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While the rowdy crowds pack into Cancun and Cabo for spring break, those who would like a quieter Mexican vacation head to Tulum. This small town along the Riviera has all of the same white sand beaches and sparkling blue water as its more popular brothers, but with a considerably more laid back vibe. Plus, for those interested in spicing up their break with a little local history, the city has easy access to some fascinating Mayan ruins.
Skip the party at the beach and head into the center of San Juan, which is technically the oldest city under U.S. control, for an incredible spring break. The historic Old San Juan is chock-full of colorful houses, landmark attractions, and stately museums, plus plenty of restaurants serving traditional Puerto Rican Creole cooking. At night, dig into the local music scene, where bars and restaurants host myriad groups playing everything from traditional folk music to salsa to reggaeton.
One of the U.S.’ most talked about “hidden” gems is full of excitement for a younger crowd. One of Charleston’s main draws is its burgeoning food industry, which features both delicious southern favorites, like fried chicken and barbecue, but also new creations by innovative chefs using fresh, specialty ingredients. Sign up for an affordable culinary tour to help you get the lay of the land. Another perk of this charming city is its abundance of history. You don’t need a big budget to walk around taking photos of the stately mansions, colorful row homes, and historic buildings -- including one where the Declaration of Independence was read. If you need some vitamin D, soak up the rays with your friends on the beautiful Barrier Islands just outside town. At night, if the bar scene isn’t your thing, check out the city’s jam-packed event calendar, which includes just about everything from improv shows to country music concerts.
Even if its best known for sword wielding Samurai, Shinto and Buddhist shrines, exotic culinary traditions and vast technological feats, it should also be no surprise that a multi-island nation set between the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean would be home to prime surf. Between Japan's four main islands and the countless smaller ones under its jurisdiction, there's hundreds of miles of craggy coastline offering up a plentiful array of wind, swell and temperature combinations. Beach, reef, point and river-mouth breaks are all accounted from Shonan to Niijima and Okinawa, thus ensuring wave riders of all levels should be able to find something to satisfy. The biggest surf arrives August thru October with the typhoons, while gentler waves -- and better weather for sightseeing -- are not uncommon March through June. A burgeoning surf culture also now exists in a number of seaside communities just a quick flight's distance of Tokyo. As a result, a sea of weekend warriors who've taken up the sport will find their way from the big city to the waves each week. So go in prepared to share the stoke or plan on adventuring to less easily accessible locales. No matter where you land, one of the many perks to a surf safari in Japan is the extensive collection of unique cultural experiences available during your non-surf hours.
New York City, the symbolic center of international urban life. Not exactly the picture of tropical beach paradise many of us conjure up when we consider the sport of surfing. But don't let this concrete jungle fool you. It may be one of the largest financial and cultural centers in the world (complete with corresponding crowds, neon lighting, gridlock and skyscrapers), but as urban surf metropolises go, New York is a bit of a gem. Located right along the mid-Atlantic, city-surfers will find themselves within just a short drive or train ride to some of the best swells on the eastern seaboard. As a result, transit riders will often find themselves sharing a train car with boards as day-tripping wave hunters head off in search of swell.
Two designated surf spots exist right within the city itself, both out in Far Rockaway, Queens and open year-round. Located between Beach 67th and Beach 69th Streets, and again from Beach 87th to Beach 92nd, Rockaway Beach can be a great option for those learning the sport. But given its location so close to the city center and the potential for sizeable swell, the Far Rockaways consistently attract all levels of surf skill. Those with a bit more time or ambition will often head farther afield, checking out the various breaks along the southern edge of Long Island or New Jersey's popular southerly shores. And when conditions are right, some of the steeper waves are known to be found up at such sites as Sandy Hook or Manasquan, New Jersey. In all cases, the best swells will coincide with the autumn hurricane season. And certainly the storms of winter can provide equally consistent waves if one can handle the near freezing temperatures. Interested in a little post-session surf culture? As unexpected as it may seem, there is a thriving surf scene in New York City proper while one can enjoy a true beach town vibe in such communities as Montauk, Long Island or all the way out along the Jersey shore.
Talk of winter sports usually conjures up images of colorfully insulated athletes careening down slopes of sparkly white powder. Rarely does one think of neoprene-clad wave junkies braving the icy crust of Sweden's frozen Baltic sea just for the privilege of diving head first into its depths. But in the land of the Vikings, this is in fact one increasingly popular pastime. No longer a secret, the partially inhabited island of Torö, just an hour south of Stockholm, has become the surf destination du jour for the toughest among of the world's surfers. Winter water temperatures can dip as low as 0°C with correspondingly severe freezing temperatures on land (even -22 degrees below!). Combine that cold with ice, snow, wind, rain and frozen seas, and Sweden's waves sound less like an invitation to surf than they do a test of survival for the fittest. Yet as word gets out about Sweden's local surf scene, an increasingly steady stream of foreign surfers are making the trek to Torö to experience these "exotic" waves for themselves. The reward for such hearty souls includes varied waves, beautiful scenery and a positively jovial atmosphere among the local crowd.
Another notoriously chilly spot that's become hot among surfers looking for something different: Canada. From tidal bores and rolling rivers to perfect island beach breaks, this North American giant has a lot to offer the enthusiastic hunter of waves. Tofino on Vancouver Island, BC has now become known as Canada's surf capital. Offering up 35 km of surfable beach appropriate to surfers of all levels as well as stupendous scenery, wildlife and a fun surf vibe. This destination is attractive to novice and expert riders alike, even if the cool of winter here is best for swell. Out on the other side of the country, a couple of American surfers have recently made a name for themselves riding the tidal bore on the Petitcodiac River in Moncton in New Brunswick. A rare phenomenon involving a massive bay wave spilling back into the mouth of the river at high tide, the pair spent two and a half hours in July 2013 surfing over 20 miles upriver, earning them the North American record for the longest wave ever. Landlocked surfers in middle Canada also get creative, surfing river waves on the Santa Claus in Calgary, Habitat 67 in Montreal and others.
