25 Feb 2020
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
- Farmdog Surf School
- Kitty Hawk Kayak & Surf School
- Kitty Hawk Kites
- Outer Banks Surf School
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.