Florida is a bit of an enigma, because it has one of the most inconsistent swell windows in North America, yet seems to produce some of the USA’s most talented and hard-charging surfers. Damien and CJ Hobgood both hail from the Gulf Coast, and are two of the best out at Pipe, Cloudbreak and Teahupoo (CJ is also a former world champ); the Lopez brothers (Cory and Shea) were a long-time force on tour, with Cory basically ushering in the Teahupoo era via a single paddle-in mutant at the 1999 WT contest; and Kelly Slater is of course the greatest competitive surfer to ever live (by a long shot). Makes you think that there must be something in the water down there in the Sunshine State, and maybe there is—but typically only in hurricane season!
The Surf: Fickle and inconsistent, Florida’s surf scene is composed mainly of beach breaks—many of which see swell only a handful of days per year. Around 90% of the time, Florida is a beginner to intermediate destination, but when powerful hurricane swells push through, it becomes an advanced to expert zone.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Sebastian Inlet: The capital of Florida surfing, this is a series of sandbars, with the star of the show being First Peak, a wedgy refraction off the jetty that makes for one of Florida’s most consistently hollow and powerful waves. The media loves this spot, which means the lineup is often packed.
- New Smyrna Beach: One of the most consistent breaks in Florida, New Smyrna’s sandbars will generally be breaking even when everywhere else goes flat.
- South Beach, Miami: Typically a flatwater sun-bather’s destination, every few years or so South Beach will pick up an ideally angled hurricane swell and produce unique, brown wedging barrels.
- Reef Road: One of the best and most well protected waves in Florida, on its day, this barreling lefthander can look a lot like Indo.
- Juno Pier: This pier in Juno Beach is a bit of a swell magnet, and can hold size better than most spots in the area.
The Water: Florida suffers from overdevelopment, and the water quality reflects this fact. Average surface temps range from 72–84 F (22–29 C).
The Season: Florida needs storm swell, and this means it needs hurricane season—which typically extends from June through November.
The Vibe: Although some of the more exclusive breaks are known for their local vibes, for the most part the waves are so fickle and crowded that any aggressive protectionism is simply a waste of time.
Things To Do: Florida is party central for college students and aging retirees alike, so if the surf is down, you are sure to find some kind of entertainment. Also, the Bahamas and other Caribbean island nations are only a short flight away.
Where To Stay: Hotels, hostels, campsites, your van—it sort of depends where you are located and what you are planning to surf, but pretty much everything is available.
What To Bring: A fat, thick hybrid shortboard, and a step-up if you are chasing a hurricane. Boardshorts and sun protection. A bit of patience, or an open itinerary to chase swells to the Caribbean.
Getting There: What airport you fly into depends on where you are planning to base yourself. Miami and Orlando are two international airports on the Atlantic seaboard, while Tampa and Pensacola are on the Gulf Coast. The state is full of airports, however, so your best bet is to figure out where you’ll be surfing and then pick an airport accordingly. US visa rules apply. Airport codes: MIA (Miami), MCO (Orlando), TPA (Tampa), and PNS (Pensacola).