While the rest of the East Coast has the reputation of being cold and urban (with the exception of Florida, of course), North Carolina conjures up images of brown sandy barrels, countrified beaches, and boardshort-warm water (although winter actually can be horrendously cold). A fickle destination, and one that takes a lot of local knowledge and mobility to score, North Carolina gets its best surf from hurricanes—so while the rest of the East Coast is hunkering down to weather a brutal storm, it isn’t uncommon to see numerous 4x4s with roof racks speeding towards the Outer Banks. After tasting the tubes North Carolina has on offer, don’t be surprised if you start dreaming about about category 3 hurricanes too!
The Surf: North Carolina is beach break heaven, with some of the best sand-bottom barrels on the East Coast. Many of these waves are somewhat heavy, and access takes some experience, making North Carolina an intermediate to advanced surf zone.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Hatteras Lighthouse: The Lighthouse is Hatteras’ signature break, and can be quite crowded, but like most spots in the area it offers up hollow beach break peaks.
- Nags Head: The town of Nags Head has a number of fun waves breaking over sand, so pick a spot and enjoy.
- S-turns: The main event in Hatteras, S-Turns consistently churns out below-sea-level tubes, and has the daily crowd to prove it.
- Kitty Hawk Pier: A regional landmark and a damn fun series of peaks and sandbars, Kitty Hawk Pier isn’t what it was pre-Hurricane Isabel, but it still holds a special place in the hearts of the locals.
- Pea Island: Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge has an endless series of sandbars on offer—the trick is finding the one that is working on any given day.
The Water: Although the barrels in North Carolina are infamous for their dirty brown color, a general lack of development in the area means that as far as man-made pollutants go, the water here is pretty clean. Average water temps range from 59 F (15 C) in winter to 81 F (27 C) in summer.
The Season: Autumn (August through November) is the best time of year to be in the Outer Banks, but summer (June and July) sees the start of hurricane season and winter (December through February) also delivers the goods—if you can survive the cold—so either is a viable option.
The Vibe: While the southern portion of the Outer Banks is infamous for the occasional grumpy vibe and unfortunate act of localism, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk are known for a much friendlier population of surfers, many of whom are Bible-toting Christians.
Things To Do: Major portions of the area are wildlife preserves, so there is much of interest for the avid naturalist. The fishing is great as well. Unfortunately (or not, depending on your point of view), hurricane dodging is the official local pastime. If you are serious about scoring waves, you’ll be doing some dodging yourself.
Where To Stay: The Outer Banks are a popular tourist and vacation home area, so hotels and rental homes are available. Things get pretty quiet in winter, but you can always throw down a tent if you are keen.
What To Bring: A quiver full of shortboards. A good 4×4 and some local knowledge. Camping and survival gear if you plan to post up for a while. Fishing gear, binoculars, and a guide to the local wildlife species. A good radio to keep you abreast of hurricane development.
Getting There: Raleigh-Durham is the main international airport in North Carolina (around a 3.5-hour drive from the Outer Banks), but Norfolk, Virginia is actually quite a bit closer, so that may be your best option. US visa rules apply. Airport codes: ORF (Norfolk) and RDU (Raleigh-Durham).