Check out a list of surfing world champions and you find both the Aussie guys and girls feature prominently (Aussie women have won 19 of the last 26 years!). If you suspect that Aussies might have an unfair advantage with the beaches back home, you’d be right. The good news is that the beaches that bred all those champions are open to everyone. Did someone say “road trip”?
The state of New South Wales (NSW) has many of Australia’s best and most accessible surf beaches for surfers of all levels. Fly into Sydney and hit the road heading north and you’ll be spoilt for choice each and every day.
A little south of Sydney’s airport is Cronulla, the capital of ‘The Shire’, which is centred around a vast stretch of sand and the surfing culture it spawns. For Dangerous Dans, the Shark Island break at the southern tip of the beach has an intense right-hand reef break that delivers some of the squarest, most photographed barrels in Australia.
The next break north, Cronulla Point, is also for experienced surfers only, while North Cronulla and Elouera Beach on the northern stretch of sand are more friendly and consistent, with right and left beach breaks. The town and its bars and restaurants touch right up to the beach, but in a much more relaxed manner than you find in Miami or Waikiki.
From Cronulla to Narrabeen you cross the 35-mile spread of Sydney from its southern reaches to its northern-most limits, but you’d be crazy not to detour in between to see a succession of surf beaches unmatched by a city environment anywhere else on the planet. Sydney is divided by the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with a string of beaches between Maroubra and the world-famous Bondi Beach on the “south side” and from Manly to Palm Beach on the “north side”.
For surfers, the pick of all these beaches is North Narrabeen, a swell magnet with a very consistent long left break at the lagoon mouth that can produce the perfect barrel all the way in. Narrabeen is another vast stretch of beach, so if the waves or local surfers get too intense at the north end, head further south for a slightly more mellow experience, albeit still with steep take-offs and barrels on a mid-tide.
For a break away from the waves, chill out and maybe do a little kayaking or windsurfing at Narrabeen Lagoon.
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Sydney’s Northern peninsula is a string of great surf beaches one after the other – check out the legendary Long Reef bombora for consistent waves breaking over a set of reefs; South Avalon, where you have a scary jump off an ocean pool wall to get into big swells; and Newport Beach, home of the world’s first surfing millionaire, the legendary Tom Carroll.
Cross the Hawkesbury river and the beaches just keep on coming along the 55-mile drive to Avoca. Once again, you’re spoilt for choice, but many beaches come with a little inherent risk – big swell, rocks, ‘sucky’ waves, and rocks. If you want to go cruising without the bruising, Avoca Point at the south end of Avoca Beach has a big (10 foot, typically), powerful swell that offers a quality wave that doesn’t break often. This best suits intermediates and above.
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Adventurous and expert surfers can head a little north to Forresters Beach. Forries Left – the break around a semi-exposed reef – is a heavy left-hander where you can get the chance to do the Hawaiian nose-to the-wall fade and bottom turn if you have the balls to try it – it’s easy to get caught in the wave and worked over. The south end of Forresters has Banzai, a break that can bruise both bodies and egos when backwash turns a barrel almond-eyed and can plants you on the rocks.
Via Destination NSW
Another 70 miles north is Newcastle, a city with five beaches and 29 recognized surf breaks. The city has hosted many ASP and IPS events, and it is the hometown of four-time world champion surfer Mark Richards. Newcastle area beaches have sheltered spots for learners and families, fun corners protected from the summer sea breeze and offshore reefs to tempt the best and bravest Bars, restaurants, and accommodation are right on the beachfronts, as are all the attractions of the city, along with picturesque ocean baths (sea water swimming pools) at the major beaches.
Merewether has a world class reputation for surfing, with The Ladies Reef throwing up a heavy right hander breaking over sand. It’s seriously powerful – it can hold a 15-foot swell but is best handled at 6-8 feet. All Newcastle beaches come with the strange view of coal tanker after coal tanker lined up in the distance, waiting for loading.
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It’s a pleasant walk through to Bar Beach next door and then Newcastle Beach, which looks like it’s been dropped in the center of a quaint town. When the sandbanks are good, Bar Beach has heavy, punchy left and right breaks forming on the outside banks.
Boomerang Beach, Pacific Palms
Via Great Lakes
The towns and crowds mellow out as you head into the NSW mid-north coast. After 85 miles, you’ll hit the town of Pacific Palms, where’ you’ll find the waves at Boomerang Beach are laidback, too. Hotels and resorts give way to more motels and campgrounds, and the lack of a crowd at Boomerang Beach means that a pod of dolphins have set up residency, and they will show you how riding waves should really be done. Boomerang has a selection of peaky left and right beach breaks over a sand bottom, which works well for intermediate riders in 3-6 ft northeast swells.
Just be wary of the rips and undercurrents. Also check the Bluey’s Beach, the next beach south, for good intermediate waves, or Booti Booti National Park to the north for deserted beaches.
