Winter Escapes

Contrary to mainstream belief, surfing is a year-round sport. But you only need one session at a New Jersey beachbreak in January to realize that escaping the cold is a necessity to surviving winter in the higher latitudes. Here are some reasonably priced options for East Coasters and West Coasters, as well as a couple ideas for those willing to invest a bit more time and money to avoid those freezing mornings trying to struggle into a fullsuit.

All air and water temps are averages for the months of January and February.

Puerto Rico

The East Coast’s Hawai’i.

Air Temp (High/Low): 82/70

Water Temp: 77

Wave Height: 4-6 feet (occasionally 20)

Swell Direction: N, NE

Crowds: can be heavy and localized

Price: very reasonable

Although it’s become a cliche, Puerto Rico truly is the East Coast’s Hawai’i. It gets huge winter swells (sometimes 25 feet), it’s warm, it’s crowded and localized, it consists mostly of reef breaks, which are typically either coral or lava rock, and it’s easy to travel to (a fairly short flight from the East Coast, and it’s a U.S. protectorate, so you don’t need a visa, and they use the U.S. dollar).

Like in Hawai’i, the big stuff is on Puerto Rico’s northern coast. The waves there are generated by cold fronts moving down the Eastern Seaboard, and their power is magnified by the world’s second deepest trench (the Puerto Rico Trench), which lies just offshore. When those swells hit the reefs in the northwest (spots like Gas Chambers, Crash Boat, and Tres Palmas), look out. We’re talking about some serious surf. But aside from big pulses, the island stays in the four-to-six-foot range most of the winter.

JetBlue has direct flights from New York City to San Juan or Aguadilla, Puerto Rico (the two main surf cities) for under $200 round-trip all winter. Hotels are reasonable ($40-60 per night for good accommodations), as are car rentals ($30 per day). Don’t leave valuables in your rental-car crime is common. And don’t be an American prick-Puerto Rico has tons of great surfers, and they don’t take kindly to mouthy foreigners out at their breaks talking smack. Be cool and prosper.

+Powerful surf+Easy access

+Good point breaks

-Windy

-Heavy crowds at certain breaks

-Petty crime

Mainland Mexico

Go south, young man.

Air Temp (High/Low): 88/72

Water Temp: 81

Wave Height: 3-5 feet

Swell Direction: NW

Crowd Factor: minimal

Price: cheap

For decades, Southern Californian surfers have been loading up their cars and making the multi-day trek past the Baja peninsula to the Mexican states of Colima, Michoacan, and Oaxaca (home of the infamous 25-foot beachbreak peaks of Puerto Escondido) on the Mexican mainland. In the summertime, south swells stack up to Antarctica and bombard the beaches with surf so powerful you’d think you’re in Hawai’i (thus Puerto Escondido’s other name: the Mexican Pipeline).

But what most people don’t realize is that Mainland Mex stays warm all year, it picks up the same northwest swells that hit California all winter, the water never cools below 80 degrees, and the at times unsurfably gigantic beachbreaks become tame enough for most surfers to rip. Winter also sports glassy mornings and occasionally offshore afternoons, as opposed to the typical onshore haziness of summer.

Airfare is reasonable from L.A. to Mexico City ($350), and from there you can either catch a commuter to the coast ($100), or if you’re feeling brave take the bus (fifteen to twenty hours, $20). Food is cheap (don’t drink tap water, unless you like sitting on the toilet while your friends are surfing), and lodging is, too. You can easily live on 25 dollars per day once you’re there. We advise you to bring more than one board, because even in winter you can snap a quiver pretty easily. Petty crime is common, so be careful with your valuables, and avoid midnight strolls down dark alleys with your Rolex on, hotshot.

+Cheap living

+World-class beachbreaks

+Glassy rnings

-Montezuma’s revenge

-Lame cops, lamer criminals

-Blown-out afternoons

Tavarua Island, Fiji

Membership has its privileges.

