Surfing in Rhode Island is a tail of two halves – one a long run of beach breaks, another a land of epic points that come alive on hurricane swells.
An introduction to surfing in Rhode Island
Rhode Island offers over 400 miles of coastline that peaks out just enough from behind the swell shadow of Long Island. Most of it gets the full whack of SE hurricane swells in the late summer and fall, but also NE off the middle of the Atlantic when its ferocious in the winter. Summer is typically flatter, but also fun for beginners looking for mid-high cruisers. Offshore winds add real spice and shape to the whole coast. It’s lovely when it’s working, and it’s actually working quite a lot.
Downsides in RI are the lack of any NE swell coming in from weather systems crossing north of Cape Cod. There’s great variety when it comes to beaches. You’ve got long sand stretches in the west that are less exposed, and then the cobblestone-bottomed bays and seemingly endless array of point breaks that draw in the local chargers to the east. Narragansett Bay carves up the whole thing in the middle.
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Surfing in Rhode Island at a glance
What’s in this guide to surfing in Rhode Island?
A guide to the top surf spots in Rhode Island
There are really two halves to RI: The west (where it’s largely beach breaks on the run up to the Long Island Sound and CT state lines, and the east, where Narraganset Bay splices the land in two offering point breaks and reefs for more advanced chargers.
Goosewing Beach is also known as Southshore Beach. It’s just over the Rhode Island-Mass state line, so right there on the brunt of the eastern Atlantic swell systems. That makes it one of the more consistent spots in the Ocean State, with all manner of point breaks and sandbars to get stuck into. It’s got a hefty tidal range but works at high and low, though the character of the waves is very different and a rising tide will take the action out of most of the points. Goosewing works best on SE swells in late summer and fall, combined with a nor’easterner offshore. There’s not much parking but it’s a beautiful area to explore for non-surfers.
2nd Beach/Sachuest Point
2nd Beach is tucked onto the south end of Middletown and Newport in the eastern half of Rhode Island. What’s unique here is that the bay is quite open and comes with a neat south-west orientation (quite unusually for East Coast beaches). That helps it to really suck up the hurricane swells that form around the Bahamas and Bermuda in the late summer months, and waves will come in here just a little bigger than elsewhere in the Narragansett. On the biggest of days when the period is way to gnarly for beach break duck diving, check out the left hand point that starts working on the east end – it can be a quality ride with a big of Mundaka attitude.
Break out the BIC boards or the SUP, Eastons Beach is the best beginner spot in eastern Rhode Island. Two long headlands on either side help to shave down the swell window and refract oncoming SE swells into miniature ankle burners. The result is a mellow beach break without many hazards – great for beginners.
Whenever the Met Service deems it appropriate to name an incoming hurricane storm, the locals will have their eyes on Ruggles. It’s the closest thing that New England comes to a bona fide XXL wave. The spot can handle double to triple overheads thanks to its natural coastline that helps to filter in good SE and E swell directions. They’ll plump up into something real beefy and big, edging right into the bay to offer a fat diagonal of water where you can rip to your heart’s content for 20 seconds or so. It’s not a tube like Jaws, but it’s still one of the gnarliest breaks on the RI roster.
Another slightly west-facing beachfront on Narragansett Bay, Bailey’s is another solid beginner choice in the late summer. By fall, the stronger storm swells and northerly offshores can help to give some hollow breaks at opposite ends of the strand, but they are rare. Really, this one is for the foamers and the beginners.
Bonnet Point Surf
One of the proper points of RI, works only on bigger hurricane swells and is a lovely little drop-in to the left when it combines with an offshore in the winter or the fall. There’s usually a crowd here and they don’t like sharing, mainly because Bonnet Point isn’t that frequent.
Everyone will come to Narragansett Beach when the surf’s working, especially if there are good E or SE swells on the calendar. It’s the go-to spot in the bay that’s not so prohibitive in terms of size or localism as the points to the east. You get loads of neat wedges and even lippy A-frame waves that go right and left and can tube on bigger days. When it’s smaller, Narragansett Beach is a cruisy wave for learners, but also fun for longboarders.
Monahan’s Dock/Tucker’s Dock
If it weren’t for Ruggles, this one would be the heaviest break in the Ocean State. It’s a slabby overheader that only works when the hurricanes are swinging off the east coast from August to December. When it gets going its a scary prospect, a huge chunk of water that loops into a semi-hollow barrel to the rigth and a much shorter left. It’s not for the faint-hearted though, as the rocks get shallow and many a board has been hewn in two. The locals aren’t the friendliest bunch either!
This lovely section of coastline is rarely as busy as Narragansett Beach but can offer some rifle-long barrels on the best days. There’s rarely the same crowd around as on the points, too, although the wave isn’t for beginners – it’s quite fast, hollow, and needs a good offshore to hold up.
A mushburger of a right-hand point that sucks in good action from any E-SE swells.
We’ve coupled Point Judith together here, but the truth is that there’s a whole string of breaks on the menu here. Sometimes – and we really do mean sometimes! – they will line up and connect like Ulus through to Impossibles. That is super-rare though, so you’re best off picking your spot and sticking to it. The best is Lighthouse, a zippy left and a steeper right where you’ll need to dodge the submerged boulders. The southernmost point is the hardest, becuase there’s no coming back if you get stuck on the inside there. You’ll be like a lobster in a Narragansett net.
Sheltered by the harbor breakwaters, something happens at K38 where the SE swells come in and bunch up all nice to offer the longest lefts in the region. They are fickle though and it needs to be big out at ocean to get working. If that sounds like the perfect logger wave – that’s becuase it is!
