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. 5: New Smyrna Beach, FL
Fishing poles, super swampers, and driving on the beach — you're not in California anymore. This is Florida. And while Brevard County to the south has stolen the spotlight for pro-surfer production (think: Slater and the Hobgoods), the swell magnet of New Smyrna Beach is reclaiming that role. Over the inlet from Daytona Beach's Spring Break madness, New Smyrna Beach is a quiet little community of core surfers that pretty much have something to ride every single day of the year. Sure, there's a bit of a shark situation due to the nearby inlet, but maybe that's how everyone's gotten so good at doing airs.
Easily the most consistent break along Florida's 1,200+ miles of surfable coastline, New Smyrna might even be the most performance-friendly, to boot. A sand-bottomed skate park stacked with peaky ramps, bowly transitions, and barreling reforms make the Inlet an aerialist's wet dream--a country-fried Duranbah. A wide-open playing field breaking both ways when the swell gets bigger, the Outer Shoal is a new experience (without the reform). A half-hour drive north over the bridge, Ponce Inlet accommodates larger south swells with a legit righthand pointbreak experience, while further south into Brevard County are various beachies…but also, why leave if there are waves at home?
There's a robust amateur comp scene, both with ESA and NSSA, and with an odd pro-am here and there. But as far as culture goes, New Smyrna is like a lot of small Southeastern surf towns: Fishing and surfing are often intertwined. That, and being able to drive on the beach, which is pretty damn fun. But even if one of its native sons like Evan Geiselman is off winning a 6K-point event in Japan, there's still a certain underdog complex that really drives the spirit of this town.
Quality of Life:
Yeah, Florida is a hell of a lot cheaper to live in, and own a home in, than in California or Hawaii, but sleepy New Smyrna Beach is changing with the tide. As "Snowbirds" from the north or yuppies from Orlando have come in to buy condos and other property, rent has gone up a bit, but also has given the town a bit of a facelift. Nevertheless, the vibe is still fairly backwoods-blue-collar in this somewhat insular beach community. With a $10 beach pass (less for residents), you can drive up the beach, pass scores of Southern beauties in the sun or rednecks crushing beers in lawn chairs, or stay in town and get rowdy in the fun bars on Flagler Ave. While it's easy to live there, you may get tired of the same old wave. But that's what quick trips to PR or Central America are for.
Average Water Temp: 75
Average Air Temp: 70
Median Income: $ 50,950
Median Home Price: $ 227,407
Most Common Industry: Retail Trade
Nearest Large City: Jacksonville, FL (102.4 miles, pop. 880,619)
Premier Surf Spots: All roads lead to New Smyrna Inlet, the only game in town
Local Talent: Aaron Cormican, Jeremy Johnston, Eric and Evan Geiselman, Nils and Noah Schweizer, Matt and Daniel Glenn
[Head back to Surfer.com tomorrow for our No.4 reveal]
Best Surf Towns 2017