Air Temp (High/Low): 86/74

Water Temp: 82

Wave Height: 2-6 feet

Swell Direction: N, NW

Crowd Factor: just your rich bros

Price: very high

Tavarua Island, a small palm-fringed resort in the Mamanuca island group just off the west coast of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, is surf paradise. Here, big swells meet the shallow barrier reef to form freight-training left-handers (and the occasional right) that reel and spit for hundreds of yards. The waves are world-class (Tavarua is the home of world-famous Cloudbreak and Restaurants), and when a solid northwest swell is pulsing, they are for advanced surfers-so much so that the WCT has both a men’s and women’s contest on the island every spring.

Tavarua is a privately owned island, so it only accommodates a set number of guests; furthermore, the people who own Tavarua also own the rights to surf Restaurants and Cloudbreak, so the crowds are capped and usually made up of your good friends. Not only does Tavarua get great waves, but it gets them all the time, and (although there are stories of being stranded on the island for long lulls in between swells) a week there can be the surf trip of a lifetime.

Staying on the island is expensive. The going rate for a week on the island ($2,900, including airfare, lodging, and meals-not drinks) rivals what you’d pay for an Indo boat trip on the fanciest luxury cruiser in the Indian Ocean, but anyone who’s ever scored there will tell you that it’s the best three-grand you’ll ever drop. Beware: the vicious sunburns, razor-sharp coral reefs, and hunky boat drivers who hang with your girlfriend all day while you’re out surfing. Even paradise has its pitfalls.

+Multiple world-class reef breaks

+First-class accommodations and food

+All-day offshore winds

-Expensive and exclusive

-Hunky boat drivers

-Shallow reefs

New South Wales, Australia

The ultimate road trip.

Air Temp (High/Low): 90/72Water Temp: 78

Wave Height: 2-5 feet

Swell Direction: NE

Crowd Factor: varies-sometimes heavy, other times solo

Price: reasonable

The stretch of coastline that runs up the east side of Australia from Sydney to the Gold Coast is surf heaven. In that 400-plus-mile stretch are more surf spots than you can imagine, and the variety of waves is second to nowhere on Earth. From the beachbreaks of the Northern Beaches and the rock reefs of the central coast to the pointbreaks and river mouths of northern New South Wales, a surf road trip up the coast highway is a must for anyone with a love of getting barreled and the guts to drive on the left side of the road.

By car is the only way to tour the east coast of Oz. The drive north (or south) is pretty simple: you just keep the beach on one side of the car, and remember to frequently stop for surf checks, sunsets, and pubs, which are abundant and good fun. This coast is rich with world-famous beaches like Cabarita, Byron Bay, Ballina, Lennox, Angourie, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Forster, Nobbys, Avalon, Narabeen, Dee Why … the list is endless.

If you monitor Qantas Airline’s Web site, you’ll find sale fares below $1,000 from Los Angeles to Sydney on a weekly basis. Right now the U.S. dollar is sucking compared to the Aussie dollar, so your money won’t go quite as far, but even with low dollar values, Australia is still reasonable. You’ll want to book a suitable car ahead of time, that way you don’t end up spending ten nights in a Korean sub-compact on the lap of one of your mates … unless of course you’re into that kind of thing. Take your time, camp, eat everything, drink everything, and work that American accent-Aussie girls love it.

+Wave variety

+Beautiful scenery

+VB on tap

-Relentless crowds

-Occasional flat spells

-Did we mention the crowds?

More Winter Destinations

Limon, Costa Rica

We all know the Pacific side of Costa Rica goes off year-round, but a five-hour drive east lands you on the Caribbean side of the country, where powerful northeast swells and 80-degree water dominate January through March. (Downside: even in their “dry season,” it still rains eighteen days a month on average.)

