsuit for the hot and wet summer typhoon season, but it can get chilly in the winter northeast monsoon.
Pack a kaftan, a French phrasebook and a performance shooter, and ready yourself for a surf mission to the furious Sahara desert. Pointbreaks better than Bells and Moroccan cuisine? Sure could be worse, yes?
19. Western Sahara
Sick of surfing with crowds? And, being around people in general? Why not book a ticket to the disputed region of Western Sahara, currently under the control of the Kingdom of Morocco, which it has been since the departure of the colonial authorities of the former Spanish Sahara in 1975. While this de facto annexation is not internationally accepted, it is a fact on the ground, and the Polisario guerrillas intent on an independent country for the region languish in camps across the border in Algeria. Now, this is one sparsely populated region – and for good reason: The harsh desert environment is a difficult place for people to live. Other than settlements like Laayoune and Dakhla on the long peninsula sticking out from the mainland, human presence is scarce in the vast emptiness of the Sahara Desert, where even camels struggle to survive. But! The Dakhla area has a number of excellent righthand point waves and a small crew of dedicated local surfers. With the heavy military presence, one of the best waves is easily accessible, but in a restricted area controlled by the Moroccan Royal Marines, and it’s difficult to get official permission to surf. The native Sahrawi people speak Spanish and Arabic, but the heavy influx of Moroccans means French is more common. English is rarely heard and Spanish is suspicious to the Moroccan authorities, so, uh, void that. Since you’re in the Sahara, it’s desert style all the way: Locals wear the traditional flowing kaftan robe and observe the rituals of Islam by praying in the direction of Mecca five times per day.
Waves: Long-period groundswell from the north Atlantic ocean from October to March is the main swell source. The same swell that affects Morocco filters through the Canary Islands to the points and beachbreaks of the Western Sahara.
Cuisine: Hearty desert fare in the Moroccan style of steamed rice, vegetables and camel meat in a clay tagine vessel. Great seafood, but most fish is caught for export to Europe, not local consumption. Social occasions inevitably feature small glasses of delicious hot mint tea, with enough sugar to choke a camel.
Nightlife: Not much at all, other than the rooftop bar in the one hotel in Dakhla that is popular with the UN mission in Western Sahara, as it’s the only place in town that serves beer. Good times, there.
Sharks: Definitely a few around, but considering the incredible amount of fish in the area, they’d have little reason to bite a human. Right?
Locals: A few local surfers in the Dakhla area and a community of Moroccan, French and German expatriates who spend months in Dakhla working at one of the kiteboarding camps, surfing in the winter and kiteboarding in the summer.
What you’ll need: Down-the-line pointbreak equipment is the call, with the long walls of the excellent right points in the Dakhla area calling for sustained speed and drive off the bottom. Wetsuits are necessary, as it can be cold in the winter months with stiff morning offshores and temperatures as low as seven drips.
Ah, Havana. A beautiful mess of 1950s cars rolling unhurriedly past an architectural mix of perfectly-preserved buildings, and wildly decrepit ones. Pop your head in anywhere and lightly shout, “Mojito?” It’ll be the best you’ve ever tasted!
Hey, you wanna step back into a WiFi-free era, and sip fresh cocktails on a 1950s rooftop bar overlooking the Caribbean? Then welcome, comrade, to Cuba! While it’s hardly brimming with world class waves, Stab couldn’t leave such a dreamy location off a list of must-surf places. You’ll likely be thrashing around in light onshore beachbreaks, but the water will be 24 drips (celsius!) and you’ll walk up the white sand into a culture that’s only just getting its head around tourism. Communism doesn’t financially reward excellence, so there’s no competitiveness when it comes to things like restaurants – a culinary superpower, Cuba ain’t. But, the food is rapidly improving, and where the country lacks in cuisine, it more than makes up in cocktails. Puffing a Cuban cigar while drinking the brightest mojito you’ve ever tasted, made with the world’s best rum and fresh sugar cane from down the road, is a reality here. Step into a salsa bar and loosen your belt! Bummers? Lack of cell service, WiFi or ATMs. Come prepared, and have things like accommodation dialled beforehand. Cuba isn’t yet particularly conducive to surf exploration, but that’s what makes it kinda great; Crowds are no concern – maximum 10 people in the water at a time. There’s still no surf shops, so take everything you’ll need, right down to wax. Also, if you can manage, leave a board there with a local. It might even be a very good way to get some help finding waves. And surprisingly, there are some very good ones to be lucked into…
Waves: For the most part, fun beachies during hurricane season. The eastern end of the island is most consistent. You’ll find enough to have fun around Havana (including a reefbreak near the Russian embassy), and the water is bath temp. There are some decent spots like pointbreak Graveyard, or reefbreak Temptations. There’s the occasional rivermouth like Boca de Yumuri, too – it all depends whether you can peel yourself away from Havana’s Mojitos.
Cuisine: Generally rather bland, but rapidly improving. Not so long ago it was a whole lot of rice, beans, shredded beef and tropical fruits, but now you can get a decent taco and other staples if you know where to look.
Nightlife: High-spirited salsa clubs and bars, and a Parisian-style cafe culture of drinking out on the footpath. Did I mention the cocktails?
Sharks: A few spearfisherman have been nibbled, but there’s been no fatal bites since 1957. More chance of being chomped in Florida.
Locals: You’ll likely surf with maximum 10 people at any one time during your trip – and that’d be rare. Consider that this is an emerging surf culture, so leaving behind what is to you a small thing (fins, wax, a pad, a leash, ideally a board), will be an enormous thing for your new pals.
Best time of year: For the east, the best months are August, September, October, and early November, when tropical lows drive swell up the eastern seaboard. December to March are best for the north, when northerly cold fronts travel down the length of Cuba, forming swell on the northern shores of Havana and the Pinar del Rio region.
What you’ll need: Trunks, and small wave butter knives. Leave the step-up at home.
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