First peak at Sebastian Inlet is often a first stop on many Central Florida surf missions. Photo: Jimmy Wilson
The Space Coast
Words: Chris Towery
Where: The Space Coast of Central Florida encompasses roughly 40 miles of beach along the state's Atlantic coast, from Cape Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet. The region houses a collection of small coastal towns, each possessing a smattering of breaks, accommodations, and surf stars.
What: Although you won't need your big-wave gun or helmet here, what Central Florida lacks in size and power is made up for by the sheer volume of spots, year-round warm water, and user-friendly lineups. Driving along coastal highway A1A, you can check practically every break from your car, and with numerous public beach access points, getting to the waves is never a problem. Whether it's logging tip time at Canaveral Pier, charging the Boardwalk's shore-break barrels, or a mag photo session at First Peak, Sebastian Inlet, all ages and skill levels will discover something enjoyable. Most spots are sand bottom, with the exception of a few scattered cocina reefs. And unless you find midwinter water temps in the 60s particularly cold, you can leave the thick rubber at home.
Gabe Kling. Photo: Stafford
When: From September through November, the Atlantic hurricane season is at its peak, while the first fronts and Nor'easters are just starting to arrive. This often provides for days—and even weeks—of consistent ground- and windswell, trunkable water temps, and sometimes-favorable winds. Just keep your eye out for a good sandbar.
Why: Simplicity and history. Travel is extremely cheap and hassle-free, boasting the beauty and weather of the tropics, without the malaria and dirt-bag accommodations. Despite a small-wave reputation, the region's gem—Sebastian Inlet—offers a handful of diverse breaks, all capable of producing truly world-class surf. There are also often consistent peaks to be found further north in Patrick Air Force Base or Cocoa Beach. Central Florida is the unofficial surfing capital of the U.S. East Coast, with a burgeoning industry and culture on par with anywhere in the world. Want to witness the future of surfing? Watch the hyperactive pack of groms at the Inlet's Kiddie Bowl. Want to see some of the most progressive shaping trends? Take a stroll down shaper's lane—Tomahawk Drive—in Indian Harbour Beach. Want to sample the lineups that gave rise to ASP World Champions Kelly Slater and C.J. Hobgood and possibly even surf alongside them? Paddle out at any top break on a decent swell, and you just might find yourself rubbing elbows with a champ.
Hometown heroes: Kelly, CJ, and Shea. Photo: Jimmy Wilson
How: No mind-numbingly long flights or currency exchange hassles here. For those on most of the East Coast, simply get on I-95 and head south. If you're far away, book a flight to either Orlando International (usually the cheapest fares and one hour and fifteen minutes from the waves) or Melbourne International (fifteen minutes from the action). Either way, you'll want to rent a car, since wave quality varies from spot-to-spot, depending on the swell. Not to mention, unless you're camping, you'll be staying at least a few miles from Sebastian Inlet, which is located inside an isolated state park.
Places To Stay: As one of the largest tourist destinations in the world, Central Florida is loaded with all manner of accommodations. From small, family-run motels to plush, four-star resorts in the bigger towns, there's something for every budget. There's also great camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park and nearby Long Point.
Photo: Jimmy Wilson
Places To Eat: The dining options are nearly endless, and in several surfer-friendly eateries you may even find locals willing to dial you in to the spots breaking best. Bizzaros has insane New York-style pizza, and it's located directly behind Indialantic's Boardwalk. Just down the street is Long Doggers, which offers killer hotdogs, hamburgers, and cold beer. For massive burritos, hit Da Kine Diegos in Satellite Beach. And following dawn patrol in Melbourne Beach, get your grub on at The Friendly Toast Café on Ocean Avenue.
Babes And Bros: The bustling population of hot local surfers is perhaps only rivaled by an equally hot population of local ladies. But nowadays, the girls aren't content to sit idly by while the guys catch all the waves, and you'll also encounter packs of girls in the lineup. Be warned, though, some of these chicks rip harder than you, so check your ego at the shoreline if you're looking for love.
You know you’re in Florida when you see this. Photo: Jimmy Wilson
The Crowd Factor: Thanks to the non-threatening conditions, practically everyone here owns a surfboard. That doesn't mean everyone can surf, but some days it certainly seems like they're all out trying. From pasty tourists in banana hammocks to drunken rednecks on bodyboards, the flotsam can reach staggering levels. Plus, there are plenty of ultra-talented pros dominating the better breaks. Localism isn't really a problem, but occasional verbal altercations and fistfights do occur when it's packed. Fortunately, there's so much shoreline, an empty peak is just a short walk down the beach.
Stuff To Bring: Unless you luck into a once-in-a-decade swell, you'll never need anything bigger than your standard shortboard. You might want to bring along an extra board with more volume and width to maximize wave-catching. The climate is sub-tropical, so boardshorts and a springsuit will suffice for all but January and February, when you might need a 3/2 full. Just make sure to pack plenty of sunscreen and a rashguard; they don't call it the Sunshine State for nothing.
Photo: Jimmy Wilson
If The Surf Is Flat: Thanks to Disney's Typhoon Lagoon wavepool, the surf never goes completely flat. Gather some buddies to split the $1,500 price tag, and you'll enjoy three hours of chest-high, chlorinated perfection, with your choice of lefts, rights, or A-frames. Looking for cheaper entertainment? Visit Ron Jon, which at two stories tall, is the world's largest surf shop and open 24 hours. And this is the Space Coast, so don't miss the breathtaking spectacle of a shuttle or rocket launch. Check local papers for launch dates, and then hit a nearby beach for a front-row view. Even if you don't catch an actual launch, the Kennedy Space Center offers a recently revamped visitor's center with loads of exhibits and even a simulated Space Shuttle ride—not to mention the neighboring Canaveral National Seashore and desolate Playalinda beach is breathtaking, just watch out for nudists and alligators.
More Information: For local surf reports and other info, visit cflsurf.com, 2ndlight.com, surfguru.com, and thewavecaster.com. If you're looking for detailed break information, pick up The Stormrider Guide To North America or The Surfer's Guide To Florida.