The Ten Best Surfing Countries in the Americas

The Americas offer enough variety of waves and surfing conditions to satisfy any surfer for a lifetime.

The Americas is the entire western hemisphere, from the frozen Arctic region in the north to the equally frigid Antarctic region in the south. This vast area has every climate possible on planet Earth, from savannas, deserts and dry forests to steamy tropical jungles and pleasant temperate regions between northern Canada and the tip of South America in Patagonia.
In this vast area, we have a multitude of surfing locations featuring some of the best waves in the world. There is every type of wave imaginable, from the long right points of California to the longer left points of Peru on the western-facing coastlines to the beachbreaks and tidal bores of Brasil and the shallow and sharp coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea. The Americas offer enough variety of waves and surfing conditions to satisfy any surfer for a lifetime.
While the surfing tradition of “secret spots” may well have originated in this area, with once hush-hush locations like Petacalco in mainland Mexico, La Libertad in El Salvador and Pavones in Costa Rica known only to a few hardcore surfers, many of them involved in the equally secretive drugs trade, there are not many bonafide secret spots left in the western hemisphere.
With good or at least passable roads everywhere from northern Alaska to the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile, nearly every location that is accessible by vehicle with rideable waves has been surfed at one time or another in the past 60 odd years. Let’s take a look at the ten best surfing countries in the Americas.
10) Canada
America’s northern neighbor has discovered its surf mojo in recent decades, with both the western coastline and the frigid eastern coastline coming into prominence as surfing areas with high-quality conditions and a stoked resident surfer population.
Western Canada is perhaps better known than the east, with the excellent waves and stunning scenery of Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii featured in many surf videos and photo features in the past decade. The rustic surf town of Tofino, with good waves and great food and ambiance has attracted Californians by the hundreds in recent years. They froth on Instagram posts about the area and how great it is, meaning it won’t be great for long!
Eastern Canada is completely different from the western region, with colder water and a much older settler culture, having been colonized as long ago as 1000 AD by the Scandinavian Vikings, who founded L'Anse aux Meadows in what is today Newfoundland. The Vikings crossed the frigid north Atlantic Ocean in their famous longships, from their homelands in Norway and Denmark.
The Vikings were followed centuries later by the Basques, the French and the English, all of whom with the native tribal peoples have shaped the culture of this area. It is only in recent decades with warmer, more flexible wetsuits that the surfing potential of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Cap Breton Island and other areas have been partially realized.
The rocky points and beachbreaks around Lawrencetown in Nova Scotia are perhaps the best known surfing areas in eastern Canada, but seasonal hurricane swells can affect the entire region. These storms in the open Atlantic provide long-period groundswell to Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and to rarely-breaking spots all the way back in the Gulf of St Lawrence on the Gaspé Peninsula and Anticosti Island in Quebec.
9) El Salvador
El Salvador may be the smallest country on this list, but it makes up for the lack of size with an incredible variety of surfing locations in a small geographical footprint. Since surfers began turning up in El Salvador in the early 1970’s, making the drive from the the capital city of San Salvador to the coast at La Libertad, where they found a long righthand point break similar to Rincon in California, the surfing fortunes of the country have waxed and waned with the political upheavals of Central America.
Since its time as a Spanish colony, El Salvador has always had a sharp divide between the few wealthy haves and the many poor have-nots. Tensions came to the surface and a vicious civil war erupted in 1979 and lasted until 1992. The war was a brutal class-based conflict that involved many countries in the region including the US and Cuba, who supported opposite sides. The war killed more than 75 000 people and bitterly divided the country.
Surfing was largely put on hold for this period, with few people surfing anywhere in El Salvador in the 1980’s and once-popular locations like La Libertad and Zunzal deserted as the fighting raged and surfers stayed away.
It was only after the peace agreement that investment and surfers began to return to El Salvador, with new resorts at the world-class point waves of the eastern region of the country like Punta Mango and Las Flores attracting guests and a steady flow of visiting surfers to La Libertad, Zunzal and other locations.
The El Salvador government has recognized surfing as a driver of economic growth on the coast with the “Surf City El Salvador” project and has recently promoted major surf competitions. The country staged the Surf City El Salvador ISA World Junior Surfing Championship and a WSL Championship Tour event at La Libertad in 2022. With the success of these contests and with government money spent to upgrade infrastructure on the coastline, more major competitive surfing events are scheduled to take place in coming years.

La Libertad is the best-known surfing area in El Salvador, having hosted traveling surfers since the 1970's

8) Brasil
Despite its huge size, Brazil doesn’t have the best waves in the Americas. An overabundance of beachbreak and lack of point and reef waves means other countries have better waves overall.
What Brazil lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity with more surfable beachbreak than any other country in South America. This kind of ultra-consistent short-period windswell is similar to the eastern coastlines of the US and Australia, producing surfers who surf well in any conditions and are well-suited to contest surfing.
Since Australian surf travel legend Peter Troy staged a surfing demonstration at Arpoador Point in Rio de Janeiro in 1964, surfing has grown into a major sport in Brazil. Brazilian surfers born and bred in shifty, unpredictable beachbreak have won the last few world titles, with “Brazilian Storm” surfers Italo Ferreira, Gabriel Medina and Felipe Toledo having won at least one WSL world championship and Ferreira winning the first Olympic gold medal for surfing in Japan last year.
Surfing is now a major sport in Brazil and surfers enjoy nearly the same fame, money, Instagram followers, sponsor support and gossip website attention as football stars, the other sport in which Brazil produces consistently world-class athletes.

The cylindrical Hotel Internacional in Rio de Janeiro was designed by architect Oscar Niemayer

Guaratiba, south of Rio de Janeiro, is a rivermouth wave that gets occasional offshore winds

Arpoador Point in Rio de Janeiro is the birthplace of modern surfing in Brasil

7) Chile, including Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Chile is something of a latecomer to surfing in South America, with there being very few surfers in the country in the 1970’s and 80’s and many waves were unsurfed until well into the 1990’s.
Since the 1990’s, Chile has attracted surfing video projects with surfers, videographers and photographers filming at the long left point breaks of the area south of Santiago and on the island of Rapa Nui, with the famous Moai statues from a lost Polynesian civilization.
The big cold-water waves of Punta de Los Lobos near Pichilemu have attracted a different type of surfer, with big wave specialists from around the world converging on southern Chile in season to ride reliably consistent ten-meter plus point waves.
So valued has the area around Punta de los Lobos become for surfing, a large property at the tip of the point was purchased by a conservation foundation and Lobos was declared a World Surfing Reserve in 2017.
Surfers from California in particular have embraced Chile, as they see the country as an antipodean version of California without all the annoying people, better environmental protections and with left points rather than right. Chile has large tracts of forested land in the temperate south, both privately owned and state owned, set aside as national parks and protected from development for the near future with similar protections in place for some areas of the coastline.
6) Costa Rica
From the early arrivals in the 1970’s, when long-haired hippie surfers drove down from California and Texas in Volkswagen vans with beak-nosed, single-fin pintails strapped to the roof, Costa Rica has had gringo surfers. These early arrivals were mainly on the Pacific side of the country but a few did make it to the Caribbean Sea side in the vicinity of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Limón.
The trickle of surfers arriving in the county during the 1970’s had turned into a flood by the 1990’s. Surfers and other visitors were attracted by Costa Rica’s reputation for civilized government and society in a rough neighborhood, as civil wars convulsed both El Salvador and Nicaragua during 1980’s.
Not all of the new surfers were Americans. European surfers and surfers from South America made up a significant portion of the new arrivals, as new waves on both the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country were surfed and in many cases, colonized by wealthy new investors. Properties were bought and surf resort operations sprung up overnight in many areas, like Cauhita, Tamarindo, Nosara and Santa Teresa.
One of the waves drawing a crowd in the 1980’s was the once-secret spot of Pavones, in the far south of the country near the border with Panamá.
Pavones was colonized by the convicted yet unrepentant drug smuggler Danny Fowlie, who first saw the lineup from an airplane in 1974 and promptly bought a large amount of densely forested land surrounding the point.
After a few good years living, surfing and building a town in the jungle, Fowlie was eventually arrested and convicted of importing drugs into the US and spent 18 years in prison. On getting out in 2005, he was able to return to Costa Rica and issued eviction notices to hundreds of people and businesses in the Pavones area, asserting his property rights and insisting that they in fact were squatters, having built on his land without permission or payment.
The land ownership dispute remains unresolved, but Pavones continues to build on its stellar reputation as one of the world’s best lefts with each powerful pulse of 180 degree south swell in season producing long left lines breaking down the jungle point.

