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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Surfing Safari: The World’s Most Unlikely Places To Catch A Wave, Year Round

By Zain Iqba

We know, we know – days getting shorter and a sudden reliance on your sweater drawer don’t exactly make one think of “surfing”. After all, what does a typical Google search for surfing destinations come up with? Surfing in Santa Cruz… surfing in Maui… surfing in Indonesia… surfing in… Alaska? [Ed note: say whaaa?] While surfing is generally thought of as a warm-weather sport reserved for tropical locales like Hawaii or Southern California, in reality you can surf anywhere in any part of the world provided there’s a decent swell and you have a good wetsuit. Even here in Northern California near San Francisco, people surf regularly almost all year round in the chilly Pacific Ocean.

So why not take your skills to other places where you’d never think surfing would actually exist? You might even find a few hidden gems devoid of aggressive locals trying to protect their turf. While some of these places are for hardcore athletes, we’ve also rounded out the list to include some places that beginners could go to experience uncrowded waves. So pack up your wetsuit, rashguard, and your board and get going!


34,000 miles: that’s the amount of coastline Alaska has to offer. Somewhere, there’s gotta be a mile or two of pristine beach perfect for surfing right? Of course, most of Alaska is bitterly cold for much of the year, but the two best places with decent surf are reportedly Southern Alaska near Kodiak Island and the fjords along the Canadian border.

Images: echoforsberg/Flickr, MarmotChaser/Flickr

In fact, one of the most unlikely surf shops in the world is in Haines, Alaska, located deep inside the Alaska Panhandle and only reachable by ferry from Juneau, Alaska’s capital. If you head up to Haines to surf the fjords, be sure to get a hoodie or t-shirt from the Lost Coast Surf Shop so you can say you surfed Alaska– you’ll get tons of gnarly cred amongst your most adventurous friends.

Falkland Islands

Over 28 years ago, this archipelago in the Southern Atlantic Ocean was the flashpoint for a bitter territorial dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom. The Falklands War was a 74 day-long conflict over who really owned the islands, which culminated with the Argentinians invading in April, but being summarily booted out by the Brits in June. Since the war, tourism has steadily increased, with cruise ships visiting the port of Stanley on a regular basis and wildlife enthusiasts landing to view penguins, sea lions, and seals.

Images: Strange Ones/Flickr,

So, how are the waves? If you like completely empty breaks where your only observers will be the local Gentoo penguin population (or even the odd school of dolphin), then check out Bertha’s Beach or Surf Bay on East Falkland. Just note there are 128 minefields left over from the war, so check in with the local authorities and tread lightly if you plan on trekking from beach to beach.


Over 20 years ago, Mozambique — a large country on the southeast coast of the African continent — was wracked by a civil war that had lasted almost 15 years, displaced millions of people, and littered the country with minefields. Today the country is a burgeoning tourist destination because of its vast nature and game reserves, eco-tourism opportunities, and over 1,400 miles of coastline.

Images: Erik Cleves Kristensen/Flickr, jon hanson/Flickr
Mozambique may not be for the luxury traveler. Even though the Mozambican tourism economy is one of the fastest-growing in the world, infrastructure is still vastly underdeveloped compared to some of its African counterparts like Kenya or South Africa. But if you’re looking for a cheap and quiet bungalow, a relaxed atmosphere with welcoming locals, and untouched swell, then Mozambique might be for you.
And compared to Alaska and the Falkland Islands, you can easily get away with wearing boardshorts for most of the year. Some of the best spots are Tofo, Ponta do Ouro, and Barra Beach, with Tofo being one of the premier sites for whale shark diving in the world– awesome!


Head east across the Mozambique Channel and you’ll find yourself on the island nation of Madagascar, sometimes referred to by scientists as ” the eighth continent” because of flora and fauna that aren’t found anywhere else on Earth. While most visitors head to Madagascar to check out the unique ecology (which is sadly degrading year-by-year because of unchecked deforestation), the country’s geographical location makes it an ideal location for surfers looking to take on a challenge.

