Sweet Southern Surfing Spots

Catch the biggest waves in the South at these four spots

Photo: Reef Road, Florida. By Brian Lee

International Surfing Day, now in its twelfth year, is a global celebration of the surfing lifestyle and a salute to the beaches, water, and conservation efforts that make it possible. Though perhaps not as revered as Hawaii or California, the South has more ties to surfing culture than you might think. It’s home to such impressive surfers as 11-time World Surf League champion, Kelly Slater, of Cocoa Beach, Florida, and several impressive surfing hotspots, like these.

Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
“Nowadays it’s definitely one of the premiere spots on the East Coast,” says Allen Briley of Outer Banks Boarding Company. Jutting out into the Atlantic, the barrier island is host to both east- and west-facing beaches. In Buxton, stone jetties where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse once stood (before it was relocated further inland in 1999) rebound incoming waves into themselves, generating a bigger, smoother ride. Buxton’s laid-back, small-town feel doesn’t hurt either.

Folly Beach, South Carolina
A 25-minute skip from downtown Charleston, Folly is home to McKevlin’s, one of the oldest surf shops on the East Coast at 51 years open and counting. “The swells come and go, but you can easily longboard every day,” Brian Eichelman, a manager at McKevlin’s says. “Plus the water stays warm eight months of the year.” Folly is also home to the Washout, a part of the island flattened by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 that creates an area for the wind to work the waves. The Washout gets crowded when storms are coming in or passing by, but it remains the unquestioned Big Kahuna of South Carolina surfing.

Reef Road, Florida
With fairly steady northern swells, there’s no doubt this relaxed area of Palm Beach is a killer place to paddle out. The tricky part: Getting there. Since it’s located on one of the priciest stretches of ocean-front real estate in the country, Reef Road can be difficult to access without a local in tow. “It’s always been one of the most famous spots in Florida,” Brian Lee of the Reef Road Surfer’s Guild says, “long runs, big waves, warm water, and a smaller crowd will do that.”

St. Joe’s Island, Texas
You may find more consistent surf elsewhere on Texas’s coast—South Padre Island or neighboring Port Aransas, for instance. But for the solitary rider, it’s tough to beat St. Joe’s, an uninhabited barrier island across the channel from Port Aransas. To get there, take the Jetty Boat, recommends Ted Nicholson, owner of the Boardhouse Surf & Sake. “Unless,” he adds, “you’re interested in trekking through bugs and rattlesnakes on the way to the water.”

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