The Ultimate Guide to Surfing on the East Coast

by Tom Sanchez

Surfing on the East Coast is considered a bit more hardcore than the West Coast. Wild Atlantic Storm swells meet crumbly Floridian beach breaks here, and it can be super special surf territory ot say the least!

Surfing on the East Coast at a glance

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The good

  • Epic winter storm sessions
  • Loads of totally undiscovered spots to seek out
  • Quality sandbank A-frames

The bad

  • It’s frickin’ cold
  • Busy lineups in popular places
  • Flat summers and small swell windows for some states

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in the United States

What’s in this guide to surfing on the East Coast?

An introduction to surfing on the East Coast

surfing on the East Coast

Surfing on the East Coast might not be quote the bucket-list surf experience that surfing on the West Coast is. But this land of sandbanks and barrier islands, of beaches and pine-clad coves does have a lot going for it. For starters, there are surf frontiers here that are still pretty undiscovered. We’re talking the likes of northern Maine and the Canadian borders, but also the more far-flung parts of the Outer Banks. They come interspersed with some top-quality surf towns, not least of all Cocoa Beach in Florida (the hometown of a certain Kelly Slater, in case you didn’t know that already!).

The thing is, the East Coast weighs in a whopping 2,370 miles. It goes from the balmy reaches of the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the wooded beaches of New England. There’s just no summing up what awaits here, because there’s all sorts, from slabby points to mushy beginner beach waves close to major cities. Know where to go and when to go there and this part of the USA will not dissapoint.

Downsides to surfing on the East Coast include a short swell window, as much of the region hopes and waits for those wintertime storm surges up from the Caribbean. The northern breaks are also cold as cold can be – you’re looking at 5/4 winter wetsuits and the whole shebang. Oh yea, and there are sharks about too.

Where to surf on the East Coast

surf on the east coast

Maine

The surfing in Maine is usually focused around the estuary at Ogunquit. It’s known for delivering solid, slabby right handers when the strong winter NE swells get cooking.

Recent decades have seen surfers in Maine get a bit more experimental. There’s now a local scene in beaches around Seabury and York Harbor. North Maine, which fragments into a spattering of islands below New Brunswick is the real frontier here. Surfers do go and there have been rumors of spectacular tubes in icy waters, but no one’s telling. At least not yet.

Where Maine falls down is on consistency. Cape Cod defends it from regular southerly pulses throughout much of the year, so it’s only really the fall and winter tides that can bring conditions worth jetting over from LA.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Maine

New Hampshire

New Hampshire has only 18.5 miles of coastline, islands included. That might not sound like somewhere to hit the waves, but you’d be surprised. This New England state is actually very well situated for dragging in wintertime SE swell systems from the tropics, which gather strength before hitting the river mouths here to offer some gnarly barrels. There are also other beaches – Seabrook, Jenness – that offer beginner waves and surf schools.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in New Hampshire

Massachusetts

Great whites aside, MA probably deserves more attention than it gets from the East Coast surf community. There’s a nascent surf scene here but we’re often shocked at how few people are in the water, especially given the relatively reliable quality of the waves at spots like Whitecrest Beach on C others on the Atlantic side of Cape Cod. Other places like Nantasket Beach just don’t have the swell window to be able to compete with other spots in New England.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Massachusetts

Rhode Island

400 miles of surf coast await in Rhode Island. It’s actually one of the best-placed on the Eastern Seaboard for hoovering up all sorts of swell directions, so you can expect some decent summer pushes in these parts. Winter reigns supreme, though, even if you’ll be packing in under 5mils of rubber. Highlight surf spots are at Narragansett Bay, and a number of other reef and point breaks to the west and east.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Rhode Island

Connecticut

Connecticut might look like it’s in the perfect location to get the brunt of easterly Atlantic swell systems refracted through the sounds, but actually Long Island pretty much kills any good waves that hit The Constitution State. There are some spots, but serious surfers will track down to New York or New Jersey to catch those bigger swells.

We’ve got a complete guide to Connecticut surf (coming soon)

New York

City surfing is very much alive and kicking in NYC. The city spreads onto a run of sandy, south-facing beaches that start with Rockaway and end with the tip of Long Island. All that gets decent swell from the outer Atlantic and the tropics, but it’s cold-water stuff that needs some thick rubber, mainly because the best A-frame peaks (NYC classics) only really work from November to March.

