Surf culture has been a mainstay of cool for over half a century, but in recent years it’s gone mainstream. The health benefits of surfing (work that core, ladies!) have created a cottage industry of girl-power surf holidays around the world, and weekend warriors with the “work hard, play hard” ethos have made the challenging sport part of their own mythmaking.
Alongside the grown-ups, surfing has never been more popular with teens and even tweens! Once you have a board, it’s even a pretty economical hobby. Some of the best surf destinations around the world are a travel bargain. Here is the CheapAir “Best in Class” featuring a few of the choicest breaks on the globe with the most affordable price tags.
Puerto Escondido, Mexico
This well-kept secret is a little piece of paradise found on the southwest pacific coast of Mexico in the state of Oaxaca. Puerto Escondido is extremely affordable, catering to a motley mix of surfers, backpackers and Mexican families rather than the typical resort-loving American traveler. Rooms can be rented for under $50 a night, though even the more mid-range casitas typically rent for less than $100/night. Food and cervezas are low-cost as well, and the surf is primo. Great beginner breaks mix with screamin’ hollow breaks puts Puerto Escondido at the top of our list. Flights: Round trip from Phoenix to Oaxaca on American Airlines from around $600.
As any long-time budget surfer worth his or her salt will tell you, Phuket has some of the best waves in the world and is a frugal flier’s dream destination. You’ll get your best waves from May to September (when the monsoons bring the big boys), but you can surf year round no problem in spots along the Andaman Sea. Day trip to some of the outlying islands and experience otherworldly landscapes while you’re there. The people are generous, the food and drink are inexpensive and world-class, and the accommodation is rock bottom. Kata Beach in Phuket is ideal for a group of surfers traveling with mixed abilities. Daredevils should check out Pansea Beach for the bigger thrills. If you’ve got an adventurous surfing soul do not pass up Thailand. Flights: On China Eastern from LAX to Phuket round trip for right around $800.*
Puerto Rico (northwest coast)
You want to stay a little closer to home but avoid the crowds and cost of a U.S. surf holiday? Check out the northwest coast of Puerto Rico. The white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters are home to some top-notch surf breaks and it’s somehow managed to avoid the hype and accompanying crowds to date. Food is reasonably priced (especially around Rincon). Speaking of Rincon, if you’re a novice it’s the place to be. The Rincon Surf School offers group lessons for about $35/hr. (sessions are 3 hours each) or you can hire a local to give you private lessons no problem. Paddle boarding is also quite popular here – most surf schools also offer lessons/rentals. Flights: Nonstop to BQN from JFK for $336 on JetBlue round trip and to San Juan from Los Angeles (1-stop) for around $400 round trip on American Airlines.*
Are you scratching your head at this one? Imagining camels, medinas (open markets) and mirages, not ocean breezes? Surprise! Morocco has some amazing surf breaks and don’t worry – you’ll likely see camels wandering on the beaches anyway. The most famous place to catch a wave is probably Agadir, but the coast south of Tangier is really littered with great surfing spots. Plan to travel from December to February, when conditions are best. Morocco’s beaches are uncrowded and you can score inexpensive accommodation with a little planning. A word to the wise: the cold water temperatures much of the year mean that you’ll need to bring your wetsuit and if you’re a female surfer it goes double. Be prepared to cover up and (perhaps) get a few second looks regardless. There aren’t a lot of women riding the waves in this conservative Muslim country. Flights: to Tangier from JFK round trip on American Airlines for $600-700, depending on dates.*
Baja California, Mexico
An hour south of Tijuana by car lies some of the best, uncrowded and inexpensive surfing on the Pacific coast. From Salsipuedes in the north to Cabo San Lucas (more than 700 miles) to the south, you’ve got an endless supply of small towns and perfect surf conditions to choose from. Don’t be a nervous North American – reports of being tossed in Mexican jails by corrupt police are vastly overstated. You will want to drive carefully (if you’ve come by car). The local police ARE notorious for traffic over-fining clueless Americans flummoxed by confusing signage. We recommend flying into Cabo and leisurely meandering up the coast. Cheap eats and accommodations are everywhere once you get even an hour north of town. Flights: Nonstop flights to Cabo San Lucas from Los Angeles from around $300 round trip on Alaska Airlines.*
Nicaragua is our pick for the best year-round conditions for the serious surfer, but you’ll have to really want it to get there (it’s a 3-4 hour drive from the nearest airport). You’ve got warm water, cheap food and accommodation and year-round offshore winds. The “Papagayo Winds” as they are called, make sun up to sundown surfing a reality for visitors. You’ll want to lean on the local surf camps while you get your bearings, there’s not a ton of tourism round these parts and the roads are brutal. Let a professional guide help you out for your initial visit – once you get the lay of the land you’ll be golden. Flights: Into Managua from Miami run around $500 round trip on Copa Airlines.*
Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka
Our pick for the most under-the-radar spot has to be Sri Lanka. You don’t want to miss Main Reef, which is the most accessible and inexpensive of the options in the Hikkaduwa and Galle regions. Simple rooms in the tiny beach hamlet of Hikkaduwa can be rented for around $10 a night and you can still eat for around $5. The 3-hour drive from Colombo is well worth the spectacular surf conditions and warm waters of Main Reef. Sri Lanka is still relatively undiscovered – but it’s coming up more and more with surfers in the know. You’ll also want to make time to check out the Hikkaduwa Coral Sanctuary, home to more than 70 varieties of coral. It’s located a few hundred meters off shore. You can hire an off-duty fisherman to take you out for some amazing snorkeling). If you get tired of surfing in these conditions, you can have one of the many tailors in town hook you up with a custom suit! Flights: To Colombo from San Francisco (SFO) round trip for around $1,000 on China Eastern Airlines.*
What are you waiting for? Grab your board, zip up that wetsuit and get ready to hit the waves!
**Airfares include taxes and fees and are valid as of 2/22/16 on select dates between 2/22/16 and 10/31/16. Lowest fare seats are capacity controlled and may not be available on every airline, flight, or date. Fares subject to change without notice.