It’s tricky learning how to surf, and I feel your pain. I grew up miles from the nearest ocean and learned to surf in cold, windswept Cornwall. However, if you’re just getting started with surfing, there are many better places to do so. Places with perfect, small waves breaking in warm tropical waters under a beautiful natural setting. But before we dive into the best spots, what makes the best beginner surf destinations?
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What Makes the Best Beginner Surf Destinations?
While several places could provide a great learning environment, some stand out based on a few crucial criteria.
Waves – Waves are vital to any beginner surf trip. You need to put yourself in the most accessible conditions, both forgiving enough to make it enjoyable and offering the chance to push your surfing to the next level.
Ease of Travel – Many of the best beginner surf destinations have a solid surf infrastructure to make surfing easy. Places such as Bali, Hawaii, and Mexico are well-established and accommodating for beginner surfers. So always consider this before choosing a destination.
Culture – It’s one of the beauties of surf travel, learning a new skill, meeting people, and embracing local culture. Always consider the cultural environment you want to be around, both in and out of the water.
Climate – No one wants to learn surfing in the cold; I’m looking at you, UK! Thankfully, many of the top beginner surf spots are located in tropical climates, where all you’ll need are board shorts and sunscreen!
Other Activities – While surfing is fun, your body will need solid rest and recovery after a week of surfing, trust me! A great beginner surf trip always combines surfing with epic non-surfing activities.
The Best Beginner Surf Destinations on the Planet
1. Weligama, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has long been a favorite surf trip for beginners and budget surf trippers. A unique culture, tropical temps year-round, and warm, user-friendly surf spots give Sri Lanka the title of best beginner surf nation. You’ll find several beginner-friendly spots, along the southern coast of Sri Lanka, from Hikkaduwa in the west to Arugam bay in the east; Weligama is one of the best beginner spots in the country.
Located just a few kilometers from, Midigama, a small wave-rich town for advanced surfers, the long crescent-shaped bay of Weligama offers optimal learning conditions. Fun, rolling whitewater 24/7. Here you’ll find any number of surf schools and surf camps, places to hire and get the right information for learning how to surf.
2. Sayulita, Mexico
Ahh, Sayulita. A beautiful town located in Mexico’s Riveria Nayarit, with a relaxed vibe and everything you could want from a beginner surf trip. Famous for hosting the Mexi Log Fest every year, Sayulita has earned its reputation as one of the better long-boarding waves in the world and is now a well-established surf destination.
Sayulita is 1-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta, meaning easy access from the international airport. The town has excellent accommodations, from backpacker hostels to luxury villas. The area has countless beginner-friendly and intermediate surf setups. So hire a moped, and go and explore. In town, there is a long peeling lefthander and, on its day, the best wave, with a righthander breaking off the other side of the reef. The waves are typically small, long, and super fun!
3. Baleal, Portugal
Nestled in the corner of a crescent-shaped bay, it’s as if Baleal was designed for beginners. Baleal is a beach in the world-famous, Peniche, known for Supertubos, a thumping beach break providing some of the best tubes in Europe. This is the World Championship Tour site, where the top surfers in the world converge to compete for the Rip Curl Pro Portugal.
Baleal is far from a thumping beach break, and its crescent-shaped beach means beginner-friendly waves in all conditions. Conditions are always small and perfect for learning in the corner in front of the car park and cafe. As you walk down the beach, swells become progressively bigger as you reach the middle–where the swells hit directly. This means you can choose the size you want to surf!
4. Gold Coast, Australia
It’s the sort of paradisical Australian coastline you dream about, summoning surfers from all over the globe. Coolangatta, to the south, is world famous, known for having the planet’s most perfect, longest, and (most crowded) waves.
For beginners, Coolangatta also has excellent waves with countless beaches lining the coast, many with perfect learning conditions. We’re talking small, peeling green waves in clear turquoise waters, stunning white sands, and all the conveniences of modern city life.
Coolangatta straddles the border between Queensland and New South Wales, the two east coast states of Australia. The wave at Snapper rocks is in Queensland, and D-bah, around the corner, is in New South Wales. To get to Coolangatta, drive south from Brisbane or fly into Gold Coast airport.
5. Mt Maunganui, New Zealand
On New Zealand’s north coast, the Bay of Plenty region offers a perfect combination of weather, small waves, and less rain than most other places in the country. White sand beaches and a beautiful natural environment set the ideal setting for learning to surf in New Zealand.
While Mt Maunagunuis waves can be frustratingly small for advanced surfers, as a beginner, the small forgiving waves breaking around the foot of the Mount are ideal! Check out Main Beach directly under the mount or east toward Tay Street or Heart Street.
6. Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii
I couldn’t write a list of surf destinations without respecting where it all began. While you might have to compete with celebrities and hordes of Japanese tourists, Waikiki remains a fantastic place to learn surfing.
Located in Oahu, Waikiki has small, perfectly lined-up waves on any given day. While the waves break over a reef, which is a hazard to consider, the water is deep, and the wave is incredibly forgiving. Once you’ve filled your boots with surf lessons down south, head to the famous North Shore.; one of the world’s best surf destinations and home to the heaviest and scariest waves ever.
Also known as the seven-mile miracle, the place is seven miles of pristine sands, palm trees, attractive beachgoers, and awe-inspiring waves. It’s where the worlds best converge every year to ride waves such as Pipeline and Waimea.
7. Kuta, Bali
Surfers have been gracing Bali’s shores since the early 70s, with spots like Uluwatu putting the region on the map. Kuta is the main town in Bali where many choose to stay. However, Kuta has become overrun with young Aussies tearing around on mopeds and Bintang sipping ex-pats and isn’t the most pleasant place to stay in Bali.
That said, the waves of Kuta beach are still perfect for learning, with slow-rolling whitewater and countless beach stalls for lessons and hire equipment. If you’re looking for somewhere tropical to stroll onto the beach whenever you want, grab a board or take a lesson, Kuta is the place.
Kuta is just outside Bali’s main airport Ngurah Rai. While you could stay slap bang in the middle of the action in Kuta, Bali’s surrounding suburbs have much better accommodation options, from hostels to villas and everything in between; check out Uluwatu, Seminyak, and Canggu.
Our world has some incredible beginner surf destinations, and there are many more to add to this list! If you’ve been to any fantastic beginner surf spots, please let me know in the comments.