The Ultimate Guide to the Surf in Manly

by Razz Simpson

Explore the surf in Manly, a renowned World Surfing Reserve and one of the most famous places to take to the waves Down Under.

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Manly surf at a glance

The good

  • Excellent stuff for beginner and improver surfers
  • Slabby point breaks for experts in winter
  • Loads of surf history

The bad

  • Can be crowded
  • We’d say a car is needed to explore the Northern Beaches in any depth

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Australia

What’s in this guide to the surf in Manly?

An introduction to the surf in Manly

Surf in Manly

Manly, usually coupled together with Freshwater Beach at its northern end, is generally hailed as the “birthplace of Australian surfing”. Those are big boots to fill. This is the land Down Under that gave the world Gilmore, Fitzgibbons, and Fanning, remember? But the surf in Manly really is epic. It rolls through rugged reef points and open beach breaks that have a consistency that would make California blush. And it’s an official World Surfing Reserve to boot!

There’s pretty impressive variety in the offing, too. Although we’d probably rate Manly and the Northern Beaches as overall beginner-to-intermediate territory, you can catch three-meter points that pull in the chargers on stronger winter swells. You also have sweeping beach breaks where the surf schools ply their trade on smaller days, along with some mellow long boarder waves. Did we mention this is a WSR?

If we had to home in on a downside to the surf in Manly, it would have to be the crowds. The proximity of Sydney’s CBD and northern suburbs means there’s rarely (read: Never) an empty day out here. That’s okay though because the people tend to be a bit more welcoming than those down in Maroubra or Tamarama, so long as you don’t step on the point breaks without the ability.

Where is Manly?

Manly keeps watch over the mouth of Sydney Harbor to the north of the main city. It’s in an area known collectively as the Northern Beaches, which start with Manly itself and end with Palm Beach right on the Pittwater. You can ride the ferry in from the heart of Sydney to the Manly Wharf or hop on a bus from the CBD. Or, it’s a 30-minute drive up to Manly from Sydney Airport, and we definitely would recommend renting your own wheels if you’re aiming to explore the Northern Beaches in full (or with the surfboard in tow).

A guide to the Manly surf spots

Let’s run south to north up the shoreline of Manly, looking at the gnarly winter-swell points that work when it’s heavier and the beginner beaches alike…

Deadmans

The name here says it all. A spot that went unridden for a very long time and became something of the Everest of the Sydney North Shore, Deadmans isn’t for the faint hearted. It needs a hefty SE or NE element to the swell to get running but when it’s running it’s a beefy slab of a right hander that comes off the rocks of Shelly Headland. If you’re not surfing, and we don’t recommend you do unless you’re absolutely sure, then the spectatoring can be good. Expect as many wipeouts as successes and some strong pit action along the way.

Fairy Bower

The Fairy Bower licks its way around the headland at the south side of Manly Beach to give a very sucky right-hand ride that’s fast and shallow over the rocks. It’s also known as Winki Pop, but really that’s the name of the boulders that give lift off to the break on its southernmost end. Technically speaking, the wave is an A-frame, but you’d only take the left if you had a deathwish. Go right and you get pulled into a shallow barrel that lasts maybe 5-10 seconds before walling up and offering a little touch of rippable shoulder until you need to pull back into the channel. It’s another advanced break and is usually busy. The paddle is one of the hardest things because getting back out to the take-off is a bit of a chore against the grain.

South Steyne

South Steyne is located right in front of the Manly surf club by the street of the same name. It’s a break that only really pops up when the winter swells get kicking, because big direct easterly pushes will turn it into a neat A-frame that barrels on both sides.

Manly Beach

With the pines behind and the soft powder on its shoreline, Manly Beach is as much a haven for sunbathers as for surfers. There are wedges and peaks up for grabs the whole length of the bay, but the central bit where the sandbanks line up tends to be the most reliable. The waves aren’t really of any super-noteworthy quality, just classic Aussie beachies that suck up fast and then peel in both directions. This is the stomping ground of the surf schools and a great place to learn.

Queenscliff & The Queenscliff Bombie

There’s a rivermouth opening at Queenscliff on the far north side of Manly Beach that can get pumping on good autumn and winter swells. The estuary isn’t large but it can shape up some neat sandbanks to give A-frame peaks that are shapely and fun to rip.

If you’ve got the cojones on a wilder day, the Queenscliff Bombie is the place to be. Older Sydney surfers might have memories of folk being towed out to this one back in the 90s. These days it’s seen as a sort of death paddle that requires lots of moxie. When it’s working, this out-at-sea kicker is a sort of huge wedge or a baby Nazare that fires off left and right with a big fat back to it. It’s expert stuff only though. And the locals wait eagerly for it to get firing.

