5 of the best South Pacific surf getaways

When you think “Pacific Ocean and wintertime surf swells,” the next thought usually is “Hawaii.” Indeed, that North Pacific island archipelago gets all of the spotlight and is blessed with a whole lot of swell spinning off Japan and heading westward to California.

But is Hawaii the only place that fires all winter? What about the rest of the Pacific — specifically the South Pacific?

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While places like Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji are on surfers’ radars in the summer, during Hawaii’s off-season, a lot of those island nations are holding gems on their northern shores from November through April, receiving the same big swells that hit Oahu’s North Shore — just a few days days later.

It’s often cheaper to fly to these zones in the winter from hubs like LA and Sydney. So where does one go to score South Pacific splendor?

French Polynesia

A photo posted by Ruarii Atani (@ruarii_atani) on

Where: Tuamotu Archipelago, above Tahiti

Swell direction: Large to extra-large north/northwest

What: While the frighteningly glorious Teahupoo gets all the love every summer on Tahiti’s southern shore, the Tuamotu atolls light up each winter with large northern hemi swells. It’s mostly all right and left reef-pass reefbreaks, and there are plenty of places to stay if you wait it out for a large swell shooting in four days after it hits Hawaii.

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Micronesia

Dusty Payne
Pro surfer Dusty Payne with his Andy Irons salute at P-Pass. Photo: Courtesy of Nelly/SPL
Where: Pohnpei Island, Caroline Islands, Federated States of Micronesia

Swell direction: Medium to large north

What: No secret here, but P-Pass, Teahupoo‘s longer right-hand doppelganger, fires every winter with more northerly (as opposed to westerly) angled North Pacific swells. Pretty much a bucket-list wave that packs a punch on an outer-reef pass. Upscale surf camps available on land.

Solomon Islands

Where: Northern shores of Santa Isabel, Malaita and Makira islands

Swell direction: Large to extra-large north/northwest

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What: One of surfing’s final, often forgotten, frontiers, the slow-paced Solomons also get the same swells that first hit Hawaii, then Micronesia. It’s a land of limited infrastructure and amazingly friendly people; give yourself some time if you decide to do the Solomons mission. It’s an adventure of a lifetime.

Papua New Guinea

Indonesian ripper Mustofa Jeksen, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Courtesy of Brad Masters
Where: Towns of Vanimo, Madang, Wewak and Manus Island

Swell direction: Large to extra-large north/northwest

What: In the far southeasterly corner of the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea (PNG) cops a lot of swell funneling down from the North Pacific during the winter. Vanimo, in particular, has some beautiful reef-bottom rights and lefts that don’t need too big a swell to work. Primitive surf camps are available, so be ready to rough it.

Samoa

Samoan lineups like these are worth a little wandering. Photo: Courtesy of Straley
Where: North coast of Upolu Island, Western Samoa

Swell direction: Large to extra-large north/northwest

What: Tahiti’s largely overlooked, just-as-gorgeous Polynesian neighbor, Samoa is usually known for its south-coast reefbreaks, like Salani and Aganoa. But Upolu Island is holding if you can rent a car and do a little exploring. Various reefs and beachbreaks, nooks and crannies on the northern coast get the big swells that hit Hawaii, about four to five days later.