If, as Leo Tolstoy once wrote in Anna Karenina, "All happy families are alike…," then all happy surf towns are, too. Certainly, in every happy surf town there are the same old salty surf dawgs on giant longboards who'll cut off the groms and never look back. There are the underground legends who could've gone pro, but never left. There's a robust amateur comp circuit and a local shaper who seems to make every other guy's board. There's a particular breakfast spot where every surfer in town eventually eats after a dawn patrol, hair still dripping wet, with the menus promoting various combinations of eggs all named after local surf spots, as if the "T-Street" is any better than the "Riviera." Most importantly, in all happy surf towns, every real local believes the same unanimous lie that sometimes, just sometimes, their homebreak can get as good as the best break on the entire planet.
Indeed, there are many of these surf towns all over America, but what, precisely, makes one better than the other? Wave quality? Quaintness? Seclusion? Proximity to a city with culture? Price of a "T-Street" with a side of bacon?
We've compiled this list, primarily considering quality of life and quality of surf, but also taking into account other variables such as climate, consistency and variety of waves, cost of living, culture, and availability of work. After consulting, researching, and heavy debate, we narrowed the expansive list of towns down to 10—our ranking of the 10 best American surf towns.
No. 9: Kill Devil Hills, NC
The thin strip of land far off the coast of North Carolina known as the Outer Banks can feel very, very removed. That's precisely because it is. Rustic beachhouses are perched on stilts with hightides nearly at their doorsteps. Sea oats dance on the coastal dunes. Each year, hurricanes come close enough to send the residents running. Despite its sinister name, few American surf towns boast the peace of mind on offer in the Outer Banks town of Kill Devil Hills. That peace of mind, of course, is access to some of the best tubes on offer on the entire Eastern Seaboard. Sure, summer sees its fair share of visitors who want a taste of this town's beautiful isolation, but in the winters? It's just you and chilly, thundering peaks.
Exposed, offshore, and (luckily) lacking the gradual continental shelf most states on the East Coast have, the Outer Banks is a swell magnet. Out here, beach breaks and outer sandbars are the name of the game, but there's just something about the place that makes the waves break harder, hollower and with more gusto. In short, you're pulling into shacks out here — something you can't normally say at spots on the Right Coast. From June through October, you'll probably be wearing trunks, and while you might shiver in your hood and gloves come winter as water temps dip into the low 40s…it's probably flat everywhere else.
Sure, it's North Carolina, but you're still in the deep South. Kill Devil Hills is no exception. Trucker hats and overalls aren't an ironic fashion statement out here, and that's a good thing: Locals are authentic, honest, real people. As far as cuisine goes, hush puppies, sweet tea, and syrupy salutations pepper the fine home-cooking establishments along the coast.
Quality of Life:
Kill Devil Hills' pacing bears an uncanny resemblance to its seasons. In the inclement winter, Kill Devil Hills creeps along as a ghost town. A vast majority of residents just half an hour south receive unemployment checks due to the migratory population. Just as spring revives the natural world, so, too, does it resuscitate the life and economy of the Outer Banks. By summer, the islands bustle with life and warmth, only to settle down and reflect on the momentary gorge during the crisp breath of autumn. The only wildcard in the equation: hurricanes. You never know when a Category Five might seriously change life in this Carolinian treasure.
Average Water Temp: 67 (But gets as cold at 46 in the winter)
Average Air Temp: 62
Median Income: $ 51,101
Median Home Price: $ 294,500
Most Common Industry: Accommodations / Food Service, Construction, Retail Trade
Nearest Large City: Virginia Beach, VA (62.9 miles, pop. 452,745)
Premier Surf Spots: Avalon Pier, S-Turns, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Local Talent: Noah Snyder, Jesse Hines, Brett Barley, Eric Dotson
[Head back to Surfer.com tomorrow for our No.8 reveal]
Best Surf Towns 2017