5 of the Best Winter Surf Destinations

Don't sack off surfing just because it's the coldest season on the calendar

It’s a brave New Year, promising fresh beginnings and self-renewal. While your newsfeed might be a chorus of cute self-denial hashtags, or even abstinence from the newsfeed itself, let us instead explore a different tack, and encourage the indulgence of more.

More surfing. Much more. Surf more often, catch more waves when you do.

For there are many uncertainties in life. But one 100% given is that when, upon your death bed (hopefully, at least in the fairly distant future) of the many regrets and laments that may present themselves, at no point will you look back, waxy skinned and breathless, a cold, lonely tear running down a sunken cheek, thinking, ‘I wish I’d surfed less in 2019’.

Shall we?

1) North Devon

Come on then. Surfing in North Devon. Let’s be havin’ ya || Photo: Samuel Thompson

Water Temp: Freezing

Waves: Probably

Budget: Cheap

Devon? You say. Winter?

Listen, seasons are fluid now, winter a movable feast. Spot a wave and weather window, and a quick hit to England’s SW can deliver vital stoke relief even in the deepest, darkest.

Sure, it’s gonna be, at best, invigorating. And yeah, the sea tends towards the brown/grey colour palette and bottoms out in single digit degrees, but the waves can be hella fun. One of the southwest’s very finest beach breaks is found at Croyde, a wicked swell-puller on smaller days, with tubes at low tide when things really come together. There are boulder pointbreaks to the east of the county on huge swells and SW gales, there are mellow, beginner waves at Saunton and Woolacombe to welcome the less accomplished.

“A quick hit to England’s SW can deliver vital stoke relief even in the deepest, darkest”

California has Pacific Coast Highway 1, affectionately known as ‘PCH’. Victoria has the ‘Surf Coast Highway’, Hawaii has the Kamehameha.

“We’ve got the A361” says North Devon’s very own big wave lord Andrew Cotton. “There are loads of good reasons to do a trip to N Devon” Cotty told Mpora, with trademark dry humour. “I just can’t think of any right now.”

If you are making a roadie down from ‘up the line’, well there’s always the chance to indulge in some Motorway services fetish, with couple of note on this portion of the M5. Gordano Services near Portishead is oft-overlooked, while niche services fans might fancy Bridgwater, which actually has the smallest footprint of any services on the UK motorway network. And if you happen to be travelling down from the Midlands or the NW, that means a chance to stop at the legendary Gloucester Services, aka ‘The Miracle of the M5’.

6ft and offshore all day, everyday.

2) Andalusia

Red sky at night, surfer’s delight || Photo: Quino Al

Water Temp: Fine

Waves: Maybe

Budget: Do-able

With lyrical shout outs from both The Clash and The Pixies, Andalusia must be alright. You could call it the ‘thinking surfer’s Algarve’, offering up similar fare, but with much less of a scene.

Sure, it enjoys less exposure to west and north west swells bending in from the N Atlantic maw than its Portuguese neighbour to the west, but nevertheless, the place cops more surfriding opportunity than you might’ve thought. The upside is much less of a surf camp / surf school winter gong show.

“Best surf trip you never thought you’d go on”

What you will find is the warmest, sunniest climate on a mainland Europe coast that still gets Atlantic swells, a welcome opportunity to dry out the sinuses and get a bit of vitamin D on your dial, without having to cross the planet. Your apres surf activities may or may not include drinking inexpensive afternoon beers looking out over the big blue, neither wishing you’d gone to Croyde, nor Gloucester Services.

As I was writing this I had a peep at MagicSeaweed, to learn that today it’s 3-4ft with offshore winds, and sunny. Pretty much perfect, then.

“Where you should go, if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone” said Hemingway of Andalusia. He was specifically talking about Ronda, a town in the mountains, but still, his broader point has merit.

Whether you’re bolting with someone special, in a group, or prefer bolting on your own, Andalusia could well be the best surf trip you never thought you’d go on.

3) Madeira

The mad in Madeira stands for mad-good surfing. True story || Photo: Alex Bykov

Water temp: Pleasant

Waves: Kinda heavy

Budget: Medium

Madeira literally means wood; it stands out from its Macaronesian cousins The Canaries by being a few million years older, thus having the luxury of stuff like soil and forests, rather than just rocks and hard places. Although blessed with a thoroughly pleasant climate compared to N Europe, it ain’t the Canaries weather-wise either, and so you can expect a bit more moisture.

