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. 4: Ocean City, NJ
Maybe it's something in the pizza up there. Or the bagels. Something channeled through the radio waves within a Bruce Springsteen tune. Whatever it is, New Jersey produces some great surfers. Specifically, the South Jersey beach town of Ocean City, which boasts more surf accolades than any northeastern surf establishment. Take Dean Randazzo, New Jersey's only former ‘CT competitor, plus a deadly crop of aspiring WQS surfers. Even the local high school has won over a dozen state surfing championships, and despite some cold-ass winters, the locale's consistency and nearness to ledgier surf up the coast puts it on the U.S. surf map.
Like most East Coast surf towns, you're talkin' sandbars, which means the breaks can change depending on the storm. Nevertheless, Ocean City's consistency is a result of its jetties, where hollow rights peel on a north or southeast swell. Ocean City's also one of the more consistent spots north of Cape Hatteras. And those throaty, murky, thumping winter tubes you've seen in mag spreads? Most of those waves are actually north up the Central Coast, where the water is deeper and the crowds thinner…but that's just a relatively short drive past Atlantic City.
You've seen Jersey Shore, right? Kidding. There's a boardwalk hugging the beach with pork rolls, pizza slices, and ferris wheels (and all the culture that entails), but Ocean City's community actually feels quite tight-knit and small town. There are a few supportive surf shops, a vibrant amateur comp scene, and out of any town in New Jersey, Ocean City seems like the best one to be raised as a surfer. Philly's not far away for Cheesesteak and city vibes, while Atlantic City's a quick roll of the dice north if you want to lose money. Brush up on The Boss while you're out there, too, so you don't look like a fool when "Born to Run" plays on the radio.
Quality of Life:
Like most beach towns on the East Coast, Ocean City's bi-polar seasonally — Poppin' in the summertime (with far less waves), while quite listless in the winter (with potentially pumping waves). Yes, you need a 5-mil fullsuit with gloves, boots, and a hood, and yes, it even snows on the beach, but that's also why you're scoring in the wintertime with barely anyone out. Luckily, the fish are always biting, if you're into that. But don't plan on drowning the mid-winter blues in alcohol, as Ocean City has prohibited the sale of booze since 1884. Regardless, the modest pace of life in this semi-urban outpost make it a great home for the surfer who wants access to nearby big cities, but also appreciates the upsides of a down season.
Average Water Temp: 63 (But gets as cold as 35 in the winter)
Average Air Temp: 53
Median Income: $57,813
Median Home Price: $ 598,735
Most Common Industry: Construction, Retail Trade, Education
Nearest Large City: Philadelphia, PA (65.4 miles, pop. 1.568 mil)
Premier Surf Spots: North Street, 8th Street, Waverly
Local Talent: Dean Randazzo, Matt Keenan, Andrew Gesler, Rob Kelly, Brendan Buckley
[Head back to Surfer.com tomorrow for our No.3 reveal]
Best Surf Towns 2017