Have Gun, Will Travel
Are you, like the fabled Spicoli, searching for a cool breeze and some tasty waves? Look no further. These six sweet spots will make you wish you were born with fins.
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One day in 1973, Tony Hussein Hinde became the luckiest surf rat in history when the boat he was taking from Sri Lanka to Réte;union Island ran aground on an uninhabited atoll in the northern Maldives, 400 miles southwest of India. Realizing he’d achieved reef-surfing nirvana, Hinde stayed, and for the next 15 years, cruised the island chain in his dhoni (a 16-foot sailboat) charting and naming all the major breaks, learning to speak Dhivehi, and converting to Islam. Word of Hinde’s paradise trickled out, of course, and in 1989 he opened Atoll Adventures, the Maldives’ first surf-touring operation. He now ferries surfers (25 is the limit) to breaks in cushy sailboats. It’s a very effective—and exclusive—method. Quoth Aussie surfer Terry Fitzgerald: “We were assembled in front of a four-to five-foot left that was so picture-perfect we were all wetting our pants in anticipation.” No wonder Tony stayed.
Surf’s Up: Mid-February to mid-May, and mid-August to mid-October; swells generated in Antarctica range from chest-high to double overhead off the outer atolls.
Your Stick: Medium-size boards for the outer atolls and a hot dog for the mushier stuff up north. Tip: The locals eschew longboards; bring one for the small days and you’ll have the waves all to yourself.
Beware: Outgoing tides can flow like the Ganges and suck you out to sea.
Aprève;s-Surf: The Seagull Caféte; in Male (the capital) is a favorite among surfers who have been living on fresh tuna for days. Try a Kurumbaa Surprise—a coconut shell full of homemade ice cream.
Getting There: Waterways Surf Adventures (800-928-3757; www.waterwaystravel.com) can book you plane tickets and a cool cabin (air-conditioning, on-board cook, VCR) on one of Hinde’s boats. Price: $3,050.
Jalama Beach, California B
Trust us, just keep going. Past the sprawling Santa Barbara County ranches; past Lompoc and the only surf shop for 20 miles; past 200-year-old live oaks. Leave Highway 1 behind, and wind 14 miles down a narrow road. Pay the paltry five-dollar parking fee, and survey your reward: one of the choicest surf spots on the California coast. Just north of Point Conception, Jalama County Park gets swells from the north to the southwest. Tarantula is the draw, a consistent left-hander that lures surfers from as far away as Brazil. Four and a half miles of coastline provides waves enough for everyone—especially if you’re willing to hike a mile up the beach. Mornings and late afternoons are best, when the wind calms down and the choppy waves subside. Mingle with dolphins, gray whales, and brown pelicans while you wait out the rough spots.
Surf’s Up: Autumn brings perfect southwest swells from storms in the South Pacific, and if you’re lucky, a few early-season North Pacific swells.
Your Stick: Think heft. The waves are big and you’ll be braving 54-degree seas in at least a three-millimeter wetsuit, so bring a six-foot-eight to seven-foot board.
Beware: Tarantulas and grumpy locals are understandably loath to share their beach with outsiders.
Aprève;s-Surf: The Jalama Beach Store and Grill (805-736-5027) stocks Frisbees, caviar, and Spam, and serves three squares daily. “Our ground sirloin burger is world famous,” boasts co-owner Steve Eittreim. Good thing, because his kitchen is your only option.
Sleep It Off: Jalama Beach Campground (805-736-3504) is first-come, first-served; on summer weekends, dispatch a scout several days ahead to save your spot. Sites are $16 a night with the basics (fire pit, picnic table), and $22 a night with electrical hookups.
Clean point breaks, high-impact sandbar breaks, peeling offshore reef breaks, heck, breaks with sea urchins that poke you in the backside—Barbados’s swells fulfill any fantasy. Brooding 98 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, the island’s ragged, 80-mile reef necklace takes the first hit from the Atlantic’s tradewind swells. “There are many, many waves in Barbados,” says Bajan Surf Bungalows proprietor and resident carver Melanie Welch, “but a lot of them don’t break all the time.” The secret? Head to Bathsheba Beach on the central east coast. Here, mellow oceanside shanties catering to the no-shirt-no-shoes set are just a longboard’s length from Soupbowl—a world-renowned, thick-walled, hollow right break that remains head-high 300 days a year. If it gets too crowded, use Soupbowl as your crystal ball. “If it’s a real big north swell,” says Welch, “you’ll know the west coast is on. And if it’s real windy and big, chances are good for a south-coast swell.” Better yet, just shadow any car with boards on top.
Surf’s Up: Cold fronts that hover north of Barbados from October to April can get waves going up to 15 feet in Soupbowl.
Your Stick: Welch rents out used long- and shortboards ($20 per day for guests; $20 per hour for everyone else).
Beware: Only brave Tropicana, a popular west coast left-hander, at high tide, or the coral will slice you up like sushi.
Aprève;s-Surf: Mount Gay and Coke, Mount Gay and tonic, Mount Gay piñde;a colada… For 300 years the sugarcane nectar has been distilled here, so take advantage.
Sleep It Off: The Edgewater Inn ($85-$145 a night; 246-433-9900; www.edgewaterinn.com) and Bajan Surf Bungalows ($28$38 a night; 246-433-9920; www.jorgen.com/surf) are a barefoot walk from Soupbowl.
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 miles—well, 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 all—boards, 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.