Guanacaste Province is one of the most popular surfing areas in Costa Rica with visiting surfers

Costa Rica has many quality surfing locations on the Pacific coastline

The warm and dry offshore winds of the dry season in Guanacaste Province make for perfect surfing conditions

5) Peru
Peru enjoys a rich surfing history dating back to 1942 and the founding of the legendary Club Waikiki on the beach at Miraflores in Lima. A club of, by and for rich Peruvian gentlemen surfers with surfboards imported from California and Hawaii, Club Waikiki was the setting of the 1965 World Surfing Championships where Peruvian Felipe Pomar claimed the title, the only South American surfer to do so in the longboard era.
Peru gained further traction in the surfing world with the discovery of Pico Alto, one of the world’s best big waves where legitimate 8 to 10 meter waves can be surfed in the wave season from April to October.
Peru enjoys one of the surfing world’s best and most consistent swell windows, with virtually non-stop southwest groundswell from the high latitudes of the Pacific ocean arriving in swell after swell all summer and well into the Northern Hemisphere autumn.
The stellar left pointbreaks of northern Peru are the main attraction for traveling surfers. Standout waves include the left points at Pacasmayo and Mancora in the north and, depending on the sandbar formation, the long and deep barrels at Cabo Frio, the hollowest wave in Peru.
Also in northern Peru is reputed to be the world’s longest rideable wave at Puerto Chicama, a fishing village at the base of a long and treeless point. While Chicama takes a big swell to work, recent footage of Laird Hamilton riding a foilboard for literally several kilometers on each wave enhanced its reputation as the world’s longest wave.
4) Nicaragua
While there were undoubtedly surfers in Nicaragua in the 1970’s, the development of surfing as a sport and a tourism draw was constrained first by a leftist revolution that overthrew a harsh dictatorship in 1979 followed by a civil war that lasted from 1981 to 1990.
Fuelled by money, weapons and ideology from the United States, Cuba and the Soviet Union, the so-called Contra War attempted to overthrow the socialist government of the Sandinistas and replace it with a government favorable to the interests of the United States. The intense fighting resulted in virtually no visitors of any kind nor any significant foreign investment in Nicaragua; already the poorest country in Central America, for more than a decade.
After the Tela accords were signed by all parties in 1989, the shooting finally stopped and surfers were some of the first foreign visitors to arrive in Nicaragua in numbers. The San Juan del Sur area quickly became the scene of a land rush, as cash-rich gringos snapped up cheap properties and numerous surf resorts sprang up overnight.
The San Juan del Sur region benefits from a unique meteorological phenomenon known as the Lake Effect. The large surface areas of Lakes Nicaragua and Managua behind the Pacific coastline produces a nearly flat surface, enabling tradewinds from the Caribbean Sea in the east to blow offshore most of the time - ideal for creating high-quality surfing conditions.
In other areas of Central America, the tradewinds are blocked by central mountain ranges, but with Lake Nicaragua and Lake Managua taking the place of towering mountains, this is not the case in Nicaragua.
Other areas of Nicaragua have also seen significant surfing-related development in recent decades. The wealth of accommodation choices, the low cost of living, the ultra-consistent surf similar to El Salvador and the Pacific coast of México and the daily offshore winds have seen Nicaragua become a favorite surf travel location for both American and European surfers.
3) Panamá
Panamá has much in common with its nearby neighbors of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, all former Spanish colonies; but differs significantly in several aspects, giving it a slight edge in both quantity and quality of available surfing opportunities.
Somewhat rougher around the edges than pleasant and tranquil Costa Rica, Panamá can have violent politics as per the invasion by the United States to dislodge the dictator Manuel Noriega in 1989. Political stability has returned since his overthrow and the country has enjoyed the support of the US and a long period of democracy and economic growth since the departure of Noriega to a prison cell in the US.
Surfing has a long history in Panamá going back to the 1960’s and the significant American presence in the former Canal Zone, an area on both sides of the Panama Canal formerly controlled by the United States. Surfers from the resident American population in the Canal Zone pioneered many now-popular waves on the Pacific coast of Panamá in the 1970’s, like the rock reef wave at Santa Catarina in Veraguas Province and the sand bottom beachbreak at Playa Venao on the Azuero Peninsula.
The discovery of high quality surfing waves and consistent swell on the Caribbean Sea side of Panamá in distant Bocas del Toro province near the border with Costa Rica enhanced Panamá’s surfing reputation significantly. Believe it or not, windswell generated by the consistent and powerful tradewinds in the western Caribbean Sea can make for the largest waves in Central America at 5 meters plus on a big swell.
There are several factors involved, as the windswell focuses on the corner of the Caribbean offshore from Bocas where favorable bathymetry directs the energy to the crushing beachbreak at Playa Bluff on Isla Colón and the massive righthand reef break at Silverbacks, off the tip of nearby Isla Bastimentos. They don’t call it “Silverbacks" for nothing, as the wave has been compared to Sunset Beach in Hawaii for size and power.
With many sponsored surfing photo and video features filmed in the Bocas del Toro area in recent years, property values have skyrocketed in town and nearby islands like Bastimentos as the gringos and their money move in, building more accommodation for visitors in the area, including surf camps and lodges.

