Best Surfing in North Carolina [Video]
by Jessie S.
When it comes hanging ten and riding the waves, the Outer Banks is home to some of the best surfing in North Carolina. There’s a potential for great swell conditions all along the beach thanks to the geography of the barrier islands and strong coastal winds. These “gnarly” swells have been known to attract surfers from all over the world, ranging from seasoned professionals to visitors who are looking to dip their toes into the surfing lifestyle for the first time.
What Makes the Outer Banks a Great Place to Surf?
Thanks to temperate weather and a booming tourist economy, even in the off-season, surfing can be enjoyed nearly year-round on the Outer Banks. Plus, the islands literally sit right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, further East than any other beach in North Carolina. This location is the site where two currents (the cold Labrador Current from the north and the warm Gulf Stream from the south) collide and are largely responsible for the strong surf. The Outer Banks also experiences frequent storm swells and shifting sandbars that reshape the shoreline so although you may have to try a few spots, you can usually find one that will work for you.
The Outer Banks has won numerous accolades for surfing. Kill Devil Hills was named in the top 10 Best Surf Towns in America in 2009 and 2017 by Surfer Magazine. In 2015, Cape Hatteras was named #5 in the Top 99 Sand n’ Surf Hotspots Across the Globe by the Travel Channel and ranked among the World’s 50 Best Surf Spots by CNN Travel in 2013. There are also a host of professional surfers who call the Outer Banks home including Noah Snyder, Brett Barley and Jesse Hines.
Surfing conditions on the Outer Banks are so excellent that the Eastern Surfing Association holds two of their main competitions in Nags Head—the ESA Mid-Atlantic Regionals (annually in May) and the Easterns® Surfing Championships (annually in September). Additionally, the World Surf League presents the WRV Outer Banks Pro annually around Labor Day Weekend, part of the official Men and Women’s Qualifying Series 1000. A special local event, Surfing for Autism, is also held every year in July at Jennette’s Pier.
Learning to Surf on the Outer Banks
If you’ve always wanted to try surfing but didn’t know where to learn, the Outer Banks is a great place to start. There are several watersports companies on the OBX that provide detailed instructions and surf lessons for all skill levels. Don’t forget—if you’re already a seasoned surfer but don’t have the equipment or didn’t want to haul it with your vacation luggage, there are many companies (including a few listed below) that have surfing equipment available to rent.
- Corolla Surf School: First established in 1996, the Corolla Surf School offers safe, informative and fun lessons and has been recommend by the New York Times. Instructors have collectively taught over 22,000 lessons and are all CPR Certified by Corolla Beach Rescue. They offer a variety of classes including introductory lessons, advanced beginner lessons, and private/semi-private lessons. All lessons are about one-and-a-half to two hours long and focus on water safety, paddling, and surfing fundamentals. Learn more about Corolla Surf School surf lessons.
- Farmdog Surf School: Providing National Surf Schools & Instructors Association (NSSIA) certified lessons, Farmdog Surf School offers a total surfing experience. They offer a variety of wetsuits and board sizes and students can even enjoy light refreshments. Group lessons are taught at a 1 instructor to 4 student ratio and are available for anyone 6+. Private lessons are also available for individuals or family groups. To really get the hang of it, book a 4-day semi-private lesson package (available for individuals 13+). Learn more about Farmdog Surf School surf lessons.
- Kitty Hawk Kayak & Surf School: Locally owned and operated, Kitty Hawk Kayak and Surf School’s company is all about loving the outdoors. Their surf lessons focus on ocean safety, surfboard anatomy, proper placement and hands-on water experience. Lessons are one-and-a-half hours long for anyone 6+ in Duck and Kitty Hawk. There is a limit of 4 students per certified instructor. Private lessons are also available and lessons can be taught off the beach near your rental home. Learn more about Kitty Hawk Kayak & Surf School surf lessons.
- Kitty Hawk Kites: Kitty Hawk Kites offers 3-day and 5-day surf lessons in Corolla, Duck, Nags Head and Rodanthe. Lessons are designed for anyone ages 7+ and last about one-and-a-half to two hours which includes an hour of hands-on learning in the water. Classes are taught at 1 instructor per 5 students but private lessons are also available. Kitty Hawk Kite provides the surfboard and leash for your lesson and they have plenty of rentals for when you want to practice on your own. Learn more about Kitty Hawk Kites surf lessons.
- Outer Banks Surf School: Opened by two avid surf enthusiasts who have caught waves all over the world, Outer Banks Surf School offers a variety of surf instruction. Private lessons are available for up to 4 people but visitors can also sign up for group lessons. Instructors focus on ocean safety, surfing fundamentals, and hands-on water instruction. If you really want to remember your experience, you can even add GoPro footage to your lesson package. Lessons are offered from Corolla to Hatteras and they are able to accommodate large group requests. Learn more about Outer Banks Surf School surf lessons.
Where to Surf on the Outer Banks
If you ask a local surfer their favorite surf spot on the Outer Banks, everyone is going to have a different opinion. However, there are a few locations along the islands that promise swell conditions that are usually favorable to those seeking the best waves. Here are the 3 best spots on the OBX to try if you’re looking for the best surfing in North Carolina.
Surfing at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
If you’ve ever explored the beaches around the old site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, you know that the shoreline is comprised of old jetties which impact the surfing conditions making it a popular destination for seasoned surfers. With a large public parking lot and the lighthouse on the horizon, it’s also a convenient and scenic location. The biggest drawback is that during the peak months, the lifeguarded beach will quickly fill up with families making it overcrowded. Surfers will need to consistently watch out for swimmers when riding into shore.
Surfing at Jennette’s Pier
With reliable waves and home of several surfing competitions throughout the year, Jennette’s Pier is a great location for both amateur and professional surfers alike. There is also a large public parking lot and many nearby dining options making it a convenient location for pre and post surfing excursions. However, both the pier and beach access are a hot spot during peak summer months so the likelihood of getting a parking space on a sunny afternoon in June-August is pretty rare. This means, of course, that the surf is also full of swimmers. Tip: There is a public access just north of the pier and one just south of the pier that may offer a less crowded stretch of sand.
Surfing at the S-Curves in Northern Rodanthe
On days when the surfing is good, it isn’t uncommon to be driving down Hwy. 12 on Hatteras Island and see vehicles parked along the road just North of Rodanthe, known as the “S-Curves” after the winding, curvy highway. Since the beach is very narrow along this stretch, the area often experiences overwash in bad storms so the current can definitely get rough at times. The benefit of this spot is that it is not a popular swimming destination for families so your neighbors will probably be other surfers. However, this spot is also better left to those with plenty of practice. Like other areas on the OBX, particularly on Hatteras Island, it’s important to be wary of rip currents.
Daily OBX Surf Reports
Just because Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Jennette’s Pier, and the S-Curves consistently rank among the best spots for surfing on the Outer Banks doesn’t mean you can’t try your luck in another area of the beach. Before you head out to catch a few waves, check the local surf forecasts and find out what conditions you’ll face in each town.
- OBX Surf Info provides live surf cams, water depth, wind conditions, and wave heights along with a couple suggestions for nearby restaurants in each location.
- Swell Info will tell you the current weather, wave height, wind, water depth, and even recommend the best surf board to use.
Jessie has been coming to the Outer Banks since she was just 5 years old. She loved it here so much that she finally relocated in 2018. Now her mission is to show the world that the Outer Banks is an incredible place that everyone should experience. When she isn't working, you can find Jessie hanging out with her friends, chilling at home with her awesome cat, Yoji, or discovering a new Outer Banks adventure.