The endless summer might be a hoax—after all, the best swells tend to come during winter—but there is something to be said for fun waves in warm water, especially during the cold season. The trick to scoring swell in temperate climates during winter is to find places in the tropics that pick up either long-period ground swell from thousands of miles away, or mid-period wind swell that is groomed to perfection by the local weather conditions.
The start of the year tends to be the coldest months of the year above the equator, (but for this month's top places to shred, see HERE) so if the chill of winter is starting to get you down, consider these five warm-water destinations that fire during the northern hemisphere season.
Many people think of Mexico only as a south swell locale, but the country actually scores north and northwest swells during the winter as well. The long coastline faces directly into the Pacific, and is centrally located to enjoy both consistent swells and warm water, year round. While it might not get as big during the winter, there are almost always waves to surf in Mexico (even around Christmas), ranging from thumping beach break barrels to peeling points. Take a hint from the birds and retirees, and head south for the season.
There are a number of island chains located off the coast of Spain and Portugal that fire all winter and enjoy more moderate temperatures than mainland Europe. The Canary Islands and the Azores are both known for azure blue barrels over treacherous reefs, so if you enjoy heavy waves in temperate water, it might be worth heading to the Atlantic’s version of Hawaii.
Most of the islands in the Caribbean score waves during winter, including Puerto Rico, Barbados, and even Panama and Costa Rica (which both have Caribbean coasts). Some spots take long-period northerly swells from Atlantic systems, while others enjoy consistent wind swell that is surprisingly punchy. Either way, they all maintain toasty warm temperatures all year, which means you can score winter juice without any of the icy headaches.
The thing about sitting on the equator is that you are centrally located, so you pick up both north and south swells. In fact, it could be argued that Ecuador (which is named after its position on the equator) doesn’t have an off-season at all, as it gets waves pretty consistently year round—north swells during the northern hemisphere winter, and south swells during winter. Although the surf usually doesn’t get too big in Ecuador (since both north and south swells have to travel long distances to get there), there are lots of fun beach breaks that are consistently rippable, making this a great place to take the family for some warm, user-friendly fun.
Write this one off as painfully obvious if you must, but Hawaii is the ultimate warm-water surf destination during the northern hemisphere winter. Water temperatures bottom out at around 70 degrees, and medium-sized to XXL swells hammer the northern and western coastlines with unmatched consistency. Whether you are looking to flirt with monsters at Waimea or Jaws, get drained at Pipe, or ride something a bit more cruisey at Makaha or Chuns, you will be able to do so in board shorts or a bikini, pretty much every day of the winter. That’s hard to beat.
Cover shot by Tom Pearsall.