Sit back, close your eyes, and imagine huge breaking waves on gorgeous white-sand beaches. And isn't that you racing through the tube on a longboard as the wave begins to crash, attracting the attention of every beach-goer?
According to Fernando Aguirre, president of the International Surfing Association (ISA), there are 35 million surfers in more than 100 countries these days. The ISA organizes the world championships for a host of waterboard sports, and looks forward to a day when surfing is an Olympic event. But you don't have to compete at the highest athletic level to enjoy the sport.
Every experienced surfer has his or her secret destinations they share with only their closest friends. There are many online lists of "best" surfing spots, but most agree that Teahupo'o in Tahiti and the Banzai Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii, are among them, known for some of the best — and most dangerous — waves in the world. These are "experts only" locations and most surfers will never have the skills to attempt them; but for those who love the sport, visiting these beaches will provide awe-inspiring views.
And if you're interested in watching the best of the best ride the waves, California's Titans of Mavericks event, which takes place in the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco, draws fans from around the globe. Twenty-four of the best big-wave surfing professionals compete in what has been called one of the world's most hazardous events. Mavericks' waves can reach 60 feet and break with the power of the fist of Zeus — many may paddle out, but only the top dogs ride.
For the rest of us
While dreaming about being a pro and taking in the action from shore or in front of the TV are vicarious thrills on their own, there are many ways beginners can learn the sport or part-timers can follow their passion. Some immerse themselves in the dream, some pursue their lifelong obsession alongside other careers, and others choose holiday destinations with plenty to do when not riding the waves.
For those just starting out, there are dozens of exotic destinations that offer gentle, consistent waves, good weather, and group or private instruction. Four spots to consider, also offering a wide range of out-of-the-water activities:
Not sure if you can handle the experience? Take the example of best-selling author and adventurer Peter Heller, who decided to learn to surf at age 46. He headed to Southern California and quickly got thumped in the waters off Huntington Beach pier. Michael Pless, known as "The Saint of Seal Beach," and founder of M&M Surfing School, turned Heller's experience around. Pless has taught people from ages 3 to 89 and promises that "everyone catches a wave and everyone learns how to ride it." After a few days, Heller was completely hooked, so he set out to see if he could go from rank beginner — a "kook" in surfer slang — to successfully riding a big, fast, hollow wave in six months. Following months of travel and long days on the water, he reached the pinnacle of his challenge among the huge waves and dangerous currents of Barra de la Cruz, off the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. For Peter, "the thrill of surfing is being cradled and accelerated by a force a million times more powerful than you."
Whether you're a beginner, master, or part-time board dipper, your heart is sure to beat faster when the call goes out: Surf's up!