The Ultimate Guide Australia Surfing

by Chris Smith

Australia surfing is up there with Cali and Hawaii and Indo – AKA, it’s some of the best on our blue planet. Check this guide for info on where to go and when.

Australia surf at a glance

The good:

  • More waves than probably ANYWHERE else on Earth
  • West coast and east coast swell systems
  • Chilled and loveable surf towns

The bad:

  • Sharks
  • Stupid localism on breaks that would be better without it

What will I find in this guide to surfing in Australia?

An introduction to surfing in Australia

Australia Surfing

Australia is one of the world’s leading surf spots. We’d need a whole chicken parmigiana’s worth of time and then some to be able to even scratch the surface of the sheer variety of waves that are on offer here. But then again, what do you expect? The Pacific Ocean looms out on one side, the Indian Ocean crashes into the other side, and there’s the swell powerhouse that is the Southern Ocean down below.

Seasons hardly matter in a country that’s always got something peeling or crashing into its points and beaches. Variety is the keyword, as you can hop from the arced sandbar waves of Manly to the gnarly rivermouths in Margaret River without leaving Oz’s territory.

And it’s more than that. Australia has one of the nicest surf cultures of all. Despite some localism around spots that really don’t deserve it (Bronte, eh?), this is a land of easy-going folk who are usually more than happy to show off and share the breaks. That also means you get a lovely array of surf schools and surf camps. Downsides are the sharks and the fact you might have to travel like 20 hours to get from A to B.

The top surf destinations in Australia

A line up in Australia

Surf happens in pretty much all of Australia’s states, with the lone exception of the Northern Territories. In the east, you’ve got the world-famous coastlines of NSW and QLD, which come up with Sydney’s Bondi, the Gold Coast, and Byron. In the west there’s Perth and WA, while South Australia and Tasmania are swell magnets on the south side of the country.

New South Wales

New South Wales is where surfing started in Oz. You can see why it’s such a cracker of a place. The state sort of angles neatly into the South Pacific, with the Tasman Sea on its eastern end. If that combo doesn’t scream consistency then we don’t know what does. The winter time here sees really low-pressure weather systems come across, turning the ocean into a factory for easterly swells. That fires up some of the most legendary surf locations Down Under, all the way from the Sydney north shore to hippy Byron Bay and the championship spots of Newcastle.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in New South Wales

Top surf spots in New South Wales

  • Sydney
  • Manly
  • Bondi
  • Newcastle

Western Australia

WA manages to offer some seriously world-class breaks. One name stands out from the crowd: Margaret River. It’s a land of ceaseless SW swells that forms up to awesome estuary tubes and is proper WSL pedigree. But that’s not really representative of the greater state. Perth, for example, is cursed by an annoying continental shelf that keeps virtually all swells off the urban beaches, so it’s usually small but can be great for beginners. This is also one HUGE state, with plenty of undiscovered surf territory.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Western Australia

Top surf spots in Western Australia

Queensland

Queensland is a surf territory extraordinaire. The southern breaks are where it’s at because the north of the state is protected from those sure-fire easterlies by the Great Barrier Reef. Don’t worry, though, there’s still plenty of waves to go around in what’s left. The most famous spots of all are right on the QLD-NSW border, at Burleigh Heads and up the Gold Coast. Noosa is also worthy of special mention because of the variety if brings – think mellow longboard waves next to glassy point breaks.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in Queensland

Top surf spots in Queensland

  • Adelaide
  • Yorke Peninsula
  • Eyre Peninsula

South Australia

Perfectly angled to hoover up the SW swell systems that come up from the Southern Ocean, South Australia is a wave factory. Consistency reigns supreme in these parts, which is why we always find it a little strange that the state isn’t mentioned in the same breath as QLD and NSW when it comes to Aus’s best. There are some absolute scorchers of waves here, and they are way less busy than on the east coast. Check out the Yorke Peninsula, Fleurieu, Eyre – there’s stacks.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in South Australia

Top surf spots in South Australia

  • Adelaide
  • Yorke Peninsula
  • Eyre Peninsula

Tasmania

Tasmania takes the reliability of Aussie surf and adds a little of that Kiwi wilderness to the mix. We LOVE it. There are swells, and very different sorts of swells, on the east and west coasts. The capes at the south of the island are gnarly as can be (Shipstern Bluff is there, a slabby, unruly XXL wave that’s pure dragon’s breath). You’ll also find lots of protected beaches for beginners (Clifton Beach is the best) and intermediate spots (especially the cruisy beach break rides on the west coast. Look – it’s cracking in Tasmania.

