With images of Bermuda shorts and sunny warm Hawaii, it’s understandable why many people think of surfing as strictly a hot weather sport.
Though with a little extra preparation and added precaution, the truth is you can keep surfing in many unexpected places, no matter what the season happens to be.
We stuck to the relatively warm winter waters of Texas, Florida, and Southern California for this ranking. But no matter what destination you choose, this article will tell you everything you need to know about cold water surfing in winter.
Finding Great Places to Surf in Winter
It’s thought that humans have been surfing for about as long as humans have been swimming.
Evidence of surfing can be found in pre-contact Hawaii, and today, surfing is more popular than ever. Bodysurfing was the earliest form of the sport, and the surfboard is a relatively recent development.
The popularity of surfing means many of the world’s most well-known surf spots are incredibly crowded. With smaller crowds and more space, some have turned to cold water surfing as an alternative.
There’s no strict definition of what exactly cold water surfing is. Many define cold water surfing as surfing in water that requires a thicker wetsuit than usual.
What we all can agree on is that cold water surfing requires some special gear to stay warm and comfortable. Here’s what you’ll need before tucking into some frosty barrels:
Hold up, bro—I’ll need sunscreen in winter? The answer is yes, yes you do, because sunburns happen no matter what time of year it is.
When choosing a sunscreen for cold water surfing, be sure to get one that’s water-resistant (of course), with cold water moisturizing properties. You’ll also want sunscreen that won’t get too hard in chilly weather.
- Cold water wax
In addition to skin protection, when surfing in winter you’ll want cold water wax for your board.
Wax helps surfers keep their grip, and many of the best cold water wax brands are organic and completely biodegradable.
You’ll also need a good pair of gloves when cold water surfing, tough enough to handle surfing in cold weather. The best gloves have 100% sealed seams, glued, and blindstitched for added warmth and durability.
Surfing in warm water means bare feet, but in cold water you’ll need booties to help protect your feet from the cooler water temperature. Look for a pair with microfiber fleece and heat-boosting insulation properties.
Add an additional layer of warmth under your booties with a good pair of cold water socks. Be sure your socks are frictionless, quick-drying, and ideally made from spandex or neoprene with flatlock stitching.
But perhaps the most important piece of gear you’ll need to surf in winter in comfort and safety is the right wetsuit. The best cold water wetsuits are hooded with thermal fabric.
What about the actual surfboard?
To choose the right surfboard for winter, head straight for a board with additional volume and inches.
You’re not always in the water when you surf, though. Let’s talk a bit about what you’re going to need to stay warm and comfortable on the shore.
- Waterproof jacket, sweatpants, and poncho
You’re going to want some additional layers to warm up after you hop out of the cold water. The best choices are breathable, windproof, and of course, waterproof.
Other items to consider include an insulated water bottle (to keep that tea or coffee warm while you’re surfing), a thick changing towel, or even a changing mat to keep the sand off your skin while you change out of your wet clothes.
In addition to the right gear, take the time to warm up before surfing in winter. Warming up will get your body ready for the cool water temperatures you’re about to submerge yourself in. The best pre-surf warm-up should be yoga-based with an emphasis on stretching.
And best of all, a good pre-surf warm-up only takes a matter of minutes.
Now that you’re warm and ready, it’s time to find out more about America’s 20 best winter surfing destinations.
We stayed away from extreme cold water surfing destinations like Maine and the Great Lakes for our ranking. We focused instead on California, Texas, and Florida where the water stays relatively warm even when temperatures drop.
We ranked each location on the following criteria:
- Quality of surfing during winter
- Weather and water temperature
- Availability of lessons
- Gear rental
- Other things to do besides surf
Follow our guide to America’s 20 best winter surfing destinations and you’ll be surfing all year long.
Windansea Beach | La Jolla, CA
Where to stay: Pacific Terrace Hotel
Our overall best winter surfing destination is Windansea Beach, a stretch of beach near the San Diego community of La Jolla.
Popular with both short- and longboard surfers, Windansea can have 6- to 8-foot surf in the winter, meaning there’s quality surfing to be done all year long.
A reef break forms the primary peak at Windansea Beach, breaking both left and right. Other breaks at Windansea include Middles, Turtles, Simmons, and Big Rock.
