Surfing has long been synonymous with road trips and camper vans. It's a romantic way to travel but also often the most practical and affordable method when it comes to searching for the best waves. But if you've never taken a surf road trip where should you start?
Inspiration-wise we've got you covered. From classic Euro surf road trips to Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, and California, here are 10 surf road trips all surfers should take at least once in their lives.
1. Northern Scotland
A trip up Scotland’s east coast, along the north coast and across to the Outer Hebrides is almost certain to throw up some classic cold water action. From the picturesque beach and reef breaks around Banff head north to Skirza where you might just catch one of the best point breaks in Scotland. The next stop has got to be Thurso and its world class right; from here the north coast has deserted, magnificent breaks as do the Outer Hebrides; all you need to make the most of it is an adventurous spirit and a good wetsuit.
2. North-West Ireland
Starting from the buzzing little town of Sligo, head for Bundoran where you’ll find everything from easy beach breaks to killer reefs, and just to the south mighty Mullaghmore for those who dare (don’t forget to check out the infamous Bridge Bar in Bundoran too). Continue north into County Donegal where the exposed and indented coastline offers no end of opportunities to explore; once you hit the north coast veer east to Portrush, a friendly and buzzing surf community with more than its fair share of good waves.
3) The Basque Country
The classic Euro surf trip since the seventies, if you drive south from France’s Gironde estuary you’ll encounter the longest beach in Europe along with the continent’s best beach breaks. It’s all change around Biarritz where the swells crash into the rocky Basque coastline and coves and points provide an endless succession of quality waves such as Lafitenia and Guethary. Hopping across the border into Spain you come across must-see cities like San Sebastian and Bilbao and the world-class left at Mundaka. No wonder surfers have been doing this trip for the last fifty years.
4) Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Vancouver Island has a relatively small area of readily accessible waves since it’s only the 40-kilometre stretch of blacktop between Ucluelet in the south and Tofino in the north that is exposed to Pacific swells. However, it’s a mighty fine drive to get here from Vancouver through dense forests and over high mountains, and the mix of friendly locals, consistent long period swells and spectacularly wild coastline (don’t be surprised to find bear, wolf or cougar prints in the sand) make the journey more than worthwhile.
Hit the cold, quiet waves of northern California first before setting off down the Pacific Coast Highway on a journey that could be well over a thousand miles long if you head for Baja’s southern tip. On the way you’ll encounter spectacular coastline (Big Sur), whales, insanity (Venice Beach), California dreaming (Orange County), craziness (Tijuana) and then endless hot, dusty desert roads and uncrowded waves before eventually running out of Tarmac at Cabo San Lucas. And if you still want more, just hop across the Sea of Cortez to mainland Mexico…
6) New South Wales/Queensland Australia
Fly into Sydney, out of Brisbane and score some of the best waves in Oz on the road trip in between. Sydney’s beaches may be crowded but places like Manly, Dee-Why and Newport are still quality. Things quieten down a little as you head north and hit the reef, point and beach breaks between Newcastle, Point Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, after which come the classic NSW spots like Angourie, Lennox Head and Byron Bay. The water gets warmer on crossing the border into Queensland and the world famous surf destinations of the Gold Coast and North Stradbroke Island (sharkie, mind!) before you eventually roll into Brisbane, totally surfed out.
7) South Africa
It’s over 1500km from Cape Town to Durban and there are great waves along most of the route. Spectacular Cape Town makes a fine starting point before hitting the beautiful Garden Route and its long, white, quiet beaches. After this come the incredible rights of Jeffreys Bay, then the quieter peaks of Cintsa and Coffee Bay before you end with the buzz of Durban’s city life and amazing selection of warm water waves. What’s not to like?
8) New Zealand, North Island
Head south down State Highway 1 from Auckland and the only place you can be going if you have boards on the roof of your car is Raglan. When the endless lefts here have worn you out, North Island has thousands of kilometres of wild and unpopulated coastline to explore, making it ideal if you want to escape the crowds. You have the option of the wild west coast, or the more picturesque east coast, both of which are rich in waves and magnificent scenery. Or just go for the sensible option and surf both coasts in a round trip from either Auckland in the north or Wellington in the south.
9) Costa Rica
With its year-round warm water, user-friendly waves, incredible landscapes and even more incredible wildlife Costa Rica is close to being the ultimate surf destination. However, the well-known Pacific coast spots such as Tamarindo can be incredibly crowded, so you may want to head south to quieter coastlines like those around Nosara and Mal Pais. And don’t neglect Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, which has some challenging reef and beach breaks, whilst heading across the mountains to get there gives you a chance to see the famous cloud forests.
You’ll probably need an ex-Russian military six-wheeled off-roader to explore Kamchatka’s spectacularly wild and uninhabited coastline, but if you can get your hands on one you’ll be sure of scoring empty waves in Russia’s far east. The North Pacific abuts a coastline that is totally deserted outside of the regional capital of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and a few forlorn and isolated settlements that somehow scrape a living in this unforgiving corner of the world. The backdrop to the pristine beaches is mountains and steaming volcanoes, with small but clean swells the order of the day. All of the few surfers who have visited this region (I’m one) have been captivated by its sparse and rugged beauty and would return again if the opportunity arose, despite the need for a 7mm wettie.