Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut are the US East Coast’s unheralded surf havens, hiding quietly in the shadow of headlining names like Florida, North Carolina and New York. But that isn’t to say that the New England region isn’t holding. In fact, these five states combined have more coastline than just about any other geographical region in the country, if not the world—coastline littered with nooks and crannies just waiting to be discovered. Whether you are looking for thumping beach break fronting posh summer homes or hidden points and reefs in the frozen north, New England has it all. Just be sure to bring a good wetsuit.
The Surf: Beach breaks, reefs and points ranging from soft to slabby. The only common thread uniting the diverse waves of New England is the fact that they are all fickle and cold. In general, this should be considered a beginner to advanced surf destination.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Cape Cod: Essentially a 40-mile sandbar, Cape Cod in northern Massachusetts has a reputation for unseasonably cold water and some of the heaviest beach break on the East Coast.
- Ruggles: Rhode Island’s most popular wave, Ruggles is a right reef that pumps on large swells and has a reputation as one of the bigger waves in New England.
- Fox Hill: A long, quality righthand point break in New Hampshire.
- Connecticut: Connecticut is not a wave, it’s a state—and one that is largely shadowed by Long Island. But when swell sneaks in, its numerous beaches can become…well, surfable, if nothing else.
- Maine: Another state, but one with nearly infinite potential. Maine boasts more coastline than any other continental US state and houses the potential for hundreds of undiscovered waves. With difficult access and freezing winters, this is a rugged paradise for the hardcore surf explorer.
The Water: New England is a very large area, and much of it is heavily populated, while other parts are completely undeveloped. What this means for surfers is that water quality can range drastically, and water temperatures even more so—particularly from summer to winter. Where and when you go will be a big factor, but in general, expect water temps to range from below 32 F (0 C) in winter up to the low 70s F (low 20s C) in summer.
The Season: Fall is best, with relatively warm water, good wind and consistent swells (hurricane season!). Spring can have moments of glory, while winter is extremely cold and stormy—but also quite consistent, with massive swells at times. Summer is often flat.
The Vibe: Some of the more crowded spots are heavily localized (think Ruggles on a good day), while other stretches of coast will go months without seeing a surfer. The key to scoring New England—and scoring it without getting hassled—is to carefully pick where you surf and whom you befriend.
Things To Do: Much of New England is quite beautiful and steeped in history, making it a worthwhile destination regardless of whether or not you surf. In winter, however, you are likely to spend a lot of time indoors.
Where To Stay: With hotels, hostels, cabins for rent and parks for camping, New England has something to offer everyone.
What To Bring: A diverse quiver, as the surf in New England can be quite fickle. At the very least, you’ll want a standard shortboard and some kind of hybrid with a bit of float for the gutless days. It might be worth bringing a longboard as well, although you could just as easily require a big wave gun. One thing is for sure—you’ll need a warm wetsuit. As warm as they come for winter, but even spring and summer can be cold, as some areas never get above the mid-60s.
Getting There: Theodore Francis Green State Airport in Providence is your gateway into Rhode Island; Manchester-Boston Regional for New Hampshire; Gen. Edward Lawrence Logan in Boston for Massachusetts; Bradley International for Connecticut; and Portland International for Maine. US visa rules apply. Airport codes: PVD (Providence), MHT (Manchester), BOS (Boston), BDL (Bradley) and PWM (Portland).