Best Places to Learn to Surf - Page 2

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Surfer on wave in El Salvador
Waves come in all shapes and sizes in budget-friendly El Salvador.  (courtesy Epic Surfing Adventures El Salvador)

Sunzal, La Libertad, El Salvador
First, the bad: Violent crime is a major concern in El Salvador—it has one of the highest murder rates in the world—even if it is no longer on the U.S. State Department's list of places to avoid. Now, the good: The water is 82 degrees, there are surfable waves 300 days a year, these waves go for 600 feet and are great for longboards, and it's cheap to vacation here—as little as $1,000 a week for an all-inclusive resort with a full-time surf guide. 
Lessons and rentals: Epic Surfing Adventures
When to go:
The "beginner" season runs mid-October through March, with swells between two and five feet. Waves can be three or four times that in summer.
How to get there: Fly into Comalapa (San Salvador) International and take a radio-capable taxi the 35-minute drive to La Libertad, as public transportation or driving yourself is generally unsafe, especially at night.
While you're there: Within an hour of Sunzal, there is river rafting, horseback riding, zip lines, and plenty of other adventure. For safety's sake, traveling with a guided tour outfit (such as Epic Tours El Salvador) is recommended.

Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii
Some surfers (OK, most) will turn up their noses at the idea of surfing on the crowded waves of Waikiki. But the easy, rolling swells are small and there are several breaks that are ideal for beginners. In fact, at the Hans Hedemann Surf School, former pro Hedemann guarantees he'll teach you to surf in two hours. You'll want more time with his staff of equally celebrated pros, though. A three-day surf-camp package includes two two-hour lessons a day, rental board included, for $300.
Lessons and rentals: Hans Hedemann Surf School
When to go: Waves are smaller during the winter, but the water is comfortably warm all year.
How to get there: Honolulu International Airport is nine miles from Waikiki. Since parking fees at hotels can run $20 to $30 a night, take a shuttle from the airport to your hotel. If you need a car, rent one from a downtown outlet for the days you plan to sightsee.
While you're there: Prime sightseeing in the neighborhood includes Pearl Harbor and the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a sheltered cove that is one of the island's best snorkeling spots.

Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
Surfers have been riding waves in Bali for almost a hundred years. There's lots of big wave action around the island, but those who prefer soft sand to jagged reefs will want to stay near Kuta Beach, even if it can be as crowded as Miami during spring break. The swells are generally two to six feet high but can travel more than 600 feet. Kuta, Bali's "sunset site number one," is also home to vibrant nightlife.
Lessons and rentals: Rip Curl School of Surf
When to go:
April through October
How to get there: Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport is a 15-minute taxi ride from Kuta.
While you're there: A greater effort has been made to preserve native Balinese culture in this bustling town, and Hindu temples are sprinkled throughout the area. Every morning, visitors can expect to find the streets strewn with flower petals, offerings for the gods.

Piha Beach, New Zealand
A lagoon-like setup inside the beach's outer sandbank allows beginners to stand in chest-deep water and catch "reform" waves—whitewash surf that has reformed into a second, mellower wave. "Complete beginners are able to catch 70- to 80-meter rides from the get-go," says surf instructor Phil Wallis. The stunning black-sand beaches of Piha are reason enough to visit.
Lessons and rentals: New Zealand Surf Tours
When to go: December to April, though wetsuits make cooler times of year bearable
How to get there: Piha lies 45 minutes west of Auckland International Airport.
While you're there: The Hillary Trail, named for Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary, is a challenging four-day trek that takes hikers through the Waitakere Ranges, New Zealand's rainforest. Day hikers can walk along the Piha link, where Hillary reportedly went to dream up expeditions.

Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
With 300 miles of coastline and warm water, North Carolina is the premier surfing spot on the east coast (outside of Florida, at least). The water in the Outer Banks can be rough, but beginners will be perfectly at ease down the coast in Wrightsville Beach, with its friendly waves. Even when the beaches are crowded—and on busy summer weekends, they are—you can still find plenty of surf. If you can't find a place to stay in town, the cute town of Wilmington, which sits at the mouth of Cape Fear River, is just 12 miles away.
Lessons and rentals: Wrightsville Beach Surf Camp
When to go: May through October
How to get there: Fly into Wilmington (20 minutes away) or Raleigh (2.5 hours).
While you're there: Wilmington has some of best seafood restaurants on the coast and is the resting place of the famed battleship USS North Carolina. At the North Carolina Museum at Fort Fisher, visitors can take a journey down the Cape Fear River and learn about coastline habitats.

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