New Hampshire surf is surprisingly epic. In fact, some of the best stuff on the entire East Coast blesses this short, 13-mile stretch of shoreline.
An introduction to New Hampshire surfing
Check the map – there’s hardly enough coastline in New Hampshire to warrant bringing the bikini. But don’t be fooled. The mere 13 miles of shore in the Granite State can muster some pretty fantastic surf. Jenness State Beach or Seabrook are where many will scout out the swell. They have sucky shorebreaks that can turn crumbly when small, offering something for the groms.
There are also points and scattered reefs in NH, which have hard paddles and some gnarly slabs to conquer. For something special check out The Wall, a beach break that resembles a cold-water Supertubos in character. New Hampshire really relies on those pulses of NE swell to come in. It’s surprisingly regular, making the state a doozy of an East Coast destination for waves. Neoprene – thick neo – is a must in these parts.
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New Hampshire surf at a glance
What’s in this guide to New Hampshire surf?
A guide to New Hampshire surf spots
There might be only 13 miles of shoreline in the Granite State, but check out the sheer mix of spots that’s on the menu…
Jenness State Beach
Jenness State Beach is the star of the New Hampshire surf. It’s a long, open beach break with good exposure to ESE swells in the midwinter. An approaching mid-level tide works best because that engages most of the sandbanks. You’ll find loads of peaks up and down the bay, but for the most part they are beginner-friendly – mellow, mushy and pretty darn fun on both a longboard and a shortie. Occasionally, big days are epic here – with Nor’easter storm surges bringing in A-frame peaks up and down the length of Jenness.
A nice left shoulder forms over the rocky seabed south of Jenness. It’s known as Rye Rocks. Technically a point break that forms on the shallow shelf here, there is a right but it’s too quick and shallow to offer anything decent. When it’s 6-10 foot and you get a winter offshore or crossshore, the spot holds well, offering pretty nice rides allowing a few potential cutbacks.
Look at Costellos on the right day at the right angle and you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d been whisked away to Portugal or the Basque Country. It’s a beefy A-frame peak that breaks on the rock reef midway between Rye and Hampton. It needs some size to work properly but most winter swells will get it going. An offshore wind would be the cherry on top, when both the left and right shoulders shape up and get super clean. It’s a very high-quality wave when it works.
The swell magnet of New Hampshire is the place to go when its pancakes up in Rye and Jenness. If there’s anything on, you can rest assured it will be breaking here. Wave style at The Wall is changeable, but it’s generally a middling-quality wave with lefts and rights up its length. It’s best at around head height to a touch overhead. After that, it’s got a love for closing out. Our favorite pick here would be something fat but short, or a performance fish to really carve up any sections of open wall you’re offered.
Also known as Main Beach, Hampton has sort of established itself as the surf capitals of the state. It’s not easy to see how, since this break isn’t anything special. It closes out easily and is pretty much the only place where there’s a touch of localism in this otherwise-friendly New England surf territory. Some days, get in early and you’ll get ankle-burner wedge peaks that are some fun.
The last of the main beaches in southern New Hampshire before you hop over the MA state line, Seabrook is a surprising bout of real quality. It’s beach break and does rely on the sandbanks. But, in the same style as the Hossegor strands, it offers a mixed bag of lefts and rights, high wedges, and whitewash to cater to a bunch of levels. There should also be enough room to skip the lineup altogether.
Where to stay when surfing in New Hampshire?
Only a small fraction of the hotels in New Hampshire are by the coast. That’s mainly because only a small fraction of New Hampshire is by the coast. But there are some really great stays for surfers, and our fav here is a real doozy – think a hip 1950s motel-style lodge on the Atlantic.
Rye Motor Inn – An Adults Only Micro-Resort ($$)
Man this place is so damn cool. There’s an air of the 1950s West Coast surf shack about it. You can almost hear the VW campers purring in the parking lot. Nope, it’s on NH’s northern shore, with good access to Jenness and Rye. It’s adult’s only, which means no toddlers to interfere with the Zen after your session. All the rooms are hip and stylish, facing a lovely central pool that’s just over the road from the ocean.