Also in the area:
The 25 miles of coast between Seal Rocks and Forster has some of the most stunning but sparsely populated surfing spots in NSW. Check out Lighthouse Beach and Treachery Beach at Seal Rocks (about 13 miles south) – they’re known for pumping up some epic waves, and the campgrounds here have remained defiantly no-frills. You can even find kangaroos and wallabies cruising around them at dawn and dusk.
Via Yun Huang Yong
Head about 130 miles north to the town of Port Macquarie, then follow Point Plomer Road as it meanders along the coast past four perfect right-hand point-breaks that are capable of pushing for long-board riders and even beginners along miracle rides of over 200 yards. After 15 miles you will come to Crescent Head, a point break revered by long-boarders the world over – some of the sport’s best have been filmed here “hanging ten” or cross-stepping the length of their planks. The surfing here suits all standards – if you’re good, you can get 500 yards or more of pure surfing perfection.
Also in the area:
About four miles south of Crescent Head, stop in at Delicate Nobby, a wedge-shaped rock formation that starts just off the beach and spears out into the Pacific, creating beach breaks on either side.
Via Aidan Sally
Relax on the 175-mile trip north to Angourie, because now the surfing gets serious. When surfing counter-culture took off in Australia in the 1960s, the NSW north coast quickly became the promised land for anyone with a board and a hankering for an alternative lifestyle. Angourie really made a mark on the map as the home break of Aussie world champion and all round surfing legend, Nat Young.
With the Yuraygir National Park pushing up against the sand, Angourie remains a pristine environment with a wave for surfers of most abilities if the swell is only 3-6 ft, which is all that’s needed for the point to start breaking. Anything bigger requires a more confident rider – if the swell is big, there’s a hairy entry jump off the rocks, but the payoff is long walls and plenty of barrel opportunities. As always, be courteous to local surfers, because sometimes the local scene can be even more dangerous than the pebbly/boulder bottom.
In 2000, the still-aggressive Nat Young (then aged 53) slapped a teenage surfer who had gotten in his way while surfing at Angourie. Young was subsequently beaten by the teenager’s father, breaking his eye sockets and the cheekbones on both sides of his face.
It’s a fast trip of 70 miles up the Pacific highway to Lennox Head, but it’s well worth taking the detour into Evans Head, an old-fashioned beach town-cum-fishing village that’s surrounded by national parks. With the river on one side and great waves on the other, it’s great for fishing and surfing, but a lot of sharks also feel the same way about the place.
Back on the highway, head out to the coast at Ballina to see a string of outrageously photogenic beaches on the Coastal Road into Lennox Head, a strip known as the “Magic Miles”. Stop at Pat Morton Lookout for a grandstand view of surfers on the world-famous Lennox Point break, a right-hander with long, fast peeling walls that can hold up to 15 ft of swell. It’s a very rocky entry with a long paddle out and you need to find space among dozens of red-hot local surfers, so it’s not the place for beginners – but you’re spoilt for choice of options nearby.
Despite any aggression in the surf, Lennox Head is the start of North Coast Nirvana, where Kombi vans, dreadlocks, hippie gatherings, communal drumming, spiritual healers and a collective feeling. The epicentre of all this is Byron Bay, which is much more of a tourist center than Lennox Head. This has not detracted from the stunning coastline, though – it’s a must-see stop.
Also in the area:
Try some of the great beaches at Byron Bay – Wategos is great for novices, while Cosy Corner (north part of Tallows Beach is protected from Northeast winds and has a very consistent wave.
Via Jayde Aleman
It’s a fast 40 miles up the freeway to the NSW border, but if you have some time and an inclination for something different, take the inland detour to Nimbin. This hippie central is the self-proclaimed Aussie capital of sustainability and cannabis counterculture – open use (celebration, in fact) of marijuana is tolerated here.
Our quest ends at the border twin towns of Tweed Heads/Coolangatta, the southern tip of the ostentatious and heavily touristed Gold Coast. Snapper Rocks, at the point of Rainbow Bay Beach, is home to the world-famous “Super Bank”, regarded in surfing circles as the longest, most consistent right-hand barrel machine in the world. Want some credentials?
Snapper has hosted elite international surfing events such as the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro, Rip Curl Masters, and MP Classic, plus it’s a favorite spot for local world champs, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, and Stephanie Gilmore. The swell here often reaches 6-8 ft over a sand bottom, and one good, clean wave can rock you from Snapper to Kirra Beach, a distance of over a mile. The current is crazy strong, so expect to have a long but pleasant walk back along the beach after you come in.
Take a break and sit in Snapper Rocks pool, where you have a ringside seat to watch all the surfing action. From here, you get a clear view of the beaches stringing their way up the coast to the beachfront high rise of Surfers Paradise, the areas party central for nightlife and notorious home of “Schoolies Week” – kind of like Spring Break for Aussies, but for high school leavers.
Also in the area:
Snapper Rocks is a fun park for advanced surfers, but the adjoining stretch of sand on the north side has long mellow waves for novices at Rainbow Bay and Greenmount beaches. On the south side of Snapper, Duranbah Beach has peaky left and right beach breaks for all levels, thanks to sand deposited out of the mouth of the Tweed River.