The Bahamas

Only 60 miles off the Florida coast, the Bahamas (a bucolic, one-of-a-kind Atlantic Ocean archipelago) is only a puddle jumper away from some world-class reefs, points, and beachies that still fly under the radar of the general surf-adventure public after all these years. If the surf sucks, you can dive in gin-clear waters, go gamble in Nassau, sip a Bahama Breeze and chow down on conch fritters in Eleuthra, bone fish in the Abacos, or get lost on some outer cay down by the Turks and Caicos with your honey and no one around for miles-bathing suits optional. Just don’t forget the sunblock.-Mez, ESM

Bali, Indonesia

Everyone goes to Bali in June, when big Southern Hemisphere south swells rock the little rock, but Bali can get solid six-foot swells between Christmas and spring break. With the East Bukit opening up, when Uluwatu blows out in the afternoon, you can explore for new reefs or old massage parlors. (Downside: if you go, your friends will all hate you.)

Where Do You Go When You Need To Escape Winter?

“I like going to Hawai’i because it’s cheap and close. I talk to my friends over there and Sean Collins, and they keep me in the loop weather-wise. When the right conditions come together, I try to get over there. It’s crowded on the North Shore in the winter, but it’s an easy way to get out of the cold.”-Jodie Nelson, pro surfer, Seal Beach, California

“A lot of my friends go to Puerto Rico, but I’d rather go to Barbados. I love to surf Soup Bowls-it’s an amazing wave. I’ve been down there twelve times, and the smallest I’ve ever got it was head-high. Plus, it’s trunks all winter. Can’t beat that.”-Sam Hammer, pro surfer, Lavallette, New Jersey

“We go down to Orange County (California) to visit family, and I surf Seal Beach, Huntington, and Newport. I know that sounds lame to say I go to OC, but when you surf Ocean Beach a lot, you realize that anywhere you don’t have to wear a 5-4-3 and a hood is warm.”-Joe Howarth, exit pollster, San Francisco, CaliforniaP>We all know the Pacific side of Costa Rica goes off year-round, but a five-hour drive east lands you on the Caribbean side of the country, where powerful northeast swells and 80-degree water dominate January through March. (Downside: even in their “dry season,” it still rains eighteen days a month on average.)

The Bahamas

Only 60 miles off the Florida coast, the Bahamas (a bucolic, one-of-a-kind Atlantic Ocean archipelago) is only a puddle jumper away from some world-class reefs, points, and beachies that still fly under the radar of the general surf-adventure public after all these years. If the surf sucks, you can dive in gin-clear waters, go gamble in Nassau, sip a Bahama Breeze and chow down on conch fritters in Eleuthra, bone fish in the Abacos, or get lost on some outer cay down by the Turks and Caicos with your honey and no one around for miles-bathing suits optional. Just don’t forget the sunblock.-Mez, ESM

Bali, Indonesia

Everyone goes to Bali in June, when big Southern Hemisphere south swells rock the little rock, but Bali can get solid six-foot swells between Christmas and spring break. With the East Bukit opening up, when Uluwatu blows out in the afternoon, you can explore for new reefs or old massage parlors. (Downside: if you go, your friends will all hate you.)

Where Do You Go When You Need To Escape Winter?

“I like going to Hawai’i because it’s cheap and close. I talk to my friends over there and Sean Collins, and they keep me in the loop weather-wise. When the right conditions come together, I try to get over there. It’s crowded on the North Shore in the winter, but it’s an easy way to get out of the cold.”-Jodie Nelson, pro surfer, Seal Beach, California

“A lot of my friends go to Puerto Rico, but I’d rather go to Barbados. I love to surf Soup Bowls-it’s an amazing wave. I’ve been down there twelve times, and the smallest I’ve ever got it was head-high. Plus, it’s trunks all winter. Can’t beat that.”-Sam Hammer, pro surfer, Lavallette, New Jersey

“We go down to Orange County (California) to visit family, and I surf Seal Beach, Huntington, and Newport. I know that sounds lame to say I go to OC, but when you surf Ocean Beach a lot, you realize that anywhere you don’t have to wear a 5-4-3 and a hood is warm.”-Joe Howarth, exit pollster, San Francisco, California