Playa Bluff on Isla Colón is a powerful beachbreak that snaps boards like toothpicks

The past decade in Bocas del Toro town has seen a booming economy, driven by an influx of visitors (and their money) from North America and Europe

The Bocas del Toro area on the Caribbean Sea features both shallow and intense reef waves and fun sand-bottom beachbreaks

2) México
The southern neighbour of the United States has one of the largest swell windows of any country in the world, open to a seasonal groundswell from the northwest to the southwest. From mainland México to Baja, the swell window for México is nearly 180 degrees of the Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean on earth.
The results of all this year-round swell on the Pacific coastline of both mainland México and the long desert peninsula of Baja California is one of the best surfing countries in the world.
México has everything a surfer could want, from ten meter waves at winter big-wave spots like the Isla de Todos Santos in Baja Norte to massive powerful summer beachbreaks in Colima and Oaxaca states to long and hollow right point waves in the difficult to access regions of Salina Cruz and Baja California Sur.
Surfing got its start in México in the 1960’s, with stoked surfers from California and Texas driving south for waves and adventure. With a full tank of cheap gasoline and longboards strapped to the roof, surfers tried to avoid drinking tap water, the greedy gringo-hating Federales and contracting a case of Montezuma’s Revenge while surfing as many new and uncrowded waves as possible.
With many more high-quality waves discovered in the following decades in both Baja and the mainland, México acquired its reputation as one of the best surfing countries in the world.
One of the fabled secret spots of the hippie era of the early 1970’s was Petacalco, on the border of Guererro and Michocan states at the mouth of the Rio Balsas, México’s largest river. The river regularly deposited large volumes of sand and gravel into the ocean, making a steeply-angled sandbar and one of the hollowest waves in the world, with the spot appearing on a famous cover of Surfer Magazine in 1973.
Unfortunately, the Rio Balsas was dammed in the 1970’s just 15 kilometers from the coast in a hydroelectric and irrigation project and by the late 70’s the sandbar had washed away, with the dam structure cutting off the supply of sand and gravel from the river.
Despite its long history with surfing of more than 60 years and large pool of talented local surfers, México is still primarily a destination country for travelling surfers.
México has yet to produce a domestic surfer of international standard, and there has never been a single Méxican surfer, male or female, who has qualified for the world professional tour.

