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. 1: Haleiwa, HI
Visions of clean, white-sand beaches, palm trees, and perfect surf usually accompany a first-time visit to Hawaii. But it’s not until you reach the country, away from Honolulu—the high-rise-laden, bustling nucleus of Pacific commerce and tourism—that you truly feel the “Hawaii” of your imagination. Haleiwa, the gateway to the seven miles of wave-filled wonder that are the North Shore, blends the stereotypical idyll of island leisure and a truly local-centric feel, while also providing the backdrop for the most substantial yearly aggregation of the surf world. A surfer's heavy-wave Paradise, the North Shore (technically under Haleiwa town's postal code) has all the waves, culture and allure you've been reading about in magazines and online for over half a century now.
Christ, where to begin? They're all warm, turquoise-blue, and have more to WAY more push than wherever you've come from, literally capable of being well-overhead from September through May of every year, picking up North through West swells spinning all winter long over the island chain. With right and left-breaking, shallow reefbreaks (and a couple sandbars sprinkled in) dotting the coastline from Haleiwa to V-Land, it's not hard to find a break that suits your skill level, and, of course, pushes your limits, too. There's some localism and crowds — especially at Pipe in November through December — but be respectful, stay out of their way, and you should be fine.
In some ways, the picture painted by the 1987 cult classic film North Shore couldn't be any truer. A strange paradise teeming with pro surfers, half-naked women, raging house parties, territorial locals, quirky shapers, and wooly-eyed Mainland haoles just off the jet. That's the winter months (a complete zoo when the comps like the Triple Crown, Volcom Pipe Pro, or The Eddie are running). But in the three-and-a-half month long summer break? Pretty sleepy. Amazingly, the North Shore has avoided major development, and that's the way the locals want to keep it. For some nightlight, Haleiwa town has a few bars and live music. If you're looking to paint the town red, head an hour into Honolulu (Town) where bars are open till 4:00 AM. Still looking for that enigmatic concept of "aloha?" Make friends with a local family and all shall be revealed. But a word of advice: attempting to "talk pidgin" in order to fit in is not recommended. Just do you.
Quality of Life:
Sure, there's some sticker-shock on the price of milk and bread at Foodland (even if you've got a Maika'i Card), but once you get over that hump, North Shore life is pretty dreamy, slow, and simple. The community of local residents are health-conscious, environmentally-aware, family-friendly souls. As far as making a livelihood, jobs are pretty trades-based, but if you don't mind swinging a hammer, waiting tables, have a remote millennial job, or can stand the commute to Town, then you'll be fine. Plus, most transplants that originally moved out here didn't have a job lined up; they just brought a board and manifested the rest.
Average Water Temp: 76
Average Air Temp: 76
Median Income: $66,256
Median Home Price: $795,000
Most Common Industry: Skilled Trades, Accommodation and Food Services, Education
Nearest Large City: Honolulu, HI (30.7 miles, pop. 374,658)
Premier Surf Spots: Haleiwa, Pipeline, Backdoor, Sunset, Rocky Point, Off The Wall, Laniakea, and many more
Best Surf Towns 2017