South Africa's West Coast
Unless you're willing to risk your five right fingers trespassing on De Beers diamond lands in Namibia, the stretch of frigid sea along South Africa's west coast still offers the wildest, loneliest breaks on the continent. "I wouldn't necessarily call it crazy to go there," says Sean Murphy, an American outfitter who used to run surfaris up the coast. "But it takes renting a van, going into the unknown...and just hoping." The fun starts in Cape Town. Commandeer a tenacious vehicle and procure a few weeks' worth of supplies (gallon jug of Marmite, oil drum of drinking water, medical kit). Head north, hitting Elands Bay for your last guaranteed ride, an endless left-hander that breaks over a rocky, kelp-covered shelf. Then target Namaqualand, an 80-mile stretch of white sand scattered with unmapped roads. South of tiny Port Nolloth, use your big gun to hunt for epic beach breaks. If the planets align, and a southern swell arrives, you won't have to fight for what comes next.
Surf's Up: Elusive groundswells are rumored to appear May to October, just before a cold front moves in.
Your Stick: Thanks to a still-plummeting rand, custom boards can be yours from Cape Town shapers for about $180.
Beware: In 45- to 55-degree water, a five-millimeter wetsuit is a must.
Getting There: South African Airways and British Airways fly from New York to Johannesburg, with connections to Cape Town, starting at $1,099. South Africa Direct Car (www.southafricadirect.com) and Explore Africa ( www.kapstadt.de/explore) in Cape Town rent Land Rovers fitted with roof-mounted tents, long-range fuel tanks, 45-liter water tanks, barbecue grills, and more ($1,260 for two weeks, limited mileage).
Puerto Chicama, Northern Peru
Here in 1956 for the filming of The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway found waves like white elephants: "The seas ran like onrushing hills," he wrote in Look magazine, "with snow blowing off the tops." Papa didn't surf, but you will. The age of Peruvian shredding dawned in the 1970s when a California surf-safarian spotted this break-blessed desert from a plane. One of the world's longest left-handers, from a thousand feet to a mile long, peels off of Puerto Chicama, forming fast five- to ten-foot overheads that can reach up to 12 feet in winter. "It's intense and totally uncrowded," says Hector Valdivia, a Peruvian surf guide who claims to have once ridden the swell for two full mileswell, maybe a half-mile. Either way, "it was a long walk back." Tough luck, Hector.
Surf's Up: Chicama is good year-round, but the sweetest swells surge from May to October. The water is brisk: Bring a three-millimeter wetsuit. Legendary neighboring breaks like El Faro, Pacasmayo, and Poemape are dependable all winter, too.
Your Stick: The town of Trujillo has a couple of surfwear shops, but better to show up loaded for bear.
Beware: Exposed lava beds lie beneath Chicama's big rides. Bring booties.
Après-Surf: Free your inner Hemingway with a Pisco Sour in a Chicama cantina.
Sleep It Off: Camp on the beach for free, snag stoic beachfront digs at Puerto Chicama's El Hombre hotel for $5, or go nuts and drop $12 on the much swankier new Hostal Chicama (011-51-44-634-920).
Getting There: Direct flights on Lan Chile Airlines (800-735-5526; www.lan chile.com) to Lima are about $600 from L.A., $470 from Miami. From Lima, rent a car or catch a short daily flight to Trujillo for $170; then head up the Pan-American Highway 30 miles to Puerto Chicama, and 60 to Pacasmayo.
Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Hovering where the warm Gulf Stream smashes into the cold Labrador Current, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the East Coast's surfing mecca. Shifting sandbar and beach breaks fire up from spring to fall, especially during hurricane season (July through October). The 207-foot, zebra-striped Hatteras Lighthouse marks your launch into A-frame peaks that zipper into hollow barrels. Enterprising surfers should come with a full quiver of shorties and fish (trick-happy boards), and stock up on speed-enhancing Sex Wax for the flats (sudden lulls that can turn peaks to mush pronto). Says local board shaper Scott Busbey of the mercurial conditions: "It's always shifting, which can help and hinder us, but it keeps it challenging. We're lucky."
Surf's Up: Diehards brave 37-degree midwinter water in five-millimeter wetsuits ("full metal jackets"), but late-summer squalls bring temps in the seventies. (For daily wave info, call 252-995-4646.)
Your Stick: Busbey's Natural Art Surf Shop in Buxton (252-995-5682) has it allboards, leashes, beer cozies. Or try Whalebone in Nags Head (252-441-6747).
Beware: Throngs of sybaritic boobs ("tourons" in local parlance) flock to the Cape in summer, and Dare County is notorious for DUI citations, so party smart.
Après-Surf: When you tire of the infinite wipeout, head over to Tortuga's Lie in Nags Head (252-441-7299) for sushi, steamed crab legs, and black-and-tans.
Sleep It Off: Cape Point Campground (252-995-4474; www.nps.gov/caha) provides cold showers, flush toilets, and grills ($17 a day, May 25 to September 3). Or try the Outer Banks Visitor's Bureau (800-446-6262) for more palatial digs.
South Africa's West Coast