Trying to get into surfing isn’t as difficult as you may think. Once you get past struggling to lie flat on the board, it becomes a lot less intimidating. Part of the problem is knowing where the not-so-gigantic swells are for some practice. If always ending up in a spin-cycle, thrashing disoriented in the surf, has you discouraged, just think of it this way: you’re probably at the wrong beach. Surfing the big wave breaks of Hawaii, Tahiti and even most of NorCal isn’t the place to start, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t easy places for novice surfers to hone their skills. Check out the beaches where you can find the mellow, easy-to-ride waves right here in the United States:
Folly Beach, SC
One of the first things you see approaching this rustic old surf town is an abandoned shack and a phone number spray painted on its wall. Above the phone number is a message: SURF LESSONS. I wouldn’t recommend that guy, but there are plenty others on this island who can help you get up. Start with the locals at their favorite watering hole: Surf Bar. Buddy up and let them suggest a wave along the island’s miles of calm breaks. Folly Beach is known for a wave that’s just big enough for a thrill, but small enough for a beginner. If during your stay you get your sea legs and want more of a challenge, make your way east to the Washout and knick boards with the regulars. If you’re in South Carolina, this is where you’ll want to be to develop your skills.
Santa Monica, CA
Most of the tourists in Santa Monica are too afraid to dip their Tevas in the cold Pacific. No tourists in the water means no traffic in the water, and it makes Santa Monica a perfect practice spot for beginning surfers. The waves here are relatively small and slow, and there is no dearth of instructors. With Venice Beach and Malibu right up the road, you’ll have plenty of friends to hang ten with once you ready for something a little more bigger, faster and far more crowded. California isn’t short of beaches, but, if you can’t even stand on your board yet, Santa Monica is where you’ll want to be. Here, you’ll be able to not only stand, but coast delicately back to shore. Just the boost of confidence you’ll need to jump back in.
Manasquan (Inlet Beach), NJ
Jersey Shore? What? The Dirty Jerz isn’t just for fist-pumping and clubbing. This fun little party town also boasts great shorelines for surfing with a mellow left that rolls into the jetty and a more intense right that you’ll want to step into soon after. There are plenty of surf schools here, and plenty of professional competitions (some say the best way to learn is to learn from example). Take notes. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll ride for money, too. Until then, these waves will prep you for your future surfing career. Between the New Jersey Pro-Surf Contest, the Belmar Pro-Sure Competition and the ESA, they’ll be no shortage of amazing surfers to admire and learn from.
Cocoa Beach, FL
If you want warm water all year round, Cocoa Beach is your best bet. Tucked behind Cape Canaveral, this east coast break gives you nice, long waves all year long, and the water rarely dips below 60. Do you believe in magic? How about learning through osmosis? If so, Cocoa Beach is the place to absorb the surf knowledge gained by Kelly Slater. It’s where he was born and where he first thrashed about in the waves as a young boy. Now it’s the surf capitol of the east coast. These waters breed champions, maybe all you need is a dip in the right water.
South Padre Island, TX
Ever seen a surfer wearing a cowboy hat? If not, you’ve probably never been to South Padre Island. Located at the southernmost tip of Texas, South Padre is just about as close to the tropics you can get in the United States. You can literally swim or walk to Mexico from here. The Land of the Hot Sun is just past the jetty that abuts into the Gulf of Mexico, creating good swells the locals go loco for. Of course, there are tourists here, too. South Padre hosts some of the best surf camps in the US, as well as some of the best spring breaking in the Lone Star State. Plan right (or wrong), and you could find yourself surfing with fist-pumping party sharks.
Alabama Point (Orange Beach), AL
Come on, Alabama? Yes. It’s not all Forrest Gump and football down there. There’s a vibrant surf community on the Gulf Coast, where the southern hospitality will suck you in like a warm drawling undertow. Travelling between the party madness of Pensacola and New Orleans? Alabama Point is a great place to stop, chill out and take some surf lessons. The swells are short with very little wind, and the ocean stays empty, making it a nice, warm spot to learn. You won’t have to worry about the beaches being crowded here, which makes taking lessons or learning by yourself that much easier. Grab a beginner board, drive to a beginner beach and start surfing those beginner swells. Roll tide!