And since Windansea is located in mild Southern California, water temperatures don’t drop as far as in other areas of the country during the cold season. Windansea is an easy introduction to surfing in winter.
Pismo Beach Pier | Pismo Beach, CA
Where to stay: Cottage Inn by the Sea
Pismo Beach Pier is our second-best winter surfing destination. Located in San Luis Obispo County, Pismo Beach Pier is one of the most popular surf spots in its region, known for a mild swell shadow coming from the northwest.
While the water around Pismo Beach Pier is colder than other Southern California destinations, it doesn’t get particularly windy. The air stays a bit warmer than it might otherwise during the cooler winter months.
Explore a little bit away from the pier and you can expect white sand beach breaks and solo peaks. There’s plenty of quality surfing around the pier as well, with soft waves and a beach that slopes gently from the water’s edge.
Pismo Beach even earns high marks as a good choice for beginning surfers, due to the readily available Pismo Beach surf lessons. They are considered to be among the best surf lessons in all of California.
Isla Blanca Park | South Padre Island, TX
Where to stay: Isla Grand Beach Resort
Third place in our ranking goes to Isla Blanca Park, near South Padre Island, TX. South Padre Island is a Texas resort town that fills up every winter with people young and old looking to flee the cold weather in other parts of the country.
There’s some of the best surfing in the entire state of Texas at Isla Blanca Park. Surfers ride jetties at the south end of the island, with consistent waves not usually found in the otherwise shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
And, Isla Blanca Park is also a good choice for beginners, with SurfVive, a non-profit that offers free group surfing lessons.
Anastasia State Park | St. Augustine, FL
Where to stay: The Saint Augustine Beach House
Turning now to the Sunshine State, Anastasia State Park is fourth in our ranking of America’s best places to cold water surf.
The best place to surf at Anastasia State Park is a spot called “North of Blowhole,” one of the East Coast’s most well-known breaks.
It’s best to surf at Anastasia State Park at low tide, usually early in the morning or after 10 PM at night. Surf during these times and you’ll find long, smooth barrels with bowl-like horseshoe peaks, breaking both left and right.
There are also super hollow and long lefts, especially on a north northeastern swell.
Bob Hall Pier | Corpus Christi, TX
Where to stay: Waves Resort Corpus Christi
Fishermen mix with surfers at Bob Hall Pier in Corpus Christi, TX, fifth in our ranking of the best cold water surfing destinations.
Best suited for short boards, the largest waves at Bob Hall Pier come around hurricane season, with fast barrels coming directly from the pier.
Not known for big waves, what helped Bob Hall Pier make the cut in our ranking is the consistency of the waves. With a proper swell and a hollow drop, surfers can often ride straight up to the shoreline.
There’s also a lot of stuff to do in Corpus Christi besides surfing. For instance, there’s the Texas Surf Museum, telling the story of surfing along Texas’ 367-mile coastline.
Swami’s Beach | Encinitas, CA
Where to stay: Carlsbad Seapointe Resort
Returning to Southern California, the next surfing spot in our ranking is Swami’s Beach in Encinitas, CA, also known as “Swami’s” or “Swami’s Reef.”
Swami’s is known for good swells during the winter, due to its standout right point break as well as reef and beach breaks.
This all means Swami’s is crowded during the cold season, unlike some other surf spots we’ll tell you about.
The spot is also an internationally known point break. The best time to surf at Swami’s is low to mid-tide, with swells to west or northwest, and a calm east wind.
While all skill levels can enjoy surfing Swami’s, it is extra challenging for beginners due to how far away the main break is from the shore.
Sebastian Inlet | Melbourne Beach, FL
Where to stay: Captain Hiram’s Resort
Sebastian Inlet State Park is the seventh cold water surfing destination in our ranking. Experienced surfers call Sebastian Inlet a swell magnet, with waves at their best during lower tides, or the start of incoming tides.
After bouncing off the jetty at Sebastian Inlet, waves grow in size and strength over shallow sandbars, creating up to four distinct peaks up the beach.
Do look out for strong currents from north northeast winds creating dangerous conditions around the jetty.
