In the interest of full disclosure, my uncle, David Rochlen, was a legendary surfer, and he rode with the best in Southern California and Hawaii. (He was later inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame.) Thanks to him, I first learned how to surf on Sandy Beach in Oahu. That Hawaiian experience led me to mistakenly think I was good enough to try my luck on the treacherous North Shore. And that experience ultimately led me to realize my true limitations! Instead, Iím now a practicing stand-up paddle boarder on the East Coast, on the Great South Bay on Fire Island in New York. But every once in a while, in a fit of stupid nostalgia, Iíll return to Hawaii and try my luck again.
When you think of surfing in the United States, what comes to mind first? Most likely Hawaii. Home to some of the most legendary big waves in the world, Hawaii is practically the birth-place of modern surfing. The good news is, you donít have to be a local pro to get started. First-timers and novices can learn to surf right on Waikiki Beach, where the gentle Canoes surf break is located right in front of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Just rent a board and hire an instructor at the beach shack-youíll know youíre in the right place if you can see the statue of Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku. Definitely get there early and on a weekday if you want to avoid the crowds.
On the island of Maui, you want to head to the beautiful Launiupoko State Wayside Park for a beginner lesson. The waves are bro- ken up by coral reefs, making them gentle and smooth enough for newbies to handle. (And with a childrenís wading pool, snorkeling, and picnic tables, this is also a great spot for a family day out.) On Kauai, Hanalei Bay on the northern shore has a 2.5-mile-Iong, white-sand beach where the waters tend to remain calm and easy to manage in the summer, making it perfect for learning. Prefer to watch, not surf? Go to the North Shore of Oahu, where the locals go. The waves are at their highest in the winter months.
Although thereís no guarantee of where and when the big waves will hit, you can usually get a great view of the surfers on massive waves at Waimea Beach Park. If you want to bring your board, remember, winter waves on these beaches are for the experts only, so be prepared. (However, the waters calm down tremendously in summer.) The famous Banzai Pipeline reef break, considered one of the most challenging waves in the world, is located at Ehukai Beach Park on the North Shore.
North Carolinaís Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands more than 175 miles long, is a surferís paradise, with big swells on the ocean side ofthe peninsula.
On the northern end of the Outer Banks, Corolla is ideal for beginners. What happens here is that waves break when they encounter water that is shallower than they are tall (so, for example, a 3-foot wave will not break in 4 feet of water). The barrier sandbar makes the waves break at manageable heights, and surfers can walk out to the breaks rather than exert energy by paddling. On the northern end, you donít have to worry about rocks, the water is shallower, and the beach is much flatter. Summer is a great time to go-there are fewer crowds, shallower waves, and warm water. Those looking for more of a challenge just need to head south of Corolla at the peak of hurricane season between August and November. And last, but certainly not least, experienced surfers should try Cape Hatteras, which holds the biggest, most consistent waves along the islands. Your best bet for lessons is Corolla Surf Shop whether youíre a first-timer or looking for a refresher course.
On the West Coast, one of the great surf spots for beginners isnít in Southern California, itís in the Central Coast town of Santa Cruz. Cowellís Beach, just north of the main beach, receives long, easy waves, while Capitola Beach is an even less crowded alternative for beginners. Both Cowellís Beach Surf Shop corn) and Santa Cruz Surf School can show you the ropes. If youíre a skilled surfer, thereís a place for surfers and downright dangerous if youíre not very experienced. Keep in mind; the waves in Santa Cruz tend to be largest and most consistent between September and March.