Images: Bernard Gagnon/Wikipedia, bigjonbristol/Flickr, HïLôqui/Flickr
Like Mozambique, you won’t find a lot of infrastructure here to help you during your trip. Unless you’re flying, transportation from the capital of Antananarivo, which sits almost dead-center in the middle of the country, to the coast can be difficult. However once you reach the Indian Ocean the surfing is incredible, with the southwest and southern parts of the country offering the best all-around spots. Beginners through advanced surfers will find some excellent beach breaks and point breaks near places like Lokaro Island and Ifaty, the latter of which is only accessible by a 4WD adventure up the coast from the Air Madagascar destination of Toliara.

Morocco (المغرب)

The rich Arab-Berber history in Morocco spans over 1,000 years in cultural centers such as Casablanca, Marrakech, Tangier, and Fes. From the Atlas Mountains, which can reach to heights over 13,000 feet to the edges of the Sahara Desert, Morocco has “adventure-travelers’ paradise” written all over it.

Images: surf_3s/Flickr, Peace Correspondent/Flickr
You’re a surfer? Well, then head straight to Agadir and use it as a jumping point for some of North Africa’s premier surfing spots. Even the pros come here during the off season to take advantage of winter swells and world-class waves. Even with all of the talent that arrives in Adagir, there are plenty of spots up and down the Moroccan coast that are empty for most of the year. And what better way to end a day of surfing than with some hearty Morocco cuisine in your belly? Can’t get much more satisfying than that!


Like Alaska and the Falkland Islands, Ireland doesn’t exactly evoke thoughts of being a surfer’s paradise. However, the island isn’t all rolling green hills shrouded in a constant drizzle. Because of its location in the North Atlantic Ocean, Ireland has a number of varied spots where locals take advantage of excellent waves as well as some decent skies under which to surf.

Images: doublexx33/Flickr, Nathan A/Flickr
In fact, Ireland is known locally for its friendly, laid-back surf culture and is a great place to learn if you’ve never managed to get out and try before. Many a surfing school have opened up over the last few decades in County Donegal, County Sligo, and in Northern Ireland. While you’ll still have to wear a wetsuit, the late summer months offer friendly weather and moderate swells for the beginner. Still not convinced? The Irish Surfing Association has a fantastic website, full of information on schools, shops, and surfing etiquette.

Great Lakes (lake surfing)

You don’t normally equate the Midwest with surfing, but America’s “Third Coast” has been a popular spot for surfing since the 1960s. Lake Michigan has several quality beaches which are uncrowded, save for the burgeoning population in Chicago that are taking their boards into the shoreline near the city. In fact, the Great Lakes often have better surfing than the largest, warmer body of water to the south– the Gulf of Mexico. So unless you’re interested in surfing as a hurricane approaches, Lake Michigan offers a longer, albeit slightly colder, season with waves that rival those on the East and West Coasts.

Images: Bob Tema/Flickr, chrislipseyshred/Flickr

Sheboygan, Wisconsin is normally known for its famous bratwurst, Whistling Straits golf course and for having the tallest flagpole in the United States at the Acuity Insurance headquarters. Also on the list is the Dairyland Surf Classic, which is the largest freshwater surfing contest in the world. If the waves are right, surfers come from all over to take advantage of the swells. If not? Well, it’s a good way to end the summer on the Great Lakes.

River Severn and the Eisbach (river surfing)

If it isn’t the most bizarre surfing experience you’ll ever encounter, its gotta come close to it. “Tidal bore” is a phenomenon where incoming tides, or flood tides, are pushed down river creating “waves”. This incredibly rare occurrence happens in the Amazon River, creating waves up to 13 feet in height. Other places it has been recorded are the River Severn in West England and the Eisbach in Munich where the unique construction of the river allows surfers to take on a “standing wave”, a constantly flowing stream of water that allows surfers to ride for as long as they wish, provided they keep their balance on the board.

Images: the sea the sea/Flickr, Wind/Wikipedia
If you’re wondering who would be crazy enough to try and surf on a river, look back to 1955 when World War II veteran Jack Churchill became obsessed with the sport of surfing while stationed in Australia. Upon his return home, he constructed his own surfboard and was the first to try out the 5 foot Severn Bore, making it a popular river surfing spot to this day.