Isla Natividad in Baja California Sur is usually accessed by plane, via the dirt airstrip on the treeless island

The right point at Matanchen Bay in Sinaloa state was one of the first "Mexican Paradise" surfing destinations to be documented in the 1960's

The powerful beachbreak at Playa Zicatela in Puerto Escondido is one of the most famous waves in México

1) The United States, including Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico and Guam
With a long coastline on the Pacific west coast and on the Atlantic east coast plus offshore locations like Alaska, the Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam in the distant Pacific, the United States is the best surfing country in the Americas.
Uncle Sam and the Stars and Stripes oversee more high-quality surfing locations, from Seaside in Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, reputed to be the best left point in North America to South Beach in Miami, an artificial beach that has the best beachbreak in Florida on the rare occasions it gets swell.
Also included are the famous winter big waves of Hawaii and Puerto Rico and the reef breaks of Guam, an American territory in the remote Marianas Islands. There are more surfing locations in the United States than many surfers could explore in a lifetime and it is quite likely there are good waves breaking somewhere under the American flag every day of the year.
Surfing was an ocean sport of the pre-contact Polynesian locals in Hawaii and Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy was the first European to publish a detailed description of He’e Nalu, or “Wave-Sliding” after his voyage to French Polynesia to observe the transit of Venus across the sun in 1769. After arriving in the Hawaiian islands in 1788, Cook later noted the strong similarities between the Tahitian and Hawaiian languages and supplied further descriptions of wave-sliding in Hawaii, with Cook and his sailors the first documented group of Europeans to reach the remote Hawaiian Islands.
Surfing as a recreational activity was nearly wiped out in Hawaii by the conservative Christian missionaries, who arrived from the mainland in the early 1800’s. The congregationalist missionaries considered surfing to be a sinful waste of time, but surfing survived and by the early 1900’s surfing was firmly established in Waikiki as a sport of the elite.
The phenomenal success of a native Hawaiian on the international stage propelled surfing to new levels of awareness. Duke Kahanamoku and his five brothers were all surfers in Waikiki since small-kid days and after Duke won the Gold medal in swimming in the 100 meter freestyle event at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, many people around the world became aware of the existence of surfing for the first time.
Duke was a tireless promoter of He’e Nalu and staged surfing exhibitions in California, New Zealand, Australia and other places, introducing the sport to a new and astounded audience worldwide. In 2000, Duke Kahanamoku was named “Surfer of the Century” and given the cover placement for Surfer Magazine’s 40th aniversary edition.
Surfing soon spread from Hawaii to California, where surfers ranged up and down the west coast, in search of new waves. While surfing was a bohemian and underground activity in the 1940’s and 50’s with perhaps 500 practitioners in the entire state, it exploded in popularity in the late 1950’s and early 60’s.
Movies like “Gidget” and “Beach Blanket Bingo” and music from the Beach Boys and other “surf music” bands touched off a national craze for surfing. Demand for surfboards surged and manufacturers soon abandoned scarce and expensive balsa wood for abundant and cheap polyurethane foam and fiberglass to meet the demand for boards from hundreds of new American surfers every week.
Surfing spread like wildfire throughout the mainland US and soon arrived in locations like Puerto Rico in the Atlantic and eventually, in the huge state of Alaska. Cold-water surfing has become much more practical in recent decades with warmer wetsuits and the vast frontier of Alaska surfing is only beginning to be explored.
Surfing today in the US is an established sport and a popular recreational activity all over the mainland, Hawaii and every territory and jurisdiction under the American flag.
The United States has produced numerous world champions on a professional level, both men and women. The recognized GOAT, or Greatest of All-Time is Kelly Slater from Cocoa Beach, Florida with his 11 world titles and insatiable desire to compete and win at the top levels of the sport.

Surfing has been a popular recreational activity on the South Shore of Oahu in Hawaii for more than a century

Waimea Bay on Oahu in Hawaii is one of the famous winter waves on the North Shore

Trestles in Orange County, California has its best waves and conditions in the autumn, with clear skies and offshore winds

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Text © John Seaton Callahan / surfEXPLORE®
Images © John Seaton Callahan / surfEXPLORE®
The surfEXPLORE® Group does collaborations and consultations with a worldwide list of clients, contact us at <[email protected]>
Instagram: surfexplore

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