There’s also a lot to do at Sebastian Inlet besides surfing, including the McLarty Museum and the Sebastian Fishing Museum. In addition, several famous surfers—like Kelly Slater, the Hobgood twins, and the Lopez brothers—first learned to surf around Sebastian Inlet.
The Trestles | San Clemente, CA
Where to stay: House of Trestles
Eighth in our ranking of America’s 20 best winter surfing destinations is actually a few surfing spots, collectively called “the Trestles.”
Located in and around San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County, the Trestles were even name dropped in the 1963 Beach Boys hit, “Surfin’ USA,” giving them some serious surfing lore credibility.
In total, the Trestles consist of the Upper and Middle Trestles, with a surf spot called Cottons just north of the Upper Trestles and a place known as the Church just south of Middles.
The Lower Trestles get the best waves of the bunch. So much so, the WSL World Tour Competition and NSSA Nationals are held there every year.
Mansfield Jetty | Port Mansfield, TX
Where to stay: Getaway Adventures Lodge
The next Lone Star surf spot we want to tell you about is Mansfield Jetty, a secluded beach just 20 miles north of South Padre Island, located near Port Mansfield, TX.
Mansfield Jetty is a good choice if you’re looking for a little extra adventure in your surfing excursion. The jetty can only be accessed by boat or an over 60-mile beach drive in a four-wheel-drive vehicle—we told you it was secluded!
Once you’re there though, you can jump from the jetty or paddle in from a small sand cove. One drawback to how remote Mansfield Jetty truly is: You’ll have to pack in and out all your gear.
Flagler Beach Pier | Flagler Beach, FL
Where to stay: White Orchid Inn & Spa
Flagler Beach Pier is the next cold water surfing destination we want to tell you about. Many people consider it best to surf Flagler Beach in spring and fall, but there’s good surfing to be done there all year long.
Barreling capacity is best at Flagler Beach at high tide. And generally speaking, the best waves come at low incoming tide, with optimum rights and lefts coming with the west wind.
There’s also a 150-foot “no surf” zone on each side of the pier, so head a few blocks away to find some solitude and enjoy your surf session. Lessons are also readily available.
Flagler Beach has been ranked one of America’s coolest small towns, so it can get a little crowded.
North Packery Channel Jetty | Corpus Christi, TX
Where to stay: Aloft Corpus Christi
North Packery Beach, including North Packery Channel Jetty, is another popular cold water surf spot near Corpus Christi, TX.
All throughout the year, surfers flock to J.P. Luby Surf Park at North Packery Beach on Mustang Island, an 18-mile long barrier island stretching from Corpus Christi to Port Aransas.
The best surfing at J.P. Luby Surf Park occurs when swells and winds in the Gulf of Mexico come from the south or southeast, but also when winds blow in from the northwest.
And something else notable about North Packery Beach is the easy access to rental services, conveniently located near the beach.
The Wedge | Newport Beach, CA
Where to stay: Fashion Island Hotel Newport Beach
Now we head to the easternmost tip of the Balboa Peninsula near Newport Beach, CA where you’ll find a prime winter surfing spot known as the Wedge.
Formed by alterations to the Newport Harbor, swells are created at the Wedge when waves approach the shore at a certain angle. They then reflect back off the jetty, meeting the next incoming wave, which creates a peak and huge waves reaching as high as 20 feet.
Huntington Beach Pier | Huntington Beach, CA
Where to stay: Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa
Huntington Beach, CA is known as “Surf City, USA,” and the historic Huntington Beach Pier is right in the center of it all.
What makes Huntington Beach Pier a great place to surf any time of the year is the edge-diffraction of open ocean swells around Catalina Island.
In fact, Huntington Beach Pier is such a popular surf destination that the City of Huntington Beach regularly updates beach conditions and a surf report throughout the day.
In addition, several large surfing competitions take place at Huntington Beach, including the U.S. Open of Surfing. The Surfing Walk of Fame is also located directly across the street from the pier.
All this means that Huntington Beach can get crowded. Nevertheless, it remains without a doubt one of America’s best winter surfing destinations.
Boca Chica | Brownsville, TX
Where to stay: Boca Chica Inn & Suites
We now turn to Boca Chica, a popular surf spot near Brownsville, TX. An isolated spot, Boca Chica isn’t easy to access. You can swim across the jetty from Isla Blanca Park, or instead drive down roughly 8 miles.
