[Editor’s Note: This article appeared in a 2009 issue of SURFER. Towns, surf spots, waves, and stats have changed, but we still stand by these being some of the best places to surf in the U.S. today. Hurricanes and development have taken their toll on a few, but we publish this in hopes of their comeback. You disagree? What town did we miss? Go ahead and let us know in the comments…we figured you would.]
The definition of a great surf town varies depending on whom you ask. Some prefer slow, village-like locales where days are spent surfing and nights are simply spent sleeping off the exhaustion. Others seek out places where their surf life can comfortably coincide with a life rich in mainstream culture or industries. But intrinsic in all surfers is a desire to find a place where waves are plentiful and a balanced life is possible.
America is a nation filled with dozens of diverse and attractive surf towns—some you’ve probably been to, many you’ve probably heard of, and some so obscure and protected that most of us don’t even know exist. We’ve compiled this list, primarily considering quality of life and quality of surf, but also taking into account other variables such as climate, consistency and variety of waves, cost of living, culture, availability of work, and the prevalence of sharks. After consulting, researching, and heavy debate, we narrowed the expansive list of towns down to10—our ranking of the 10 best American surf towns.
Without further ado, let the list begin.
10. Ocean City, New Jersey
Known as “America’s Greatest Family Resort,” Ocean City, New Jersey, boasts more surf accolades than any northeastern surf establishment. Home to Dean Randazzo, New Jersey’s only World Tour Competitor, and a fresh crop of committed and aspiring WQS surfers, Ocean City takes its surfing seriously. The local high school has won eight consecutive state surfing championships, and despite an unfriendly climate, the locale’s consistency and proximity to ledgier surf put it on the U.S. surf map.
Like most East Coast surf towns, you’re negotiating the whims of the sandbar, which means things change; however, Ocean City has the benefit of consistency as a result of its jetties, where hollow rights peel on a north or southeast swell. It’s also probably the most consistent spot north of Cape Hatteras. When craving heavier surf, Ocean City surfers head north to cash in on the pounding, deepwater breaks of the Central Coast where the fact that there aren’t so many surfers around becomes deliciously apparent.
Ocean City’s just a roll of the dice from Atlantic City, where casinos spit filth right on the sand in both human and syringe form. Well, things aren’t all that bad. Not only can you enjoy a Ferris wheel ride on the beach ala Tom Hanks in Big, you can also indulge in Jersey pork roll and the bravado of the Northeast—all the while snagging an authentic Philly Cheese steak just an hour away in the City of Brotherly Love. As far as being a surfer goes, this is the Northeast’s most developed surf town in terms of culture. With supportive shops and a talented crew of local rippers, this is New Jersey’s version of Sebastian Inlet.
Quality of Life
It’s cold here, and like most East Coast beach towns, come winter, there’s not much to do. Luckily, the fish are always biting, and so long as you’ve made a substantial investment in 5mm rubber, you can always get wet. Don’t plan on drowning the mid-winter blues in alcohol, though; Ocean City has prohibited the sale of booze since 1884. The modest pace of life in this semi-urban outpost make it a great residence for the surfer who wants access to metropolitan amenities, but also appreciates the upsides of a down-season.
Average Water Temp: 63 (But gets as cold as 35 in the winter)
Average Air Temp: 53
Median Income: $55,204
Median Home Price: $530,203
Most Common Industry: Construction
Nearest city with pop. 200,000+: Philadelphia, PA (63.2 miles , pop. 1,517,550).
Premier Surf Spots: North Street, 8th Street, Waverly
Local Talent: Dean Randazzo, Matt Keenan, Andrew Gesler, Rob Kelly
Shark Attacks Reported (in the state of New Jersey since 1670): 17