When most people think of surfing, images of a bronze-skinned Kelly Slater slicing through Hawaiian or Indonesian waves likely come to mind. But world-class surf spots pop up in places other than tropical islands, and they’re known to surface in cold-water regions and even war-torn areas of the world. Check out our list of unlikely surf spots below.
Tofino, Vancouver Island, Canada
A small town on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, Tofino is known for consistent surf crashing against a towering backdrop of forests and white mountains. “We have surfable waves every day of the year and some good variety to choose from,” said pro surfer Pete Devries, who grew up surfing Tofino. “I like to get in the water every day, and it’s the only place in Canada where you can do that.” To withstand the cold Devries uses a 5/3 Hurley wetsuit–which means the wetsuit’s torso thickness is 5mm and the legs and arms are 3mm thick–with 7mm boots and 3mm gloves most of the year. In the summer he wears a 4/3 wetsuit and boots. The photo is courtesy eyewear company ZEAL Optics, which sponsors Devries.
Irish pro surfer Easkey Britton created a stir last year when she and French filmmaker Marion Poizeau released a documentary about traveling to the Balochistan region of Iran near the Indian Ocean and Britton becoming the first female to surf in the country. She went into the trip “open to the unexpected,” she said, and she found that the people were welcoming, friendly, and that the surf was surprisingly consistent with 3-foot waves during the monsoon season, from June until September. Of course, getting there took some work, as she had to receive permission from the government to travel in the area, which borders Pakistan and is known for smuggling, and she had to have a wetsuit specially made for her to ensure her hair was covered at all times. “Although I had to keep completely covered, it was pretty amazing to surf in such a unique desert landscape with no one [around],” Easkey said. She had such a good time that she’s traveling to Iran again soon with Poizeau for a project called “Waves of Freedom,” which will attempt to get Iranian women interested in the sport. To help support the project, click here. To watch a trailer of her first movie, click here. Photo is courtesy of Britton.
Although Britton traveled all the way to Iran for some good surf, she could have stayed right in her home country, as Ireland’s small surf scene is getting bigger and bigger every day, and new surf schools are popping up all the time, she said. “We don’t have a surf culture like Hawaii, that’s for sure! But it has evolved as a place that breeds pretty hardy, dedicated, and tight-knit surfers,” Britton said. “Because conditions are so wild and raw, it’s probably not surprising there are some real chargers pushing the limits out there in heavy slabs and big waves.” Britton’s first name, Easkey, is also the name of an Irish coastal town with two famous surf breaks, and other popular surf cities include Lahinch and Bundoran, with Lahinch being known for its clear waters and sea life, including a famous dolphin who likes to join in the fun. To keep herself warm, Britton wears a 6mm Xcel hooded wetsuit and 7mm booties, although even with that she’s sometimes so numb when she gets out of the water that she can barely open her car’s door. “If the surf is really epic, it can never be too cold to not go out–I hope!” Britton said. Photo is courtesy of Surfer magazine, Grant Ellis.
Israel and the Gaza Strip
While the waves on the beaches of Israel and the Gaza strip certainly aren’t comparable to those of famous surf spots like Teahupoo in Tahiti and Pipeline in Hawaii, both Israel and Palestine have dedicated surf communities thanks to mild year-round temperatures and waves that can get as high as 10 feet during winter swells. These surf communities have even sparked peace-seeking groups like Surfing 4 Peace, which launched in 2007 and has put on several surf camps with Arab and Jewish kids in an attempt to help bring peace to the region by creating a network of “Jewish and Arab surfers that is all based on the stoke,” said Arthur Rashkovan, one of Surfing 4 Peace’s cofounders. The peace-seeking organization even recently connected with a group of Lebanese surfers and has organized skateboarding camps via the group Longboarding 4 Peace. Photo is of Rashkovan recently riding the “pumping surf” in Israel and was taken by Uri Richter.
Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia
Last year Surfer magazine set out for Russia’s far east in search of waves they had spied on Google Earth off the Kamchatka Peninsula. What they discovered was steaming volcanoes, isolated beaches with 3-foot barreling waves, locals who showered them with hospitality, and some angry seals who were used to having the sea all to themselves. “The potential here for surf is exceeding everything I ever thought was possible just because the conditions were so nice and the river mouths were so groomed; we just scratched the tip of the iceberg,” said Surfer staff photographer Chris Burkard, who shot the photo above, in the film Surfer magazine created about the epic surf trip. Of course, the crew had to undergo a rigorous visa process before they were allowed to enter Russia, and they brought a translator with them on the trip. They also dealt with water that was in the 40s and that could swing quickly up and down by as much as five degrees. To watch Surfer’s short film about the trip, click here. To see a gallery of some of Burkard’s shots, click here.
And if you’re interested in looking for more surf spots that are off the beaten path, watch Surfer magazine’s film “Distant Shores.”