The Ultimate Guide to Christchurch Surf

by Oliver Sander

The Christchurch surf benefits from begin right on the Pacific swell channels, so comes up trumps as some of the finest in NZ’s South Island.

Christchurch surf

Christchurch surf at a glance

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The good

  • Loads and loads of beach breaks
  • Good longboarder waves
  • Reliable Pacific swells

The bad

  • Can be crowded when it’s real good
  • Beaches are quite far from the main sites in the town center
  • Flatter summer months

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

What’s in this guide to Christchurch surf?

An introduction to the surf in Christchurch

It should hardly come as a surprise that we rank the Christchurch surf up there as some of the best in New Zealand. This is the same stretch of coastline that gave the world the legendary wedges of Kaikoura, after all. There’s a slight change in the orientation of the shoreline to a NW-facing beachfront, here, which changes things a tad. There are a few less points too, and it’s mainly about the urban beaches. That means there’s something for all levels in the Garden City, and a couple of neat longboard waves for those who like to wax down the log and keep things mellow.

The hallmarks of the surf scene here are accessibility and easy-going vibes. If you’ve been competing for the NZ waves in spots like Piha or Raglan, you should notice that the locals don’t go full viper if you accidentally pull a snake in these parts. On top of that, you can get to many of the surf spots just by walking from the coastal suburbs, which we actually think are the best places to stay in Christchurch anyhow!

Where is Christchurch?

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. It enjoys a lovely location in the shadow of the Southern Alps on the far eastern coast of the country. Yep – that means full exposure to the Pacific Ocean. The town meets that great mass of water and waves with its outer suburbs, which stretch from New Brighton all the way to the small harbor towns in the Port Hills, which host some of the very finest surfing spots in the region.

A guide to Christchurch surf spots

Christchurch meets the Pacific with the suburbs of New Brighton and Sumner. In all the town has over 30km of coastline that’s perfectly located for picking up Pacific swells. They start at Waimairi in the north and move south around the volcanic headland until you reach the Magnet Bay surf, which actually works better on a S swell direction. Let’s take a look…

Waimairi Beach

Waimairi is where many of the locals will head to escape the larger summertime crowds. It’s a long length of sand that extends north of Brighton, offering a range of peaky beach breaks that are usually mellow and crumbly. There’s some punch to them on decent winter Pacific swells. However, it’s a fickle spot because the sandbanks shift a lot and that can alter everything. Good for all levels. There’s also a local surf school.

North New Brighton

Essentially a continuation of Waimairi Beach (see above), though with bigger lineups when it’s on (the spot is closer to the city). There’s a little added potential for hollower waves on larger days but the spot gets extra dumpy when it’s at high and heavy.

New Brighton

The New Brighton surf really sums up the Christchurch surf per se if you ask us. It’s a true chameleon of a wave that can be hollow and glassy one day and then fat and crumbly the next. That’s really down to the fact that it’s a pretty exposed beach break that stretches for several kms along the front of the city. There’s almost always someone out and enjoying the spot, but the lineup can spread nicely so you can often be alone. Hazards are few; swimmers are the main one. The vibe is good.

South New Brighton

The South New Brighton surf continues the changeable theme but offers a little more in the way of predictability on the tides. High here is fatter and more rippable – better for beginners on smaller swells. Low tide is faster and hollower. There are lefts and rights to catch, coming off multiple sandbanks that change and alter literally by the hour.

Southshore

Southshore is the last spot on the flat beaches that run with the coast suburbs to the east of Christchurch. It’s a real mixed bag of a break, offering hollow rides at low on the sandbanks and easier whitewash on the secondary swell. It’s geographically closer to the city but harder to reach because you need to cross onto the coastal spit and drive south. That tends to keep the surf schools away and the line up empty. Southshore is a great bet for multi-level groups.

Sumner Bar

For the more experienced surfers, the Sumner Bar sandbank picks up the biggest of NE swell hits to offer a super good barrel on its best days. The paddle is hard and pretty dangerous and the ride is fast and hollow.

Scarborough

Arguably the single best spot on the line up of Christchurch surf, Scarborough is a long, wide beachfront that cooks up reliable sets of soft and mellow waves. If you’re thinking longboard, you’re on the right lines, though there’s potential for bigger, wedgier sets that suit the shorties. There are lots of peaks but it’s the breakwater and the cliffs that produce the goods on larger swells. They protect from strong easterlies to keep it clean, and give a series of right-hand points that you can ride for well over 100m from the headland and into the bay. It’s an intermediate’s dream when it’s like that!

