montauk surf
Montauk, New York.

Where Are the Best Places to Surf on the East Coast?

montauk surf
Greg Melville

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Great beginner surf destinations need consistent waves, easy access to skilled instructors, and sparse crowds—a trifecta that can be especially hard (but not impossible) to find on the East Coast. These five, spread from Florida all the way up to New Hampshire, are the standouts. Each one boasts the right blend of surf, shops, and open space for learning the sport and having fun without being intimidated by the hardcore set. 

Cocoa Beach, Florida

This iconic town of NASA-heyday and sixties-sitcom fame lies on a patch of barrier sand separated from Florida’s mainland by the Banana River and is no secret to surfers. It’s Kelly Slater’s hometown, after all, and the Ron Jon Surf Shop here claims to be the biggest surf shop in the world. But there’s plenty of space for novices and experts alike—from the city’s pier to the wide-open beach, buffeted by the Atlantic Ocean’s warm, reliable swells.

Lessons: Cocoa Beach Surf Camp offers year-round lessons by the hour, day, or week; private lessons are $75 per person per hour.

Kitty Hawk, Outer Banks, North Carolina

You can’t go wrong with just about any spot on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, considered by many to be the East Coast’s blue-ribbon surf destination—especially in the late summer and early fall, when tropical weather patterns keep the Atlantic here churning. Relatively quiet Cape Hatteras, at the center of this long necklace of sand, is a favorite choice, as is Kill Devil Hills to the north. But Kitty Hawk has perhaps the best combination of dependable surf, easy parking, and close proximity to top-notch surf instruction.

Lessons: Kitty Hawk Kites, which opened in the early 1970s as a hang-gliding shop, teaches 90-minute group surf lessons for $65, and private lessons for $99.

Sea Isle City, New Jersey

The Jersey Shore in summer brings all walks of life to its surprisingly magnificent sands—including surfers. The most welcoming spot for beginners is probably Sea Isle City, near the state’s southern elbow. Its long ribbon of sand isn’t as crowded as the towns farther north are, and the waves, though steady, are generally smaller.

Lessons: The legendary Heritage Surf Shop, an institution since it opened in Sea Isle City in 1964, offers evening group lessons for $20 per person for an hour. Private lessons are $65 an hour.

Montauk, Long Island, New York

At this once-sleepy fishing village, where Long Island juts the tip of its nose into the Atlantic, the surfers can be just as snobby and stand-offish as the Manhattan one-percenters who flock here in their Land Rovers in the summer. The beach break at Ditch Plains beach, east of downtown, is probably most forgiving to beginners—but it’s a famous spot, so going on weekdays is infinitely more manageable. When you’re there, be sure to grab a turkey-and-mozzarella Grant sandwich at the Ditch Witch food truck.

Lessons: Welcoming, family-owned Air & Speed Surf Shop offers hour-long private lessons for $100.

Rye, New Hampshire

When people think of New Hampshire, mountains and lakes come to mind—not ocean. But its 17-mile strip of Atlantic coastline is just as welcoming to adventure seekers. Surfers flock to the tiny, tony town of Rye because of its steady swells and laid-back vibe. The best breaks are at Rye on the Rocks beach, but because this spot can be treacherous to beginners, head instead to less-crowded Wallis Beach, or to parking-friendly (but somewhat more popular) Jenness Beach.

Lessons: Summer Sessions Surf Shop, owned by two brothers and located across from Jenness Beach, offers group lessons starting at $40 per person per hour.

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