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. 3: Pa’ia, HI
Looking to visit a surf town in Hawaii, but the North Shore of Oahu sounds too much like surf-Coachella? The groovy little town of Pa'ia, on Maui’s north shore might be the place for you. While the coastline might not have the concentrated Hollywood Star Walk of surf spots like neighboring Oahu, Paia makes up for that with far less crowds and more power crystals. Filled with rootsy boutiques, cafes, organic food shops, and yoga studios, and patroned by a population of hippies, Christians, Christian hippies, artists, trustafarians, big-wave psychos, windsurfers, and tourist babes, Paia stands out as one of Hawaii's most unique surf towns. And if you see Willie Nelson having a drink at Charley’s, tell him hi for us.
We won't sugarcoat it: Maui can be windy. Which is why it's crawling with kite- and wind-surfers. Regardless, the local pro surfers who've made it big on the world stage — Layer, Meola, Barger, Larsen, and many more — have done so growing up on that wind. So if you can handle the daily sideshores that pick up mid-morning, surf options abound. Paia Bay offers fun beachbreak waves right in town, plus several miles of reef provide multiple right and left peaks along the coast as you head further east. Ho'okipa, a consistent reefbreak located just three miles from Paia, serves as the major proving ground for North Shore Maui surfers, as well as a cultural meeting place. If you've got the guts, Jaws is nearby, too, and of course, the world-class righthander, Honolua Bay, isn't a far drive, either.
Not as remote nor removed as some towns on the Eastside of Maui, Pa'ia is a blend of slow neighbor island-vibes and tourist bustle of Oahu. Oddly enough, mixing with the pervading local Hawaiian culture, the town sure attracts an array of characters, from roadside artists to graying New Age hippies to dreadlocked neo-farmers and more. Really, surf culture is just one slice of Pa'ia's delicious cosmic pie. As is the case with any small town—and especially island towns bound by oceans—diversity is limited. While Maui's major city, Kahului, is just 5 miles yonder, the rest of the world is simply a long and expensive plane ride away.
Quality of Life:
Pa'ia can definitely be heaven, depending where your priorities lie. Love watersports, don't need a lot of money, and don't have to support a bunch of kids? Then you'll probably thrive. A place where you can pick fruit from your backyard, see people you know at every turn, ride your bike to mom-and-pop shops, and surf multiple sessions a day — life is good here. But while the ultimate surf lifestyle is possible there, it can be hard to achieve, given the cost of living and scarcity of jobs. If you can find a way to manage those possible stumbling blocks, then welcome to paradise.
Average Water Temp: 76
Average Air Temp: 76
Median Income: $75,560
Median Home Price: $618,222
Most Common Industry: Educational Services, Construction
Nearest Large City: Honolulu, HI (103.4 miles , pop. 374,658)
Premier Surf Spots: Ho'okipa
Local Talent: Ian Walsh, Tom Dosland, Kai Barger, Tanner Hendrickson, Matt Meola, Albee Layer, Kai Lenny, Billy Kemper, Tai Van Dyke, Kaimana Henry
[Head back to Surfer.com tomorrow for our No.2 reveal]
Best Surf Towns 2017