Beginning surfers have no shortage of spots across the United States to hone their craft, with beaches on both coasts and in between offering gentle rolling waves that break at modest heights. While heavy-hitters like California and Hawaii are the obvious destinations for learning to surf, quiet coves in Texas, Michigan, and Oregon offer surprisingly welcoming waves.
1. Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii
Across the globe, Waikiki is synonymous with surfing. While the Banzai Pipeline on the other side of O'ahu is known for its gargantuan expert-only waves, the beaches of Waikiki gently coach beginners on their surfing skills with warm, rippling waves. New surfers can catch the best waves in the summer, with winds from the northeast creating ideal southern swells.
Surfing skill is passed down from generation to generation in Waikiki, and the area has a history of welcoming newcomers to the sport. Locals still share stories about the "Waikiki beach boys," a group of Hawaiian surfers who shared the laid-back beach lifestyle with visitors when tourism took off in the early 1900s. Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Olympic swimmer who popularized surfing as a sport, used the Waikiki beaches as a launch point for his talent. Other notable names include Kai Sallas, a world champion longboarder who now lives in Waikiki running Pro Surf School Hawaii.
2. San Onofre State Beach, San Clemente, California
Known by locals as "San O" or "Old Man's Beach," San Onofre State Beach has been an essential spot for beginner surfers since the 1930s. Surfers began to trickle over from Newport Beach as they sought out undeveloped areas to surf and relax, creating a family friendly community that still exists today. Popular surfers like Tom Blake, Doc Ball, and Hoppy Swarts have all frequented this inlet of golden sand and mellow waves, and you can even learn to surf at Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz's surfing school.
San Onofre has the best waves in the summer during southern swells that blow in from the northeast. Beginning surfers can enjoy gliding along these waves all day, riding the gentle motion of the tide. You'll find a similarly relaxing vibe at San Clemente's surf shops, like Icons of Surf, a classic hangout where you can admire traditional surfboard designs.
3. Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz, California
Cowell Beach has gentle, consistent waves that let beginning surfers ride long draws into the ocean. Named after Gold Rush–era developer Henry Cowell, this stretch of easy waves and the pristine beach was donated to the city of Santa Cruz in the 1950s. With an average wave height of 2.4 feet, the relaxing roll of the low tide is mellow enough to ride almost any time of year, but you'll get the best waves during a southwestern swell with a western wind.
Santa Cruz has no shortage of surf shops and surf schools that cater to beginners like Club Ed Surf School and Camp and Richard Schmidt Surf School, where you can start with stand up paddling (SUP) lessons and work your way up to more challenging classes as you gain your footing.
4. Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area, Otter Rock, Oregon
Amid the rocky cliff sides of the Pacific Northwest, you'll find welcoming, sandy surf spots throughout the Devils Punchbowl State Natural Area in Otter Rock, Oregon. The water here is a bit chilly, but even new surfers can easily adjust to the 50-degree temperatures with a wetsuit.
The go-to destination for learning how to surf in Oregon, Devils Punchbowl is still secluded enough to find privacy while you practice riding the mellow waves. Gentle groundswells from the west creep up to the shoreline at Devils Punchbowl, making this area ideal for families and aspiring surfers.
5. Galveston Beach, Texas
Just outside of Houston, Galveston has one of the best beaches in Texas for learning to surf. Miles of beach breaks stretch across four piers, which protect new surfers from choppy currents. Once you have the basics down from practicing at Galveston Beach, you can also take your longboard to the Galveston Channel, where "tanker surfing" originated in the 1960s. Surfers follow oil tankers and other water vessels, then ride along the waves they generate as they pick up speed. Surf shops like Southern Spears, Strictly Hardcore, and Beach Break speckle the shoreline with supplies and surf accessories.
6. Cocoa Beach, Florida
Once known as Canaveral Pier, Cocoa Beach Pier became an iconic destination for surfing in the 1960s, and it has since churned out professional surfing legends like Gary Propper and Kelly Slater, who learned to surf on the Cocoa Beach waves. You can learn about the vibrant surf culture of Cocoa Beach at the Ron Jon Surf Shop, a popular store that houses the Florida Surf Museum.
When you're fully equipped to hit the waves, you can reliably find gentle waves that are ideal for longboarding beginners to learn the basics of the sport. The best Cocoa Beach waves come when southeast swells meet offshore winds that blow in from the west.
7. New Buffalo, Lake Michigan
Most people don't think of the Midwest as a destination for surfing, but New Buffalo, Michigan, has consistent beginner waves in the summer and fall, and it's also a popular place to catch winter waves. Typical waves reach 1-2 feet, drawing vacationers from Chicago who want a private getaway to practice wakeboarding and longboarding. Boogie boarding is popular among the kids in the area who hang out at Third Coast Surf Shop for its accessible and affordable lessons.
8. Sea Isle, New Jersey
There's a surf spot on almost every block along the shoreline of Sea Isle City, making it the perfect destination if you want to hone your technique away from a crowd. While the East Coast is known for harsher waves, this stretch of beach draws surfers of all experience levels. You'll get the best waves during northeast swells at low tide when the waves are still gentle enough to get your footing. Located right on the waterfront, Heritage Surf and Sport is the go-to surf shop in the area, with an extensive beach shop that has been around since 1962.
From coast to coast and everywhere in between, surfing has a reputation as a laid-back sport that you can take to new heights with massive waves or keep as a relaxing hobby on chill beginner beaches. At many of these spots, you'll find friendly locals and experienced surfers who will be happy to share their surfing tips and tricks. Sit back and learn how to improve your technique, or hit the gentle waves for a hands-on lesson from the ocean itself.