Freshwater

Freshwater is the main beach of the Harbord area. It’s relatively sheltered compared to the sands of Manly proper that lie to the south, especially from NE storm swells in the winter. That helps to keep things glassy and means that the southern swells of summer are often the best of the bunch. Expect mellow ankle burners most of the time, but also a few pretty nifty longboard options of the southern headland. It’s a beginner and intermediate beach at heart and very popular with local surf schools.

Curl Curl

Curl Curl is one of the longer beaches of North Sydney and a place that just laps up the S-SE swells of winter. It’s got lovely, long peaky sections that resemble a sort of French break on 1.5 meters or more but go more Portuguese and crumbly on smaller days. There’s decent reliability up here, especially if you make for the north end of the bay, where you can catch nice wrap-around swells off the North Curl Rockpool and into the rivermouth.

Where to stay when surfing in Manly

You could choose to stay in downtown Sydney if you wanted because there are ferries out to Manly everyday. However, we’d say that would be a shame. This is a pretty cool corner of the city, with chic beach houses and loads of surf cafes to get stuck into. So, our top hotel options are listed below…

Chic apartment footsteps from Manly Beach

Surf-hotel-top-pick

There’s nothing better than having your own stylo pad to return to after a day ripping the Manly surf. Check out this very nice pad, with its contemporary interiors, boho vibes, and surf-inspired art. It’s chilled and relaxing but also close to all the action.

Manly Bunkhouse ($)

The Manly Bunkhouse is a rare backpacker’s option on the Sydney north shoreline. It’s got a good location a few blocks back from the beach, affordable dorm rooms, and a communal area where you can chill with other surfers. Not the coolest hostel around, but pretty good vibes.

Queenscliff Beach Apartment ($$-$$$)

If the Queenscliff Beach Apartment happens to be available then book it! A very highly rated pad on the north side of Manly Beach, it’s got an intriguing interior that’s riddled with Aboriginal art and an outdoor terrace filled with plants, not to mention stunning view!

When to surf in Manly

It’s generally accepted that the best time to surf in Manly is during the Aussie winter time (March-September). However, there are waves all year round and it’s not uncommon to catch great easterlies and big days in the summer months. Here’s a more detailed guide…

Manly surfer

Winter (June-August)

There’s a combo of both low-pressure tropical weather systems to the south and the occasional mid-winter cyclone to the north. They bring in fantastic consistency and light up the spots of south Manly with ease. This is the time to hunt the big days of Deadmans and Fairy Bower. Rips can get strong on NE swell days so watch out for that and only go out if you know what you’re doing.

Spring (September-November)

A combo season that offers something similar to autumn only without the desirable offshore breezes, spring is a great time to hit up the Manly surf. We’d say September is a prime time to test out the points on Freshwater and Curl Curl, depending on whether the compass direction is from the south or north.

Be sure to check out our gear guides:

Summer (December-February)

Jellies and lack of swell are the two main things you’re likely to encounter in the summer, though it’s rare to go any meaningful period without something to surf. The beaches of Manly get super-duper busy in the high summer so you’re not going to be alone, and it’s a learner fest, so flying boards galore. All good fun though.

Autumn (March-May)

The beginning of the cyclone period in the Pacific can kick through some very strong swells in Autumn. But those are tempered by smaller days and nice offshore winds from the west. The upshot? Many people think this is the best overall time to surf in Manly, as it offers a taste of winter but the glassiness of summer combined.

Surf shops in Manly

Manly is one of the top places in Sydney to do your surf shopping. It’s positively riddled with places to buy boards, wetties, wax, and more…

Dripping Wet Surf Co.

You can hardly miss Dripping Wet Surf Co. on the promenade of Manly Beach. It’s a HUGE baord emporium with just about anything you could ever want to have in the quiver, from small DHD nuggets to Bill Tolhurst noseriders that ooze Cali style. We’d always go here first when it’s time to buy a new stick.

Joistik Surfboards by Nick Blair

Looking for a hot tip on a great local shaper in the Manly area? Here it is: Joistik Surfboards by Nick Blair. His Cab Sav board is a veritable wave attracting device, with volume and rip to it. Shh!

Where to eat and drink in Manly Beach

Manly Beach has a rep for refined and stylish dining, with a few boho-cool spots thrown in for good measure. Here are two of our favs just a few steps back from the sands…

The Pantry Manly ($$)

The Pantry is right on the front row of Manly main beach. It’s got a menu of tasty, honest and modern Oz fare with a twist of creativity. There are great breakies of boiled eggos and fruit salad, along with brunch-lunch dishes like surf-turf and sliders. Oh, and there’s a deck overlooking the surf break!

Manly Greenhouse ($$-$$)

A stylish eatery that’s breezy and green from entrance to exit, Manly Greenhouse offers a view of the beach through the pine trees. The menu is refined Euro-Aussie cuisine with a bit of degustation elegance to it. Cocktails are banging!


We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This article is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in Australia

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