Once there though, you’ll find consistent waves, big swells, and even barrels on occasion.
Surfrider Beach | Malibu, CA
Where to stay: The Surfrider Hotel, Malibu
Surfrider Beach, known officially as Malibu Lagoon State Beach, is part of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. In 2010, it was added to the World Surfing Reserve.
There are three primary surfing areas at Surfrider Beach. Popular with both longboarders and shortboarders alike, First Point has waves during bigger swells, while Second Point is best for high performance surfing. And with a left and right side, Third Point is known for south swell, though that’s most common in late summer and early fall.
There’s also a well-known right break and a tri-cornered shoreline.
Surfrider Beach rose to prominence at the height of the ’60s-era surfing craze. It has remained one of Los Angeles County’s most popular surfing destinations, no matter what time of year.
Horace Caldwell Pier | Port Aransas, TX
Where to stay: Island Hotel Port Aransas
Up the coastline from Corpus Christi near Port Aransas is Horace Caldwell Pier, the next stop in our ranking of America’s 20 best winter surfing destinations.
Port Aransas is itself a great surfer town. It’s one of the most popular surf spots in the entire region, among both beginner and experienced surfers alike.
While Horace Caldwell Pier isn’t known for the biggest waves, there are great breaks to be found. There are also strong and fast waves coming off the left-hand side of the pier, particularly at low tide.
Rincon Point | Carpinteria, CA
Where to stay: Cliff House Inn on the Ocean
The next stop on our tour of America’s best winter surfing destinations is Rincon Point, also known as Rincon Surfspot.
Located directly on the county line between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, Rincon Point is called the “Queen of the Coast.”
One of California’s most well-known surf spots, Rincon Point can get crowded, especially in winter, which some surfers consider the best time to visit.
During the winter season, swells come primarily from the west and northwest. Overall, Rincon Point is known for long rides and well-formed waves. The spot is divided into three parts: the Cove, Rivermouth, and Indicator.
Rincon Point is even namechecked in the Beach Boys classic, “Surfin’ Safari,” and it’s also home to the Rincon Classic each January.
Jacksonville Beach Pier | Jacksonville, FL
Where to stay: One Ocean Resort & Spa
Returning to the Sunshine State, Jacksonville Beach Pier—sometimes shortened by regulars to just “Jax Beach”—is the next spot in our ranking of America’s 20 best winter surfing destinations.
Surfers can choose from a variety of breaks at Jax Beach, breaking both left and right. It’s best to surf Jacksonville Beach at high tide.
Popular with locals, the best swell direction at Jax Beach comes from the northeast, southeast, and east, while the best wind direction is from the west. And while break runs remain strong all year long, many say winter offers the best surfing at this location.
Oceanfront Park | Boynton Beach, FL
Where to stay: Sun Dek Beach House
Boynton Beach’s Oceanfront Park is known for its natural beauty, but that’s only one of the reasons it earned a spot in our ranking of America’s best cold water surfing spots.
Referred to by some as “America’s Gateway to the Gulfstream,” winter sunshine keeps this area warmer than average during the cold winter months.
Waves come from both nearshore wind swells and more distant, offshore ground swells, particularly when offshore winds blow from the west.
Ideal swell direction at Oceanfront Park comes from the northeast, while beach breaks offer additional left and rights. Overall, the beach at Oceanfront Park is pretty exposed, with a reef break creating reliable surf conditions all year long.
Juno Beach Pier | Jupiter Beach, FL
Where to stay: Jupiter Beach Resort and Spa
While Juno Beach Pier is not known for big waves, what sets the pier apart is the consistency of the waves, considered by many to be some of the best in all of North Palm Beach County.
While surfing is not allowed within 100 feet of the pier, Juno Beach Pier is often crowded, with a good mix of experienced surfers, novices, and even children—though less so in winter.
An extra powerful swell destroyed the original Juno Beach Pier in the 1980s. But the pier was rebuilt in the ’90s, with sandbars on both sides of the structure.
Juno Beach Pier breaks best during incoming tide, but with adequate swell and sometimes at high tide, there’s a fun inside section.