Atlantic Breeze Suites ($$)
A good midrange choice that puts you within easy reach of the best surf beaches in both north and south New Hampshire, this one has classic hotel suites with plenty of space. The better rooms come with balconies with views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Hampton Cottage – Walk to Beaches and Marina! ($$-$$$)
A loveable East Coast beach home that overlooks the wetlands by the shoreline, Hampton Cottage is within walking distance of surfing beaches. Inside, it’s all wood-panelled retro design with a lovely sitting area and comfy double bed.
When to surf in New Hampshire?
As with the rest of New England, New Hampshire has a pretty short swell window that relies on south and east swells. They work mainly in the fall and the winter, with the months of November, December, and January offering the creme-de-la-creme of NH surfing when the northern storms throw out nice offshore wind directions to match.
More people come to laze on Jenness Beach than they do to paddle out in the NH summer. This isn’t great for surfing, mainly becuase the southern and eastern swells aren’t rolling. Sometimes you can catch a windswell from the east that offers sloppy waves and mush for beginners, but we’d say you’re better off hiking in the mountains than waxing up the 6″ at this time of year.
Southern and eastern swell channels start firing properly around the October mark. That’s a gift for the east-facing beaches of New Hampshire surf. With big-period days, you’ll get lovely refracting waves that curl into the points to offer high-quality shoulders. Later on, there’s a good chance that they’ll dovetail with strong winter blizzards inland in the USA, which means good offshores. We’d say the end of fall is the best time of all to surf in these parts.
Winter surfing in New Hampshire is hardcore stuff. You NEED a 5/4 wetty at the minimum, surf boots, gloves, and a good hood. Oh yea, and don’t expect to warm up for like two hours after paddling back in. The reward for going arctic is some of the best and most consistent swell of the whole year. It rolls up from the Caribbean in the south and hits the points here to offer double and triple overheads for days on end. Nor’easterner cyclones nearer Canada provide the wind to keep the A-frames pumping, but also bitterly freezing wind chills to match.
Spring might be good. But it could also be bad. Basically, New Hampshire surf NEEDS those ESE swell systems to keep pumping to work. When they shut off, as they do usually around March time, there can be long and painful periods of total flatness.The only upside is warming waters – you can ususally be in the 3/2 by May. That’s spring for you, folks.
Surf shops in New Hampshire
The New Hampshire surf is proper quality. That’s attracted crowds, who have set up surf shops in their wake. Check out…
Local-run Summer Sessions have shops on Ocean Blvd in Jenness and in the downtown of Portsmouth. We really love the range of branded hoodies and surf wear. However, they are probably best known for offering surf lessons, rentals, and even surf camps for all ages and all levels. We haven’t tried it ourselves but the tuition comes highly recommended. The beach outlet also has an awesome cafe attached on the side.
Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Co
At the top end of North Beach, Hampton, NH, Cinnamon Rainbow lives up to its name with a positively psychedelic signage. Inside, it’s a ramshackle emporium of softtops and rashies and wetsuits. They also do rentals and lesson packages.
Where to eat and drink when surfing in New Hampshire?
Make room for the iconic NH lobster rolls and much more between surfs in this corner of New England, becuase the eating is pretty dang good. Here are our local picks..
Petey’s Summertime Seafood
A classic New England lobster shack, Petey’s Summertime Seafood is a Rye staple. It serves up, you guessed it, lobster. But there’s also a whole load more, from fried haddock to jumbo shrimp to buffalo chicken tenders. Vegans also have a burger option, and we wouldn’t miss that famous slaw for the world!
Kooks Cafe & Beach Bar
A little north from Petey’s, Kooks Cafe & Beach Bar is a more casual morning pitstop that can take care of your pre-surf grub. They do morning meals that are specifically catered to surfers (or, at least, they’re called things like “The Wave Pool”), offering filling hits of bacon, cheese, and English muffins.