The Ultimate Guide to Surfing North America

by Surf Atlas

Surfing North America throws up all sorts of amazing breaks. From the Atlantic beach breaks of the Carolinas to the legendary swells of California to Mexico’s hardcore peaks, there’s no region quite like it.

Surfing North America

The good:

  • Hawaii – arguably the surf mecca of the world
  • Mexico’s gnarly beach breaks
  • Pretty much all of California
  • Surf to put hairs on your chest in Canada

The bad:

  • That localism in SoCal
  • The size of the region – you need to pick where you’ll holiday and stick to it!
  • Can be very, very cold up north

What will I find in this guide to North America surf?

An introduction to surfing North America

North America covers a great big whack of the planet. It ranges from the jungles of Guatemala all the way to the icy tundra of the Arctic Circle. Three great nations make their home between its borders: The United States, Mexico, and Canada. Each has something very different up its sleeve when it comes to surfing.

We’ll detail them individually a little later on, but for now, let’s just say there’s a break to fit any and every description in these parts. Wild point breaks that lash across Mexican reefs? Check. Mellow beach breaks rolling under West Coast mountain ranges? Check. Slappy Atlantic shore breaks that’ll need you to suit up into 5/4s? Yea, if you’re brave enough. It really is endless.

The key to planning a trip to go surfing in North America is in homing in on the place you think suits you the best. That’s why this guide is perfect. It will give a brief intro into each country that’s on the menu. Make your choice and click on through for more info on the best surf breaks and the surf seasons in each destination. It’s as easy as that!

Surfers on a beach in Canada

Where is the best surfing in North America?

The three countries that make up North America each offer something unique on the surfing front. Here, we’ll take a look at each one individually so you can get a feel for what sort of swells and surf adventures await…

Canada

Canada usually conjures images of snow-capped mountains, great glacial lakes and rolling prairies. However, there’s also some epic wave country up on the northern tip of North America. The region of Tofino usually takes the biscuit. It’s a whole leg of Vancouver Island over in BC where there are point breaks and waves worth chasing. Inland, there are also some pretty off-beat river surfing opportunities, not to mention the few spots that come along the sides of the Great Lakes. Finally, the east coast offers Nova Scotia. That’s a truly remote part of Canada with glassy swells that are lovely to ride in the summertime.

Canada surf

  • Nova Scotia – The surfing mecca of Canada’s east coast is still really remote and unvisited.
  • Vancouver Island – Brave the icy North Pacific to get some of the best open ocean swells in Canada.

United States

A big wave in the USA

The United States of America is where modern surfing all began. The feats of Duke Kahanamoku and the Hawaiian North Shorers took the spot to California and then the world. So, it’s hardly a surprise that some of the very best surf spots on the planet are found in this country. There are oodles of regions and places in the US to consider for that trip to go surfing in North American:

  • California (obviously!) – Up north it’s wild and remote with beach breaks that will chill your bones. Down south is SoCal, a land of famous wedges and pier breaks that are known all around the world!
  • The Carolinas – Surfing on the east coast hits a zenith in the Carolinas. From the aptly-named town of Surf City to the salt-sprayed Outer Banks, you won’t be short of beach breaks, that’s for sure.
  • Florida – Gave the world a certain Mr Slater. Long beach breaks on the white sand. Loads of peaks.
  • Hawaii – Is there any more famous surf destination in the world than Hawaii? The Aloha State really has it all. From the Oahu North Shore barrels to the stunning bays of Maui and beyond, it’s where wave riding first went mainstream.

Mexico

Mexico is now a staple when it comes to surfing North America. It’s forged its rep mainly thanks to some seriously killer beach breaks. The most famous of them await on the Oaxaca coast down south, where you can hit double overhead barrels in Puerto Escondido. But it’s not just for the pros. Time it right and a visit to Mexico’s surf-washed Pacific coast (any part of its 4,500 miles!) could also open up some beginner- and intermediate-friendly places to ride, like Punta Mita, Puerto Vallarta, and the Baja California.

Read our ultimate guide to surfing Mexico right now!

A surfer in Mexico
  • Puerto Escondido – Probably the most epic break in Mexico, with high walls forming straight of Zicatela Beach.
  • The Riviera Nayarit – Towns like San Pancho and Sayulita offer an authentic Mexicana vibe, putting taco stands next to mellow beach breaks in warm water.
  • Baja – A northern peninsula that borders California. A good place to catch waves in the summer, when big Southern Ocean swells are battering the rest of the shores.
Surfing beach in Mexico

A guide to the North America surfing season

One of the best things about surfing North America is that there’s always – yes, always! – a wave to be had. We won’t pretend that they’ll be close together. Or that they will suit your style/level. However, with tens of thousands of kilometres of coastline on the menu, there’s always going to be somewhere working in this vast continent.

Precisely because it’s so big, there are different seasons in different parts of the region. Generally speaking, winter brings the big swells to bear on the west coast. That’s true of California, when the S-SW direction kicks in and hurricane storms in the Pacific start whipping up big wedges. The same goes for Hawaii – the iconic North Shore is all about October to March. Meanwhile, the best waves on the Eastern Seaboard – from NY through the OBX to Florida – tend to run from August onwards, with winter seeing the peak in heavy overheads.

Summer, on the other hand, is better for beginners. Warm weather takes over but the waters anywhere north of the Baja in Mexico will still need a wetsuit (unless you’re in Florida or the Aloha State). There can be seriously glassy conditions in places like Oahu and Maui and California. On the flip side, Oaxaca and Mexico generally start seeing a bit of punch from New Zealand way, and you can find huge conditions in the hotter months. Winds drop as storms go away and you can come hunting between May and March for those paradise-style days with turquoise walls of glass behind ya!