Surfing on the OBX
About 1000 years ago the barrier islands known now as the Outer Banks were born when the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream Current merged. These barrier islands, as well as sandbars and shoals, continue to be reshaped by the powerful action of these currents. Known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic", the waters off our coast have taken over 2000 ships as victims of its shifting shoals and sandbars. No doubt, the first surfers were probably shipwreck survivors who rode a broken piece of ship into the safety of the shore. Today ships still find these waters hazardous, but you'll find modern day surfers happily riding the never-ending line up of these celebrated waves for the sport of it.
Professional surfers travel from around the world to surf here and many pros call these Outer Banks home. Recreational surfers find there way here each year for a holiday of wave chasing and riding. From businessmen to busboys, this area also boasts of hundreds of hometown surfers. While they may not carry the title of professional, male and female alike, they are among the best of the best and live here for the awesome challenges this ocean provides. So how does one know when it's time to surf or if the waves are fun or epic? Seasoned surfers follow weather patterns and are always ready for when the great Atlantic offers up waves. Old school surfers might talk about the "coconut telegraph" but now web cams and surf reports, give daily conditions and possibilities. And there is always a telltale sign that says waves are going off - when you see pilgrimages of vehicles passing with a full quiver of boards piled inside and on the top, and surfers gathering on dune tops to watch the line up, you know it is show time!
The powerful punch of the waters that roll onto this 100-mile stretch of beaches from Corolla to Hatteras to Ocracoke Island creates many surf breaks and classes of waves. Piers from Duck to South Nags Head offer a break in the wind and cross-shore drifts and on best days, waves offer high energy beach breaks barrels. On the northern beaches the piers have great sandbanks on either side that present waves with hollow peaks. Of course, each beach access has its own fame and like all surf destinations, surfers give nicknames to their favorite places like "Landromat" in Kitty Hawk. As you go further south to Pea Island and Hatteras there are many great breaks starting with "Boilers" at Pea Island. At "S-turns" in Rodanthe, good barrels can be found. Northeast swells rule at Rodanthe Pier where the scene can be busy and parking difficult to find. Down south through the small towns you escape to capture lefts from the NE swells or decent bowls that swing in from the south. Frisco, Hatteras and Ocracoke fall into the line-up, but the most famous Outer Banks break is still at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Clean conditions and sizable waves mark this surf destination as almost always ride-able at anywhere from 2 to 12 feet tall. Remember, bragging rights go along with surfing "Lighthouse"!
Summer season here can sometimes bring flat spells that make you think you are at lake Atlantic; however, if a good wind comes up, you'll quickly see improved surf and find enjoyable rides. You might be surprised to learn that the warm water doesn't generally come in until July so check surf reports and be prepared! Hurricane season (late summer to early fall) on the Outer Banks brings beautiful classic waves of 4 to 10 ft action with winter nor'easters creating great surfing from September through May. Unfortunately winter surf here can also bring very cold water temps between 47 to 58 degrees and strong winds, but westerly winds can blow out even the coldest and messiest ocean to make for a day or two of clean, powerful and crisp waves.
What if you have just started surfing or want to learn? It probably sounds easy - paddle out and surf! But before you begin, here are a few hints to make it easier and some advice to keep you (and others in the water) safe. First, find places to rent or buy a board and check for park service classes, private instructors and surf camps. These folks are experienced and dedicated to making your early surfing experience safe and rewarding. If you fall into this category remember these things:
Never surf alone.
If you can't swim, learn before you try surfing!
Always wear a leash.
Learn the proper etiquettes of the surfing culture.
Do not surf near swimmers.
Surf away from groups of seasoned surfers.
Do not go out into waves bigger than you can handle.
Surf responsibly and keep our beaches and water clean.
All surfers that are new to the Outer Banks will find most towns have posted a few surf regulations. Locals will tell you that these restrictions are enforced. Pay attention or you'll get a surfing ticket as part of your vacation memorabilia! Here are the rules:
Surfers must wear leashes.
Do not surf within 200 ft of any pier.
If time restrictions apply, surf only during hours posted.
Now you are stoked about surfing Outer Banks and you might need to get new board shorts, bikini, spring suit, wax or a new board. Surf Shops here range from trendy to those who cater to the die-hard surfer and are located in every town on the Outer Banks. You can find anything you want including a bevy of renowned, world-class shapers who live here and can make a custom board just for you.
Are you ready for your surf vacation and you want to compete? Maybe you don't surf but want to watch a contest? You'll enjoy the many excellent pro and amateur contests. These are well organized events, welcoming to competitors and spectators alike, and offering a family friendly atmosphere! Usually advertised and promoted through the local surf shops, check with them for scheduled competitions. Here are just a few to look for:
Outer Banks Pro
Volcom Jelly Fish Series Pro-Am
Battle of the Banks - Outer Banks vs. Virginia Beach
Rip Curl Grom Search
Eastern Surf Association - local, regional and eastern championships
Make your plans now for an Outer Banks surf vacation! A Village Realty rental vacation home or condo can be found near all the best breaks. Let us know if you're planning a surfing vacation and you will be directed to the perfect home in the perfect spot. Surf's up so have a "swell" day!
Written by Bonnie Collins. Bonnie lives on the Outer Banks year 'round with her musician husband Bill "Mojo" Collins and is the proud mother of two sons...both are surfers.