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Surfing off the coast of Santa Cruz County in California
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Surfing isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of life along the USA’s coastlines.

The sport that began in the Hawaiian Islands and migrated to California more than 135 years ago brings people from around the world to the USA’s sandy shores. Surfing destinations in the USA include a diverse group of great places to catch a wave, from Pacific Ocean islands and beaches to epic Atlantic Ocean surf breaks on the East Coast. No matter your experience, you’ll find a scenic spot to match your skill level. Look for surf shops lining boardwalks and beaches to rent gear and schedule lessons.

Hawaii, a Popular Haven for Surfers

You’ll be astounded by the backdrop of lush mountains, endless beaches and Polynesian culture in the Hawaiian Islands, where surfing can be traced back to the 4th century. There’s no shortage of places to surf, but among the most revered are Oahu and Maui. On Oahu, well-known surf spots include the famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu and the heralded Haleiwa on the North Shore. At Waikiki Beach, surfers are just steps from hotels lining the popular beach. Sign up for a lesson, then paddle out into the clear blue water to catch a wave at one of the surf breaks. Most of them are gentle, which makes Waikiki Beach a great choice for beginning surfers. About an hour away, ramp up the action – and level of difficulty – at Haleiwa on the North Shore, known for huge waves that challenge even professional surfers. Time your visit between November and February to watch one of the many competitions along this stretch of shore.

On Maui, go to the small town of Paia and head to Ho’okipa Beach Park to try out big waves or simply marvel at skilled surfers. The park is known for its consistent surf breaks and stunning views of the action from an observation area. Look closely and you’ll might spot sea turtles and seals resting in the sand.

A couple of surfers enjoying the gentler break of Waikiki Beach

A couple of surfers enjoying the gentler break of Waikiki Beach
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Along California’s Pacific Coast Highway

Along the Pacific Coast Highway, also known as California’s Highway 1, you’ll be delighted to discover a few can’t-miss surfing spots. Three Hawaiian princes, brothers Jonah, David and Edward Kawananakoa, first surfed Santa Cruz’s waves in 1885. Learn more about the sport’s history and culture at the waterfront Santa Cruz Surfing Museum in a lighthouse adjacent to Lighthouse Field State Beach. Get tips at the museum, then follow the shoreline for about 10 kilometers, stopping to put your board to use at several top surfing spots, including Cowell Beach, Pleasure Point and Capitola Beach.

Head farther south to Ventura and Malibu, two legendary beaches just an hour away from each other. In Ventura, enjoy Silver Strand Beach’s great waves breaking from a sandbar, then catch more waves at Malibu Point and Zuma Beach in Malibu. End your California surfing tour at Huntington Beach, also called Surf City USA. See a bronze statue of Hawaii native Duke Kahanamoku, known as the “Father of Modern Surfing,” at the International Surf Museum. Watch the U.S. Open of Surfing competition, see where world records were set and take a lesson or two from experts.

Family taking surf lessons on Huntington Beach

Family taking surf lessons on Huntington Beach
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More Amazing Places to Ride the Waves

Narragansett, Rhode Island: Go to the center of town to access the Atlantic Ocean waves at Narragansett Town Beach, flush with amenities and a sandy beach. At popular Scarborough State Beach, enjoy a pavilion, boardwalk and observation tower while you’re not in the water.

Montauk, New York: At the eastern tip of Long Island, head to Ditch Plains, Turtle Cove or Shinnecock Inlet. Check with local outfitters about surf conditions as the long waves at these spots are usually appropriate for experienced surfers.

Newport, Oregon: Witness unpredictable breaks among natural rock formations along the beach at Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area. Beginners should plan to just watch from the shore at this location. The churning Pacific Ocean makes this break ideal for professional and highly experienced surfers only.

Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina: You’ll soon see why the Eastern Surfing Association tournament takes place in the Outer Banks. Avalon Pier is the most popular place to find challenging waves. From there, check out the swells at the less-crowded First Street and Third Street beaches.

Folly Beach, South Carolina: This barrier island in the Charleston area is known for its big waves. Go to The Washout area or the Folly Beach Pier to find surfers riding waves that are rolling in one after another.

Cocoa Beach, Florida: Visit the Florida Surf Museum inside Ron Jon Surf Shop or catch a competition, including one in conjunction with the annual Easter Surf Fest. An hour north, enjoy laid-back vibes and smallish waves for beginners in New Smyrna Beach.

Galveston Beach, Texas: Several piers on the west end of the island make this a near-perfect destination for beginning surfers. Surf conditions can be choppy, but top spots to check out include Pleasure Pier in addition to the jetties at 25th, 37th, 47th, 51st and 61st streets.

Surfers ready to hit the waves near the Cocoa Beach Pier in Florida

Surfers ready to hit the waves near the Cocoa Beach Pier in Florida
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