The Soul of East Coast Surfing
“I defy any surfer to walk out to the tip of sand that is Cape Hatteras,” proclaimed Australian surf journalist Nick Carroll, “and not leave aware that the Outer Banks is one of the world’s greatest surfing areas; as unique as the North Shore of Oahu, or the Gold Coast of Queensland.” There is nowhere else like the Outer Banks: sea oats swaying on shifting dunes, historic lighthouses, and mile after mile of perfect, beachbreak waves. The Soul of East Coast surfing resides on the Outer Banks.
For hundreds of years, the water around the Outer Banks was a serious navigational hazard, earning the moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” In the 1930s, a local man began taking a massive, redwood plank surfboard into those hazardous waters and having fun. Surfing did not catch on in North Carolina until the 1960s when Hatteras Island was first recognized as a national treasure.
Since the 1960s, the Outer Banks have widely been considered to have the best surf on the East Coast. Surfers come from all over the world to enjoy the Outer Banks’ waves and relaxed atmosphere. Multiple national surf championships have been decided on Hatteras Island and the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) has held their championship there since 1971.
Many variables contribute to the quality surf. Consisting of 100 miles of barrier islands, the Outer Banks are exposed to a variety of swell directions from all over the Atlantic Ocean. Because the Outer Banks protrude more than 30 miles into the ocean, the full force of incoming swells can be felt on local sandbars. Also, the bending of the coast allows for favorable winds somewhere, most of the time.
Quality surf can happen here any time of year, but late summer through the fall is when the waves can really turn on. Tropical low-pressure systems and hurricanes can produce world-class waves throughout the whole region.
Winter is only for the most passionate surfers. The water temperature can drop to a frigid 40 degrees, requiring full neoprene armor: full wetsuit, gloves, booties and a hood.
Spring is a magical time on the Outer Banks. Everything begins coming to life after a sleepy winter and the neoprene starts coming off. Summer is known for long flat spells but hurricane season begins June 1st, so early season tropical storms are always possible. Because the Gulf Stream flows just offshore, water temperature in the summer can vary from the toasty, upper 80s to the 60s on any given day.
Surf culture thrives on the Outer Banks. About twenty-five surf shops are open throughout the region to provide all the necessary gear. There are options for taking a surf lesson all along the coast. Surf movie premieres and surf-themed concerts add to the soulful, grassroots nature of Outer Banks surf culture.
Wilbur and Orville Wright put the Outer Banks in our nation’s collective conscious with their historic First Flight. But it is the heaving, brown, barreling waves of surf spots like S-Turns in Rodanthe or Lighthouse Jetties in Buxton that keep surfers coming back.
Shifting sand is a way of life here. The wind blows, sand moves, waves are created, enjoyed and then dissipate. On the Outer Banks, the soulful passion for the ocean and all that she creates will never go away. As long as there is a sandbar with a wave breaking, someone will be there having a blast!
Daily OBX Surf Reports
Radio Surf Reports:
- 99.1 FM, The Sound at 7:45am: Trey Simmons’ In-Town Surf Report (Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head)
- 99.1 FM, The Sound at 8:15am: Gary Smith’s Corolla Surf Report (For the Northern Beaches)
- 104.1, Moose & Jody at 8:50am: Island Revolution Surf Report
Online Surf Reports and Information: