Surfing isn’t always about escapism. It doesn’t have to be about driving for miles to score waves on your own, or heading to an isolated archipelago in the middle of the Pacific. Many surfers crave the city life, or are drawn by the work opportunities that major population centres provide. Luckily there exist conurbations that scratch both itches.
These ten cities provide the best of both worlds where great waves and fantastic beaches come with a side of city living.
A thriving metropolis with great waves, incredible food, awesome coffee and zero unemployment, Sydney has perhaps the best claim to be surfing’s ideal city. There are the famous beaches of Bondi, Narrabeen and Cronulla, the well known point breaks such as Dee Why and Deadman's, and the slabs of Ours and the Cronulla reefs.
Crowds are an issue, but there are still loads of nooks, crannies and empty stretches of beach where you can surf on your own. As well equipped for travellers and beginners as it is for experts and locals, Sydney offers the best of a great city’s vibrancy with a coastal vibe and 80 miles of beautiful coastline. What are you waiting for?
A centre of decadence and romance since the 1800s, the Basque city of Biarritz combines heights of grandeur and opulence with the feel of a good old surf town. It was here at the Cote de Basques that the first waves were surfed in France way back in 1956 and the surf culture still runs strong.
With less powerful waves and less hardcore surfers than the nearby and more famous surf town Hossegor, it's a great place to learn to surf or base yourself for a summer to tackle your first surfing season. And where else can you get tubed in the shadows of a palace built by Napoleon? This is chic, city surfing at its very best.
3) Santa Cruz
The city of Santa Cruz, located on the edge of California’s Monterey Bay, provides the perfect mix of a small city’s cosmopolitan edge and a constant supply of powerful, if a little cold, waves. It was in Santa Cruz that Jack O’Neill invented the wetsuit in the 1950s and it has been a hub for professional surfing and skateboarding for the last three decades.
The city prides itself on its alternative community lifestyles and socially liberal leanings and protects the pristine coastline and redwood forests that surround the centre. You’ll need a good wetsuit, but if you want consistent waves and a city with spirit, Santa Cruz is hard to beat.
4) Rio de Janeiro
Rio’s beating heart is at the beach and the city boasts a selection of white sandy beaches that offer easy, accessible waves all year round. Although ringed by rainforested mountains it does have a population of just over six million making for a very urban, intense, style of beach living, but that also brings its energy and excitement.
Brazil has fallen in love with surfing, and ever growing numbers mean you will rarely surf alone (except at Carnivale), but with the consistency of the waves, the warmth of the water and the locals’ love of the coast, there are few cities where you can spend as much time in the ocean as Rio.
5) Cape Town
Easily one of the most beautiful cities in the world, few metropolis can also boast the quality and consistency of Cape Town's waves. They storm in from the Atlantic Ocean and wrap into its two coasts providing every type of wave from two foot peelers to some of the biggest rideable waves in the world.
The presence of sharks and the cold water do make for a close knit surfing community, but when you are surfing perfect waves under Table Mountain your frozen toes are soon forgotten. Add the incredibly cheap food, the close-by vineyards of Stellenbosch and the sheer majesty of the landscape and city surfing has never been so wild or satisfying.
If you were a sipping an um bica and eating a custard-filled pastry in the majestic old town of Lisbon, or leaving one of its thumping nightclubs in broad daylight, it would be easy to forget that Lisbon is ringed by some of Europe’s best waves. With south and north facing coasts and a constant supply of Atlantic swell, there is always a wave to be found within a half hour’s drive of the city centre.
Few surf cities boast Lisbon’s history or grandeur, and not many can rival its access to a variety of waves. From beginner beachbreaks to groomed pointbreaks, this is a city break that could easily turn into the best year of your life.
More than just the name of a bank, the Spanish city situated in Cantabria, offers great waves, incredible food and a vibrant mix of urban chaos and coastal leisure. As far back as the late 1800s it was decreed a summer destination for Spanish high society and under the reign of Alfonso XIII, it became the Royal Court's favourite holiday resort.
Alfonso, to our knowledge, didn’t surf and it wasn’t 'til the 1970s and 1980s that the waves of Liencres and Somo became well known. Warmer and smaller in summer, and therefore a great place to learn, winter offers colder and heavier waves on some of the nearby reefs and pointbreaks. A little known city gem, Santander’s great waves and bustling, fun Cantabrian lifestyle must be checked out.
Hawaii’s capital, and only city, is a bustling hybrid of laidback surf town and tacky tourist trap. Still the waves centred on Waikiki are where surfing first started and despite the malls, mega hotels and apartment blocks it still provides some of the funnest, warmest and easiest waves to ride on the planet.
In winter, the towering waves of the North Shore (less than a 45 minute drive away) end up wrapping into Honolulu’s south facing reefs and roll languidly for hundreds of yards. In summer, it receives more swell and the famous waves of Ala Moana and Queens come to life. Either way, there are few cities that offer as much surfing heritage and warm-blooded pleasure as Honolulu.
9) Los Angeles
The most populous Californian city is blessed by a beautiful coast with plenty of surf spots for all levels. Of course the weather helps. Its subtropical Mediterranean climate and endless dry spells force you to surf. Even if you don’t know LA, the iconic waves of Malibu, Zuma, Topanga, Venice, Huntington, Hermosa and Manhattan all evoke a special surf feel.
You’ll be driving to score these waves, and there will be crowds, but this is where modern surfing found its home and then spread its wings. Ideally suited for beginners, LA holds a special place in surfing lore, and you’d be mad not to immerse yourself in it at some stage in your life.
10) Tel Aviv
A little leftfield perhaps, and Israel’s Tel Aviv isn’t the most consistent wave hub on the planet, but what it lacks it clean groundswell, it makes up for with its curious mix of geopolitics and hedonism. Situated on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, its many and keen surfers rely on long fetch wind swells to light up the city’s 25 miles of beaches and sand-covered reefs.
(Just) far away enough from the hotspots of the Gaza Strip, Lebanon border and the West Bank it also has a reputation as one of the great party spots, with nightclubs and beachbars open 24/7 365 days a year.