Scarborough

Arguably the single best spot on the line up of Christchurch surf, Scarborough is a long, wide beachfront that cooks up reliable sets of soft and mellow waves. If you’re thinking longboard, you’re on the right lines, though there’s potential for bigger, wedgier sets that suit the shorties. There are lots of peaks but it’s the breakwater and the cliffs that produce the goods on larger swells. They protect from strong easterlies to keep it clean, and give a series of right-hand points that you can ride for well over 100m from the headland and into the bay. It’s an intermediate’s dream when it’s like that!

Magnet Bay

Magnet Bay is a longboarder’s dream. A cruisy left hander that comes off a point on a boulder-dotted beach, it’s got some of the longest rides int he Christchurch area. You’ll need to drive to get to the Magnet Bay surf – it’s around 1h10 minutes straight to the south through the volcanic peaks. Try to make the trip early because the line up will boom on any days with a hint of south swell.

Where to stay when surfing in Christchurch

We’ve gone a-searching for some lovely surf stays in the Christchurch area. They’re perfect if you simply want to hit the waves and kick back in the Garden City…

Sumner Black Hut

Surf-hotel-top-pick

Sleek, perfectly located, and effortlessly cool, the Sumner Black Hut puts you right in between Sumner Beach and Scarborough. It’s a modern build with a Scnadi-style interior that oozes a noir charm. Outside, you’ve got everything a surfer could need: A shower, a huge deck, a big wood smoker. Man it’s cool!

Sumner Bay Motel

Best for: Affordable stays near the best Christchurch surf

Sumner Bay Motel sits close to everyone’s fav surf spots along the Port Hills coastline. It’s a cheap and cheerful accommodation that’s got that homey NZ charm. Rooms are large and breezy and often come with balconies.

Sandy Feet Accommodation

Best for: Being near New Brighton

Sandy Feet Accommodation is a classic Kiwi homestay option that has comfy doubles and bunk rooms, along with couples’ studios, and even cheaper choices with shared bathrooms. There’s free private parking and the location is perfect for getting to New Brighton’s multiple beach peaks and even the waves of Kaikoura (they’re a three-hour drive north, though)

When to surf in Christchurch

The most reliable time to surf in Christchurch is during the New Zealand winter. Pacific storm systems allow for lots of NE swells at that time, so you get loads of action on beaches like Scarborough and New Brighton. However, we prefer autumn and spring. It’s warmer at those times, and you get tempered swells that offer glassier waves on the whole.

New Brighton Beach

Summer (Nov-Feb)

Summer is the most chilled time on the Christchurch sets. There are days – this is the Pacific Ocean, after all. They’re all-round more relaxed, glassier, and better shaped but also suffer from a little lack of punch. Our advice? Get a car and be ready to make the switch up to Kaikoura or south to Magnet Bay, which both pick up different swell directions.

Autumn (March-May)

Autumn is our favourite time to hit the Christchurch surf. There’s a good mix of S and N swell conditions that keeps both Magnet Bay and New Brighton powered up well into May. Things are warmer and people are happier, with some good vibes and really fun days in the lineup to be had!

Wear: 3/2

New Zealand is known for its HUGE gap in the Ozone Layer. You can burn before you’ve even paddled out in Christchurch! Check out our guide to the five best Zinc sunscreens on the market right to help with all that. It’s pretty essential gear in these parts!

Winter (June-August)

The winter months on South Island see the Pacific side start churning out some pretty hefty storm swells that roll through the underwater canyons to produce pretty reliable conditions in Christchurch. You’ll need a wetsuit and a hood and the whole shebang, but you also should find rideable days aplenty. The downside is the wind, which can play havoc with the more exposed beach breaks in New Brighton.

Wear: 4/3 with gloves, hood, and booties

Spring (September-Oct)

Spring is a great time to surf in Christchurch. It’s still very rainy from September to October, but it’s also a little more chilled on the Pacific swell channel. That means smaller days that really play into the hands of the mellower longboard waves around Scarborough.

Wear: 4/3 or 3/2

Surf shops in Christchurch

There are lots and lots of surf shops in Christchurch, so don’t worry if you just forget you wax or want a whole custom fishtail shaped for your NZ roadtrip…

Exit Surf Shop

Conveniently located on the main road leading out to Sumner and Scarborough, the Exit Surf Shop is one of the best-known in the Garden City. It’s got great stock of LSD and Channel Islands boards, along with oodles of fins and tail pads, all in a warehouse-like emporium.

Sadhana Surfboards

Doing repairs and customs, Sadhana Surfboards is the go-to option for something new and different in the quiver. They create stunning – like seriously stunning – boards of all lengths and shapes with a bit of a retro edge. They’ve been making big waves on the South Island shaper scene and for good reason!


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 New Zealand

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