We’ve got a complete guide to New York surfing

New Jersey

New Jersey has a real surf pedigree and offers up a whole over 114 miles of perfectly-orientated shoreline. From Fort Hancock in the north to Cape May in the south, it’s a long run of barrier isles and beach towns that get waves throughout the whole calendar. A-frame beachies are the waves people chase here. Look out for them in Island Beach State Park or at Nun’s Beach when the conditions align in winter.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in New Jersey (coming soon)

Virginia

Virginia Beach is home to a pier break that’s classic east coast stuff. Yea, the local crew will break your balls to steal a phrase from the seaboard vocab, but it’s a fun wave with bowly rights. It’s not the only haunt in Old Dominion, though. Sandbridge Beach can hold way more size when those nor’easterner systems cross in fall and winter. That’s where you’ll get the tubey A-frames if you’re brave enough to make the paddle.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Virginia (coming soon)

North Carolina

There’s one place that puts North Carolina firmly up there as one of the best spots for surfing on the East Coast: The Outer Banks. Yep, this string of narrow barrier isles is our favorite surf territory in the whole region. There are waves after waves after waves, along with a unique coming-together of nor-easterner pressure systems from the north and tropical swells from the south. It’s epic stuff. The southern part of the state draws most swell from the tropics, which helps it work in summertime, too.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in North Carolina (coming soon)

South Carolina

South Carolina might not have the swell-magnet of the OBX or the low continental shelf of its northern compadre. What it does have is nigh-on 200 miles of uninterrupted beach break, occasionally punctuated by a pier spot. We won’t say the surf here is epic, because it’s not. However, between August and November when the hurricanes rip through the Caribbean, you can score frothing barrels in these parts…you just need to know where to look.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in South Carolina (coming soon)

Georgia

Jekyll Island and Tybee Island are the premier waves in Georgia. Thing is, they’re not all that good. The Peach State really suffers from a big gap between its sands and the drop-off of the continental shelf, so most swells worth anything can be killed dead before they hit the shore. The only time that changes is with something powerful like a hurricane system in August, which can offer some rippable shoulders at certain locations.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Georgia (coming soon)

Texas

In a state that loves to go big, Texas doesn’t really have the waves to match. Reliant on whatever little splashed the Gulf of Mexico can throw its way, the coastline here isn’t really set up for proper surfing. South Padre Island – you know, that spring break mecca – is the only wave of quality and even that’s as fickle as a freshman after a keg stand.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Texas (coming soon)

Florida

The state that gave the world a certain Kelly Slater surely has some surf, right? Of course. In fact, we’d say it’s got some of the most criminally underestimated breaks this side of the OBX. They’re getting busier every year now, but there’s frothy beach breaks all the way from Jacksonville in the north to Cocoa Beach further south. Then the Keys and Miami Beach take over for when it’s time to chillax.

We’ve got a complete guide to surfing in Florida (coming soon)

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When to go surfing on the East Coast

The best time to surf on the East Coast really depends where you’ll be paddling out. Generally speaking, the northern states of New England work best in the fall and the winter, while southerly states like the Carolinas get kicking with the tropical storm systems of late summer and falls. Here’s a closer look…

OBX surf

Summer (June-August)

You’ll need to head south on the East Coast to really pick up surf in the summer months. From Cape Hatteras in the OBX down to Georgia, there’s a chance that hurricane systems will bring in the brunt that’s needed to overcome the narrow continental shelf. When they do, you can rest assured that everyone and their dog will be in the water, chasing hollow A-frames that can get epic. Still, it’s the least reliable season overall.

Fall (September-November)

Fall is a byword for prime surf time all across the US, from the West Coast to Hawaii. It’s no different here, either, as nor’easterner systems start hitting the North Atlantic, filling New England with consistent offshore winds and uber-cold fronts to match (by October you’ll want to be in 5-mil). From New York through to the Garden State is blessed with strong SE and E swells that come up all the way from Cuba like a good cigar, rolling A-frames into Long Island and beyond. Even Florida gets in on the action with its log-period waves in Sept and Nov.

Winter (December-April)

Winter is the time of year that the real hardcore east coasters cut their teeth. As far north as Maine, the weather gets bitterly cold but will reward with gnarly tubes and triple overheads off the E and SE swells if you know where to look. They combine with offshore winds out of the Great Lakes or nor’easterners to really plump up conditions. Winter further south can be unpredictable, with some good storm swells and other days where the wind is playing havoc.

Spring (March-May)

Warm, offshore winds help Florida offer some good waves at the tail end of the winter months. It’s a trend that continues as you track north to the OBX and the Carolinas, where offshores will be joined by a bend in the Gulf Stream that ensures strong swells on long periods (the downside in those parts is that it’s shark season). The North Atlantic cna offer some good spring days for New York and up, but it’s sporadic and the days of snowy surfs in New England waters usually stop by May.


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 the United States

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2 comments

Tim December 3, 2021 - 2:23 pm

You forgot Delaware and Maryland! Ocean City and Assategue have nice swell. Delaware has a number of jetty that are popular. SURFCOOKER on youtube has some really good surfing shots from both the Maryland and Delaware coast.

Reply
Joe Francis December 3, 2021 - 2:28 pm

Hey Tim. Thanks for the heads up! We are planning on adding them in, but right now only have one East Coast writer on the case so the going is slow :). We’ll definitely check out SURFCOOKER for some insights though. Hope all is good bro.

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