The first of the main western Rhode Island breaks, this one is classic Ocean State stuff. It relies on the shape of the cobblestone reef and will only get rolling at low tide, so time your visit. When it does, it’s a sucky shorebreak right that’s fast and fun.
An A-frame peak that’s got some sheer quality to it on decent storm swell days with a nor’easterner offshore, there’s a right and a left here; one tubey one zippy. Reefs can be shallow and there’s usually a line up.
A long run of sandy RI shoreline that’s not got many reefs so lacks quality. There can be whitewash here to learn on even in the summer though, and it’s a sure bet for beating the crowds.
The rocky breakwater at the Charlestown Breachway can offer some good points, especially when there’s some southerly element in the swell, but the ones out east are better quality rights if you ask us.
Masquamicut State Beach
There are loads and loads of beach break peaks to pick from on Masquamicut State Beach. Some are lippy and frothy, others are big and thundering. It just depends a lot on the swell because there’s a real tendency to closeout into pure mush. Nonetheless, it’s a decent wave for learners closer to New Haven and NYC.
Where to stay when surfing in Rhode Island?
From salt-washed cottages just a few steps off the surf breaks to cozy New England lodges with fireplaces and Victorian design, there’s lots to pick from when you go surfing in Rhode Island…
The Break Hotel
You’ll be greeted by a lovely New England mansion with a whitewash facade. Inside, there are comfy doubles with airy balconies that let in loads of light, along with surf-themed art on the walls. There’s also a stunning summertime pool at The Break Hotel, not to mention fantastic proximity to all the top-quality left-handers at Point Judith.
Peaceful Cottage with Grill – Steps to Matunuck Beach
Choose this one if you’re coming to Rhode Island as part of a mixed-ability surf group. It’s a super-cozy beach cottage a few steps off Matunuck Beach that can host 6+. There are points and good A-frame wedges enough to go around there.
Ivy Lodge channels the Victorian elegance of Newport and mingles it with a touch of spooky charm. Come fall, not only will you be staying close to some of the most epic point breaks in the region, but also get to feel like you’ve been airdropped into an episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch!
Step-by-step guide to planning your Surfing in Rhode Island trip right now
Step one: Book flights to the Surfing in Rhode Island…Lately, we like Omio for searching flights. It’s a nice interface and has lots of airline options. We also use Skyscanner because that sometimes offers deals that even beat going direct to the carrier!
Step two: Book your surf camp Book Surf Camps is the numero uno online booking platform for fully-fledged surf-stay packages on the internet right now. Then there’s Booking.com. That has consistently unbeatable rates for hotels and a nifty map feature that lets you check EXACTLY how close your hotel is to a surf break.
Step three: Get insuranceThis is kinda’ important. Not just for surf trips but for any trips. SafetyWing is great for nomad travelers. They offer rolling contracts that cover amateur surfing.
Step four (optional): Rent a car If you’re surf camping then you might not need wheels. If you’re not then we’ll just say this: We’ve never been on a surf trip that wasn’t improved by having our own car. Use RentalCars – they’re the best.
Step five: Enjoy!
When to surf in Rhode Island?
Fall is the top time to surf in Rhode Island, but good conditions can linger on until the midwinter. Let’s take a closer look at what’s on offer at different times of the year…
The swell window in Rhode Island runs from the Caribbean to the upper Atlantic. That’s great news around late summer when there are storms around Cuba and the Bahamas, which can send shockwaves up, turning the Ocean State into the best surf territory north of the Outer Banks. Sadly, the rest of summer (June and much of July) tends to be very flat.
The prime time for surfing in Rhode Island. That’s because you get the consistent tropical swells from the SW corridor courtesy of the Caribbean hurricane systems, and even some low-presure movement off New York, but you also get good E-direction swells when the Azores High happens to let them through. All that’s topped off with pretty consistent northerly offshore winds that add real quality to the waves.
Put on all the rubber you’ve got because it’s real cold in Rhode Island from November onwards. There’s some excellent surfing to be had, too, with strong E and SE swell channels pumping. The storms bring the best conditions – epic hurricane swells – that mean short periods and brutal paddle outs, but also some serious bombs when the nor’easterner is blowing.
Spring can be just as flat as summer at its tail end, with onshore winds to boot. But come in March and the surfing in Rhode island might just benefit from a little trickle of the E and SE swells off the low pressures of winter, offering smaller but nonetheless fun A-frames on the beaches. You might have to wait patiently to see the points working, though.
Surf shops in Rhode Island
The Ocean State has a nice bunch of surf shops. Most are around Narragansett but there are some around the better beach breaks out west.
This cracking surf shop is located between the accessible wedges of Scarborough and Narragansett. They stock some lovely pop-out boards and even some hand shaped sticks – think Lost and Riviera. They also have loads of surf fashion and are official stockists of Hurley.
Rhode Island Surf Co.
These guys make some stunning in-house boards that are perfectly suited to hitting the waves in the Ocean State. We especially love the fish-tail 5-6 footers shaped by Mike Karol, which will handle the slop of smaller Rhode Island days but also be a joy to ride when it’s bigger.
Where to eat and drink in RI?
Rhode Island is replete with wonderful coast eating. A trip here can’t got by without a sampling of the local oysters or a taste of the charming Americana fare that’s on the menu.
Gary’s Handy Lunch
A classic Americana diner with the chequered floors and bar walls and everything, Gary’s Handy Lunch is in the middle of Newport, neatly on the way to Ruggles (for spectating, probably). Grab yourself a stack of pancakes before watching the chargers.
Hook Line and Pizza
Close to Narragansett and Scarborough (two of the top all-level beach breaks in the state) this well-punned joint offers cheesy pizzas and some cracking East Coast seafood. OYSTERS!