Check out our complete guide to surfing in Tasmania

Top surf spots in Tasmania

  • Clifton Beach
  • Hobart
  • Shipstern Bluff

Best surf camps and surf hotels in Australia

Australia has LOADS of cool stays right by the ocean. We’ve picked out what we’d say are three of the leading surf camps and surf hotels, which will take you from the reliable swells of Queensland down to uber-cool Bondi Beach.

The Surf House ($-$$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

The Surf House is one of the coolest surf camps we’ve ever visited. It’s pure Byron stuff – vibrant, arty, edgy, downright fun. Set in a handsome redbrick building 100m from Main Beach (a top beginner surf spot), it offers dorm and double rooms along with a great common area. It’s basically impossible not to make friends!

The Retreat Beach Houses ($$-$$$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

The Retreat Beach Houses are a deluxe option that we think hit the nail on the head for honeymooning surfers. They’re nestled into the QLD jungles just 100m back from the frothing beach breaks of Peregian Beach. Each unit has a sleek Cali west coast feel to it, with open balconies and big beds. There’s also a stunning on-site pool.

Wake Up! Bondi Beach ($-$$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Wake Up! Bondi Beach is precisely the sort of stay you simply gotta’ sample if it’s your first time in Oz. For starters it’s right there on Bondi Beach (not the best surf in the country but a legendary location nonetheless). It’s also filled with likeminded travelers and would-be surfers looking for their first lesson. We love the outdoor showers, the rooftop terrace, and the on-site board rentals.

When to surf in Australia

Australia surfing is a year-round thing. There’s so much swell here that you’ll be able to catch something no matter when you visit. That said, the best quality waves of the year are in the winter and autumn months, when low-pressure systems bless the Tasman Sea and the Southern Ocena is making things strong enough to get past the continental reefs that fringe Perth and WA. Here’s a more specific seasonal guide to when to surf in Oz and what to wear when you do.

Summer (December-March)

Smaller swells come into all parts of Australia as soon as the summer starts. The beaches are hot (like super hot), the water is warm (rashies only in most spots, but some will wear 2mm or 3/2 for longer sessions), and it’s pretty crowded. That said, when you get an SW swell in Western Australia or a touch of SE on the east coast, it can be a stunning time to surf, with glassy conditions and light winds.

Autumn (April-May)

Australia surfing is pretty fantastic in fall. The bigger wintertime swells are just about starting to work in QLD and NSW, while WA is way less windy. For gnarlier waves, you can track down south to Adeliade and Tasmania, where it gets cold faster but also bigger quicker. Pack the 3/2 and consider booties the further south you head.

Be sure to check out our gear guides:

Winter (June-August)

Winter sees a real uptick in the quality of the swells across all of Australia’s main surfing regions. In the east, the wind slackens and the SW conditions come in, helping to fire the breaks of Margaret River and up the Perth coast. South Australia can be super big because of the same swell systems, while Tasmania’s slabby monsters will be going full force. In NSW and QLD all that’s matched by predictable low-pressure storms in the Tasman Sea, which offer up head-on easterly and SE swells for the Sydney region and beyond. You’ll need a 3/2 in most places but something thicker for Tasmania and South Australia.

Spring (September-October)

Spring is probably the worst time of the year on the east coast. That’s not to say it’s bad – this is Oz, remember? It’s just that there’s a noticeable drop in the swells and you can still get onshores left over from winter storms, only without the waves to match. Essentially it can be messy and can be a waiting game, but it’s still okay. The west coast in WA and Perth suffers from onshore winds too and you might find that you’ll need to drive out of the city to catch something (like all the way to Margaret River, for example). 3/2s are the norm.