Known to some as the cold water "Indonesia," Ireland is home to a lively surf culture and all manner of breaks -- beach, points and reef -- of which some are perfectly angled to catch nearly any swell powering its way through the North Atlantic. This includes spots like Mullaghmore Head in County Sligo known for big waves such as the 12+-meter monsters that came through with the "Black Swell" during the first week of 2014 (a marvel of massive waves generated by a series of low pressure systems in the Atlantic). As cruelly inhospitable as the cold season of such a northerly destination may seem, winter is prime surf season in Ireland, with September through May brings the biggest waves and clearest water. Bundoran, a quaint centuries-old fishing village, tends to be the center of the Irish surf scene, featuring not only a smattering of excellent breaks in nearby areas but also a lively pub culture serving up national favorites like cold Guinness and oysters, raucous Irish tunes, and chatty locals who might just give you their take on the local wave offerings. Buy them a beer and ask nicely (then be prepared for a long night of drinking, Irish style!).
Another contender in the battle to be named "last surf frontier on Earth," Alaska offers up more coastline for surf exploration than the rest of the United States combined. That is, if you can overlook the freezing cold temperatures that define the surf scene as you head toward the Arctic. For the hearty few who are up to the challenge (and outfitted in substantial cold-water gear), the payoff can be epic. Here surreal beauty, sizable waves, and extreme wildlife encounters come together in a magical mountainous landscape that's hard to resist for the dedicated surfer looking for the next big surf safari destination. While some creative types have been tackling such unusual options as the tidal bore on the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet, a variety of more familiar breaks types have now been charted along the southern coastline, including locations in the Aleutian Islands (sometimes referred to as "frozen Hawaii"), Kodiak Island, Sitka Sound and Yakutat. Of course in Alaska getting to the waves can provide its own challenge, requiring surfers to show up with patience, creativity and a sizeable budget to reach the lesser known breaks away from the crowds (yes, even in Alaska word has gotten out and the sport is taking off among locals and visitors alike). One doesn't just pop the board on a car and head off for the beach. For those committed to escaping the crowds, bush planes, skiffs, fishing boats, ferries and helicopters are all employed to penetrate the wild where choice breaks may still be found. Of course fickle weather can switch things up in an instant, bringing all seasons upon you within one day. So traveling with proper gear, supplies and a support plan is critical if you're going to dig deep. Your best chance for decent weather falls during the summer months, but swell tends to be best starting in early fall, gathering strength when the storms of winter arrive.
Five hundred kilometers from the German coast and more than 1,100 km from any surfable ocean breaks, Munich has no reason to be included on any surfer's short list. Or so one might believe. But never underestimate the creativity of the wave desperate. Just past a bridge crossing the man-made Eisbach channel near the southern edge of the Englischer Garten park, fast water ploughs into a deeper, slow moving section forming a perfect 1-meter high standing wave. Combine that with a few hungry surfers who have an eye for a good time and suddenly a new sport is born: river surfing. The sport first got its start in the 70s when a small group of daredevils dropped in on planks, holding onto tow-ropes for the ride. Today surfers have dropped the ropes and now ride specially designed short boards more similar to their ocean-based counterparts. But unlike ocean surfing, there river surfers have no time to paddle into the wave and pop up. Instead they have to be set up to ride the second they hit the water and have the skill to navigate a range of hazards (rocks, current, etc). As a result, this surf is not for the inexperienced.
Not for the faint of heart. Considered by many to be one of the last true frontiers for surf, Namibia could be described as one of the least hospitable places on Earth. Located in southwestern Africa (just above South Africa and below Angola), Namibia is noted for its intense scenic beauty and equally hazardous terrain, with much of the country comprised of harsh, unforgiving desert bordered by a coastline of frigid, heavy surf, strong currents, dense fog and highly unpredictable conditions. Combine that acute isolation and virtually impossible access (currently made even more restrictive by heavily armed diamond miners occupying the area) with several massive coastal seal colonies attracting a great number of sharks, and it's easy to see why much of the surf here has gone unexplored. But for those who have the resources and wherewithal to penetrate the Namib Desert, the payoff is miles and miles of empty beach and pounding unpopulated breaks. In recent years Namibia's Skeleton Bay has finally placed the country on the surf map. Videos and images taken of sessions at the bay capture a number of seasoned surf veterans riding some of the longest barrels yet discovered on the planet. The result has been a substantial increase in the number of would-be barrel-riders finding their way to Namibia's shores to try their hand at Skeleton Bay and the other better known surf locations. But there's plenty yet to be discovered. Yet given the substantial travel time, demanding conditions and high costs required to visit the area, Namibia's remote section of coastline will no doubt continue to play elusive muse to many.
Why would anyone be surprised to learn an island nation surrounded by churning seas would be home to great surf? Even with frigid temps throughout much of the year, in and out of the water, the UK has hardly registered on the list of mainstream international surf hotspots. But locals and in-the-know surfers from around the world have discovered that these stormy Atlantic waters can serve up some of the best surfing conditions in Europe. Cornwall's coastline is particularly famous for its haunting beauty -- rugged cliffs, golden beaches, vast expanses of sky and sea -- and is home to a wide variety of surf beaches and reef breaks sure to satisfy all skill levels (if you're comfortable in a wetsuit!). From the beaches near popular surf town Bude to famous Fistral beach in Newquay, Cornwall can be a great choice for aspiring surfers and pros alike. Of course winter storms bring in the biggest waves and the coldest temps. So go in prepared.