The dream life might be traveling and surfing in exotic, far-flung destinations, removed from the crowds and rat-race of home, but the reality for most of us is city living and working for the weekend. Unless you are a pro surfer, expat, or gypsy, you probably have a home and a job in an urban setting—hopefully with a reliable surf spot somewhere close by.
Fortunately, there are a lot of cities out there where reality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Whether due to numerous local breaks, proximity to stellar surf zones, thriving social scenes, or a combination of the them all, these five surf towns make it possible to hold down a 9-5 job and still live the dream.
California is full of great surf cities, and it can be hard to choose one that is the best. But if you had to narrow it down, Santa Cruz would definitely be near the top of the list. The small-town vibe and location amongst on the Central California coast means that you can just as easily spend your afternoon hobnobbing at the local watering hole or wandering the redwoods alone.
The town takes swell from both the north and the south, and can handle wind from the east and the west, which means there is almost always somewhere to surf. Surf options range from barrels to ramps to points for logging, and Mavs is just an hour north for those who want to charge. SF is nearby for the city experience, there are ski resorts a few hours inland, and SFO airport is close enough to make surgical strikes feasible. For the surfer looking to live an urban lifestyle with unlimited options, you could do a lot worse than Santa Cruz.
The most beautiful city in Africa, and arguably one of the most beautiful in the world, Cape Town isn’t just easy on the eyes—it’s also holding a ton of world-class surf. From big wave bombies like Dungeons and Sunset to slabs, beach breaks, and nearby points (J-Bay is only two hours away!), this is about as good a place as any to be a wave rider. As a bonus, foreign currencies tend to be quite strong in South Africa, so quality of life is pretty easy to optimise. A recent, much-publicised water shortage scare seems to be on the mend now that winter has kicked in, and the cold, sharky coastline only serves to further keep the area off a lot of people’s mental maps. In other words, there’s never been a better time to head to Cape Town.
Europe is another zone full of epic surf cities, but perhaps none can compare with Portugal’s Peniche. Portugal in and of itself is a no-brainer—great culture, cheap, delicious food and wine, and more waves than you could ever hope to shake your stick at.
At the centre of it all is Peniche, home to Supertubos, a world tour event, and surf schools galore. Although the waves can get a bit crowded, the nightlife makes up for it, as Portugal may have a bigger population of surf fans than any other country in the world. Plus, Peniche’s central location means that all you have to do is drive a few minutes north or south and you are surfing epic waves all by your lonesome. It’s the best of all worlds, wrapped up in the Old World.
Australia is another country with half a dozen zones vying for the title of surf city (Sydney, Coolangatta, or Margaret River, anyone?). But if you are looking for the all-around surf city experience, it’s all about Byron Bay. Big enough to keep you occupied, but still little more than a sleepy burg, Byron has well-known beachies, secret slabs, and a point break that everyone should surf at least once—all being enjoyed by more beautiful people than a VIP tent at Burning Man.
And we are talking natural beauty here, not the plastic fakery of the nearby Gold Coast. The laid-back hippie vibe is complemented by a charmingly mellow yet happening nightlife. And for those who get to bed early, there are dozens more epic waves a short drive away, primed for the early session. Queensland might boast a Surfer’s Paradise, but everyone in NSW knows where the real heaven resides.
If Indonesia is surfing’s Disneyland, then Bali is Magic freaking Mountain. Arguably the best place to be based during the southern hemisphere season, Bali is littered with world-class waves, and surrounded by the rest of the Indonesian archipelago, which has even more perfection on offer.
Java, Sumatra, Sumbawa, Lombok, the Mentawais—these are only a drop in the bucket, as Indonesia contains more than 17,000 islands, and just as many classic setups. But when it comes to frittering away your free time between swells, nowhere is as welcoming, affordable, or idyllic as Bali—and Kuta is party central on the Island of the Gods.
While the scene may be a bit much for the mellowest among us, Kuta is the spot if you are looking to live in a city and surf quality waves on the regular. The best surf city in Asia? More like the best surf city in the world.
Cover shot: Peniche by Indo Dreams.