Madeira also has some incredible surf, in truth probably suited to the more experienced surfer, or the intermediate keen to strap on a pair.

“With a bit of exploration you can be scoring big time”

Its west coast holds medium to giant swells on deep water righthand reef/points, while the north coast has a bit more variety for smaller swells, but is prone to inclement winds. There are no real beach breaks on the island, thus no real learner scene, and hence very little in the way of surf camp/açai smoothie/yoga tribe vibes.

Depending on the wind/waves conditions served up from day to day you’re gonna be spending a fair bit of time in the hire car, but with a bit of exploration you can be scoring big time. The upside is the view out of the window is breathtakingly beautiful.

If you want an easy winter surf trip with fun waves out the front, this probably isn’t it. But if you’re up for a scratch and a sniff, and to test your adventure surf chops, you’ll love Madeira.

4) Mexico

Viva (winter surfing in) Mexico || Photo: Dan Aragon

Water Temp: Fab

Waves: Sure

Budget: Not cheap, but good value

While requiring more investment in terms of travel time and budget to get there, Mexico won’t disappoint. For some reason, the very name is synonymous with slightly naughty fun, and the notion of slipping south of the border, be it to escape the Feds or to escape Jack Frost, has seldom felt like a shit idea.

Mexico is a massive country with an enormous coastline, much of it facing south towards the South Pacific, and thus its most famous breaks like Puerto Escondido are in prime surf season in the austral winter (our summer). As in, not now.

“The notion of slipping south of the border… has seldom felt like a shit idea”

However, the central region has a coastline open to swells from both hemispheres, with the state of Nayarit being exposed to North Pacific swells that bend around Baja California. It also happens to be one of the more lush and beautiful parts of the entire Pacific coast, where a little town called Sayulita, kind of like a Mexican Byron Bay, makes an ideal winter escape.

As well as enjoying fun if not epic waves, you’ll dig the lush, tropical vegetation and warm, blue water teeming with wildlife. Sayulita has friendly learner waves out front well served by surf schools, and plenty of intermediate waves nearby, even some rarer treats accessed by boat.

While today it’s something of a cosmopolitan scene with gringos from all over, many of them year round residents, it’s still Mexico. One fine Sayulita evening, I saw a local guy in a cowboy hat picking up a pizza in the middle of town on horseback, and instantly developed acute horse/hat/lifestyle envy, a small part of which lives on to this day.

5) Micronesia

Get some. Get some. Get. Some. Go get some || Photo: Damea Dorsey

Water Temp: Warm bath

Waves: Plenty

Budget: Eye-wateringly expensive

One for the surfer of some means, a trip to Micronesia won’t be cheap. But it will be mind-blowingly fecking awesome.

Located in the western part of the North Pacific between New Guinea and Hawaii it’s pretty much one of the most isolated places on the planet. One thing that shouldn’t be too much of an issue, is crowds.

Among the various Federated States of Micronesia lie The Marshall Islands, a collection of 29 coral atolls that happen to be home to one of the finest private surf resorts in the universe, Beran Island. Beran’s owner/operator Martin Daly was the captain of the legendary Indies Trader charter vessel, a pioneer of Indonesia’s Mentawai region in the 90’s and 2000’s and knows more about perfect surf and where to find it than anyone alive. He took a 100 year lease on an island not all too far from the infamous Bikini Atoll and has built an off grid luxury resort alongside some of the most idyllic surf breaks known to humankind.

“An off grid luxury resort alongside some of the most idyllic surf breaks known to humankind”

You can rent all of Beran with you and your chums for a cool 50 large/week, and while you’re at it, make the most of world class diving and kiting, if that’s your thang. With prime season being Northern Hemisphere winter, the Marshalls cop the same swell that Hawaii goes bonkers on, as those swells just travel on through the Pacific.

The main difference being that whereas in Hawaii you’re likely to be in some of the most competitive, sought after and oft fought-over waves, in the Marshalls you’re basically guaranteed to be alone with your thoughts. Which, is total bliss, just so long as those thoughts aren’t, ‘How the fuck am I gonna pay for this?’

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