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The Best Waves in the USA

Here in Australia, we are probably blessed with the best waves one single country could hope for, both in quantity and quality. If there’s a rival, however, it’s the USA, the birthplace of so much of the surfing culture that exists today. The Beach Boys didn’t write Surfin’ USA for no reason, and with its vast coastlines – oh, and a little place called Hawaii – it’s no surprise that there are more than a few world-class waves to be found around the country. Check out some of the best of them below. 

Lower Trestles, California

The first of a few of California’s entrants on this list, Lower Trestles could easily be argued to be one of the highest performance waves on the planet. It’s a wave which is hard not to surf well. The peak offers up waves heading in both directions, but while the left can get hollow and pretty speedy, it’s the right for which this location is most well-known.

Located in San Diego county, the right is somewhat paradoxically the perfect combination of fast and steep, yet still soft and reasonably easy to surf. Staring out at the peeling break, you would be forgiven for thinking there was an artificial machine of some kind running the show. 

The quality of this wave – and indeed of the waves in the region – means it’s little surprise that so many great surfers either grew up there, or call it home today. The likes of Kolohe Andino and Griffin Colapinto spent their childhoods honing their craft there, while plenty more – including Caroline Marks and even Jordy Smith and Filipe Toledo – now call it home for at least some of the year. 

Mavericks, California

A few hundred kilometres to the north is Mavericks, a wave which is a little less user-friendly than the aforementioned Trestles. In fact, you’d probably have to be a little mad to even consider surfing it. One of the premier big wave spots in the world, Mavericks doesn’t really work until it’s about 12-foot, and can get up to – well, about as big as you can imagine.

Mavericks is located in front of a group of enormous boulders reassuringly named ‘The Boneyard’, and has sadly claimed the lives of multiple people. And as if that’s not all scary enough, it’s also smack bang in the middle of the Red Triangle. For those who’ve never heard of The Red Triangle, it’s a stretch of ocean on the Californian coast which is home to a vast array of seals, sea lions, and big sharks that like to eat them. 38% of recorded shark attacks in the US have occurred within this triangle, a stat you probably don’t want to know when you’re waiting for a set in deep, dark water in front of a place called The Boneyard.

Rincon, California

Rincon is renowned across the globe and is almost unequivocally the best point break in the States. Located just a short drive to the north of Los Angeles, Rincon is perfection personified, a perfect, peeling right-hander which can provide rides long enough to get your legs burning in a big way. The wave is extremely consistent and can be surfed at all tides, though generally speaking it gets hollower as the tide recedes.

Unfortunately, the wave is not exactly a secret, and its close proximity to a city of many millions means that it is invariably vulnerable to some big crowds. That makes it hard to get a wave at times, but fortunately the length of the ride means that you’re rewarded for your patience. 

Bay Head, New Jersey

New Jersey is better known for Tony Soprano than for quality waves, but while one of those is fictional, the other is very much a real thing. And while it’s hard to imagine the mafia boss paddling out in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean, there are plenty of other east coasters who flock to this section of beach when the waves are firing.

Realistically this slot could have gone to any one of a number of great waves along this stretch of coast, though there’s no doubt that the Bay Head break is one of the best of them. When everything lines up, this place dishes up thick and heavy barrels that closely resemble the bagels for which the region is so well known. Conditions, of course, aren’t exactly Californian – the water is brown and pretty chilly, but that just serves to keep away some of the crowds.

Pipeline, Hawaii

It may not be on the mainland, but Hawaii is still one of the USA’s 50 states, meaning a list of the nation’s best waves would be incomplete without Pipeline getting a mention. Located on the north shore of O’ahu, Hawaii’s most populated island, Pipeline might be the most famous wave on the planet – and for good reason. It breaks onto a reef which is far too close to the surface of the water for comfort, particularly given the size which the wave can reach. If it’s big enough you will be making your drop in mid-air – from there, the potential outcomes couldn’t be more opposing. Either you’re slammed into the shallow water with frightening force, or you’re gifted perhaps the best barrel on the planet.

Surfing Pipe is a rite of passage for devoted surfers the world over, and the crowds here suggest as much. Locals like John John Florence have been dealing with surfers looking to tick an item off their bucket list for decades, and as a result this is no place for the feeble. As if it’s not intimidating enough trying to paddle into this incredibly dangerous wave alongside dozens of others, the result if you miss it is just as frightening. An unridden wave at Pipe is a cause of great insult for many, and if you’re the reason for it, don’t expect to be getting another chance any time soon. 

The USA has an incontrovertible place in the annals of surfing history. From the early days of wooden logs being surfed in Hawaii to the more modern-day influence of some of the world’s biggest names – both people and brands – the country has contributed to surfing culture like few others. And when you look at the above list – and the breaks that missed out – it’s easy to see why. 

Next up we’ll finalise this series of the world’s best REAL waves by exploring Africa, the endless coastline of which is home to some of the world’s best waves.