Surfing in South Africa
Crisp offshores, pumping swells, epic point breaks, and empty beaches. Welcome to the wild, diverse, and endlessly exciting surf paradise known as South Africa. From the powerful, icy right-handers of Jeffrey’s Bay to the cruisy, longboard-friendly waves of Muizenberg, South Africa has a wave for everyone. Blessed with over 2,500km of coastline, facing both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, South Africa is a true gem on the world surf map, offering year-round surfable conditions. The diversity of its landscapes, from the tropical beaches of Durban to the rugged cliffs of the Western Cape, matches the variety of its waves. South Africa isn’t just a surf destination, it’s a journey into the wild where the diverse culture, magnificent wildlife, and world-class waves will stoke the fires of your surf spirit. So, wax up your board and prepare to score, because South Africa is a surf trip that will stick with you long after the sand washes off your feet.
Where to Surf in South Africa
South Africa’s surfing scene is spread across its diverse coastline, with epic surf breaks dotted all along the shore. In the Eastern Cape, Jeffrey’s Bay, universally known as J-Bay, is a mecca for advanced surfers, offering one of the world’s best right-hand point breaks. It’s known for its long, fast, and perfectly formed tubes, hosting the annual World Surf League competition.
Heading down to the Western Cape, you’ll find Dungeons, a big wave spot near Hout Bay outside of Cape Town, known for monstrous waves that can reach up to 60 feet, attracting elite big wave surfers from around the globe.
For beginners and longboarders, Muizenberg, located in the suburbs of Cape Town, offers a sheltered beach break with consistent small to medium waves, perfect for learning and honing skills.
Over on the Indian Ocean side, Durban’s Golden Mile provides warm water and consistent beach breaks, suitable for surfers of all levels. New Pier and North Beach are local favorites, serving up punchy waves on a good swell.
For the more adventurous surfers, the Wild Coast, a rugged and remote region in the Eastern Cape, offers an array of uncrowded point breaks, beach breaks, and reef breaks waiting to be explored. Spots like Coffee Bay and Mdumbi are gaining popularity, but remain much quieter than the traditional hotspots.
South Africa’s rich surfing scene means you can find a spot to suit your ability and preference, whether you’re chasing the thrill of heavy reef breaks, cruising on friendly beach breaks, or venturing off-the-beaten-path for a unique surf adventure.
When to surf in South Africa
South Africa’s wide geographic spread across two different oceans means it’s blessed with year-round surf, but the conditions and water temperature can vary significantly.
For beginners, the summer months from November to February offer friendly conditions with smaller swells and warmer water. Durban, with its warm Indian Ocean currents, is a great place to learn and can be surfed year-round. Muizenberg in Cape Town also sees consistent small waves throughout the year, perfect for novices and longboarders.
Intermediate to advanced surfers will find their sweet spot in the winter months (May to August), when South Africa experiences its biggest swells, particularly on the Atlantic coast. Jeffrey’s Bay, an internationally renowned right-hand point break, works best during these months, with the annual WSL competition usually scheduled for July.
For the big wave riders, Dungeons near Cape Town starts showing its teeth in winter, with colossal Atlantic swells forming massive waves. This is not a spot for the faint-hearted, and only experienced big wave surfers should attempt it.
Water temperature varies, with warmer waters on the Durban coast where a spring suit will suffice for most of the year. Cape Town’s Atlantic waters are cooler, so a 4/3mm wetsuit is recommended in winter, with a lighter 3/2mm suitable for summer.
In terms of weather, South Africa’s climate is generally pleasant. Summers can get hot, particularly in Durban, while winters in Cape Town can be rainy but remain mild.
In essence, there’s always somewhere to surf in South Africa, regardless of your level or the time of year. Just pack your wetsuit and board, and prepare to enjoy some of the finest waves the Indian and Atlantic Oceans have to offer!
Culture and Non-Surfing Activities in South Africa
When you’re not surfing the epic South African waves, there’s a world of cultural experiences and outdoor adventures to explore. South Africa’s rich history and diverse cultural tapestry mean there’s always something to learn and explore.
Delve into South Africa’s past at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg or Robben Island in Cape Town. Experience the vibrant local art scene in the bustling neighborhoods of Maboneng in Johannesburg and Woodstock in Cape Town. Enjoy the lively local music scene, where you can dance to Kwaito, African Jazz or Gqom beats.
For food lovers, South Africa’s culinary scene is as diverse as its culture. Experience a traditional braai (South African BBQ), sample biltong (dried, cured meat), try the local seafood, or pair your meal with some of the world-class wines produced in the Cape Winelands.
The outdoor adventures are endless. Experience an unforgettable safari in the Kruger National Park or one of South Africa’s many other game reserves. Hike or rock climb in the stunning Drakensberg Mountains. Explore the Garden Route, a spectacular stretch of coastline teeming with indigenous forests, lagoons, and beautiful beaches.
South Africa is also renowned for its commitment to wildlife conservation. Visit the Boulders Beach penguin colony in Cape Town, join a guided tour to spot the Big Five on a game reserve, or take part in a turtle tracking tour in KwaZulu-Natal.
Nightlife in cities like Cape Town and Durban is vibrant, with an array of bars, clubs, and live music venues to choose from. Whether you’re interested in casual beach bars or more upscale nightlife experiences, you’ll find it in these bustling cities.
In a nutshell, South Africa offers a wealth of cultural experiences and outdoor activities that cater to a wide range of tastes and interests, making it a perfect destination for surfers looking for more than just incredible waves.
“Know before you go” surfing in South Africa
Before embarking on your surf adventure to South Africa, there are a few things you should know to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip.
Safety is a consideration, particularly in larger cities. While many tourists visit South Africa without any problems, it’s worth staying informed about areas to avoid and taking basic precautions. Use reputable taxi services, avoid displaying expensive jewelry or equipment, and be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night and when alone.
Health-wise, be sure to have your regular travel insurance as well as specific surf travel insurance to cover any potential injuries or board damage. No specific vaccinations are required for South Africa unless you’re coming from a yellow fever country. It’s always a good idea to check up-to-date travel health advice. If you’re planning a safari, anti-malaria medication might be recommended.
If you’re travelling with your own board, keep in mind that airlines often have specific rules for surfboard bags, so check these out beforehand. However, many places in South Africa offer board rentals and surf lessons, so you can travel light if you prefer.
South Africa has 11 official languages, but English is widely spoken, particularly in tourist areas and surf spots. The local currency is the South African Rand (ZAR) and credit cards are widely accepted, but it’s always useful to have some cash on hand, especially in remote areas.
In terms of surf etiquette, respect the locals and the environment. South African surfers are known for their friendly vibe, but it’s essential to respect the pecking order in the lineup, don’t drop in on others, and always do your part to keep the beaches clean.
Lastly, remember that the seasons in South Africa are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere, so pack your clothing accordingly.
South Africa’s abundant surf and diverse landscape make it a dream destination for surfers. By taking a few precautions and preparing well, you can enjoy everything this stunning country has to offer!