With over 12,000 miles of coastline, three million surfers, and a majority share in surf industry, the US is the de facto global center of surfing. From California to Florida to Texas and North Carolina, a wide variety of waves litter both the east and west coasts, and the Gulfs of Mexico and Alaska are both holding as well. Debates rage as to what region—and more importantly what wave—is the best, with passionate wave riders making strong cases for any number of breaks scattered across the country. This is a contentious and subjective topic to be sure, and one that is sure to end in arguments, but we aren’t afraid to go out on a limb, and have compiled a list of waves that stand out for their various styles of surfing. Here, in no particular order, are our 10 best waves in the US* (feel free to amend this list as you see fit, or go ahead and make your own!).
(*For the purpose of this list, we consider Hawaii to be a different region than the rest of the US.)
1) Lower Trestles, Southern California: Considered by many to be the best high performance wave in the world, this San Clement cobblestone point/peak has a long rippable right and a shorter, punchier left. Playful enough to have your way with but possessing adequate power to provide speed and a lip, Lowers plays host to a daily cadre of the world’s best surfers—and legions of aspiring wannabes. Water temps are warm in summer and cool in winter, but the best season is undoubtedly the autumn, which is when the ASP shows up for its annual world tour event. If a cutting-edge shred-fest is your forte, Lower Trestles is your wave.
2) Cape Hatteras, North Carolina: When it comes to consistent, below-sea-level tubes over an expansive playing field of perfect sandbars, nowhere beats the Outer Banks. Sure, this is a stretch of beach break and not a single, individual wave, but those who have dedicated their lives to chasing the ever-shifting banks of Hatteras can tell you that no matter where the sand eventually settles, the result is always the same: ultra-sandy, ultra-hollow, ultra-perfect barrels.
3) Mavericks, Northern California: Although 99.9% of us will never surf Mavericks, there is no arguing the fact that it is the best big wave spot in the US—and many would argue the entire world. A dark, cold, monolithic beast of a righthand reef with a mythical left that only a few dare approach, Mavs has been paddled in the 55+ foot range and towed even bigger, reasserting itself year after year as the pinnacle of big wave heroics.
4) Malibu, Southern California: Fifty years ago Malibu was considered the best wave in the world—and for those who love nothing better than standing in perfect trim for what seems like eternity, it still is. Arguably one of the best noseriding waves on the planet, this lengthy righthand cobblestone point is fun on just about anything, from retro fish and finless alaias to high performance shortboards and cruiser mid-lengths. Easy to surf but difficult to master, Malibu attracts surfers from every walk of life, and is often incredibly crowded—but then again, perfection always comes at a price.
5) Turnagain Arm, Alaska: Relatively unknown, and not likely to feature on the average surfer’s top 10 wave list, Turnagain is nonetheless the best bore tide wave in the US. Created by massive 30-foot tidal swings and breaking hundreds of miles inland, Turnagain Arm can produce waves in the double overhead+ range that peel for upwards of five miles. And the best part? It is extremely predictable. All you need is a tide chart and 6mm of rubber and you are pretty much guaranteed to score.
6) Rincon, Southern California: “The Queen of the Coast” has been lauded as California’s best wave since the ’50s, and more than six decades later continues to compete for that title. A long righthand point break near Santa Barbara, Rincon is logger heaven at two foot, a high performance playground at head high, and a challenging barrel when it’s big. Fickle, crowded, and at times frustrating, Rincon maintains its hold on our collective dreams through its sheer perfection and symmetry.
7) Reef Road, Florida: A well-protected—if not exactly secret—lefthand reef, Reef Road is fickle and rare, but when it lights up it is something to see. Often compared to the waves in Indo, this left is a powerful, hollow machine that takes leaves no margin for error, but can produce some of the best barrels on the east coast.
8) Blacks Beach, Southern California: The best beach break in California? It’s a big claim, but if any wave can stand up to the hype, it’s Blacks. Two peaks fronting a picturesque cliff and drawing energy from the magnification and refraction of an offshore canyon, Blacks is high performance venue and barrel fest and big wave spot all rolled into one—smack in the middle of San Diego, arguably the only town south of Santa Barbara worth visiting.
9) Sebastian Inlet, Florida: The heart of high performance surfing in Florida (and perhaps the entire east coast), Sebastian Inlet is a wedgy righthander breaking off of a jetty that has groomed the likes of Kelly Slater, Cory and Shea Lopez, and CJ and Damien Hobgood. Enough said.
10) Manasquan Inlet, New Jersey: Yes, in addition to mobsters and socialites and everything else you have seen on The Sopranos and Jersey Shores, New Jersey also has an epic wave. Manasquan has been a mainstay of the east coast surf experience for over five decades, and continues to pump out big, powerful, peaky jetty waves to a crew of dedicated locals—and anyone else who happens to be in town.