Surfing in South Africa: The Ultimate Guide
When you first think of South Africa, what comes to mind is most likely safaris, closely followed by beaches and maybe even vineyards. But the African country is also a prime location for surfing, attracting plenty of board enthusiasts around the year to come and enjoy the waves in various locations around the coast.
South Africa is surrounded by the ocean on three sides, providing a huge range of beaches and bays where surfers congregate to get out on the water. There’s around 3000 km of coastline altogether, with swells coming from all sides and surf schools galore to teach newcomers the ropes and give advice to those with more experience.
When it comes to choosing a location for a surfing trip, a lot of travellers would instantly opt for somewhere like Australia, Bali, or New Zealand. But South Africa is a location that is not only miles cheaper than almost every other popular surfing destination, but also has some of the most consistent surf in the world.
Whether you’re a serious surfer or just traveling to South Africa on holiday and fancy trying your hand at this thrilling sport, here’s our ultimate guide to surfing in South Africa.
Best Beaches for Surfing in South Africa
There are hundreds of popular surfing spots along the coast of South Africa, and that’s not an exaggeration. Places like Durban and Cape Town are particularly densely populated with beaches and bays that are often rammed with surfers, but there are plenty of quiet stretches of coastline and hidden coves that are also known for their impressive swells and consistent waves.
Below are some of the most popular surfing beaches in South Africa, suitable for all abilities.
Jeffrey’s Bay, Eastern Cape
Jeffrey’s Bay (or J-Bay to the locals) on the Eastern Cape is the best-known South Africa surfing spot, partially due to the fact that it’s the home of the annual Billabong Pro™ surfing event and the best right-hand surf break in the world. The town by the beach itself is quite small and laid back, but thousands of surfing fans come here every year to enjoy the impeccable surf, including some of the biggest names in the sport.
The unique surfing conditions at Jeffery’s Bay are produced by the fact that cold waters of the Atlantic meet the warmer currents of the Indian Ocean right in front of the shore, creating consistently perfect waves. The weather between April and September creates the optimum conditions, so at this time of the year the bay is likely to be absolutely packed.
There are several named sections of Jeffery’s Bay that each provide a different kind of surfing environment. Supertubes is the area that is known for some of the best waves in South Africa, whilst Point is known as being the first place a wave was surfed in the bay in the 1960s, and Kitchen Window is home to a more gentle swell and is best for those who are new to the sport.
Hout Bay, Cape Town
Hout Bay is home to the legendary surf spot known as Dungeons, located just 20 minutes from the centre of Cape Town on the other side of Table Mountain. Once a quiet fishing village, it is now an incredibly beautiful stretch of coastline that is a very popular seaside holiday spot as well as being known for its excellent surfing conditions.
Whilst Dungeons is a South Africa surf spot that is definitely only suitable for experts, the rest of the bay has much gentler waves and is a great place to start your surfing journey if you’re staying in Cape Town and are looking for an area with excellent views and gentle waves.
Wild Coast, Eastern Cape
The Wild Coast is also found along the Eastern Cape and is a great South African surfing location for more experienced surfers who are willing to travel to a more remote part of the country for unspoiled beaches and uncrowded waters.
Some of the most popular places to surf along the Wild Coast include Ntlonyana (Breezy Point), Veldskoen Bay and Sharpley’s Point. Whilst the scenery and surfing conditions along this stretch of coastline are worth travelling to, bear in mind that shark attacks in this area are also common and surfers should take care to check the water conditions before they set out.
Dunes, Cape Town
Another of South Africa’s more advanced surfing spots, Dunes is located close to Noordhoek Beach about a 40-minute drive out of Cape Town. It’s quite remote but offers a totally unspoiled beach experience that never gets overrun with tourists, and can fill up with experienced surfers in the winter months.
Whilst the waves at Dunes don’t reach the same kinds of heights as those in places like Dungeons, they can still get pretty gnarly and are not for the faint of heart.
Llandudno, Cape Town
If you’re looking for the most beautiful places to surf in South Africa then Llandudno on the Western Cape of the country should be at the top of your list. Located in quite a small, residential area, you’ll discover a picturesque sandy beach with waves that can get surprisingly wild and should only be tackled if you’ve got experience on a board. It never gets crowded however, so it’s ideal if you like to have a beach almost entirely to yourself.
Long Beach, Western Cape
Found on the shore of the small town of Kommetjie on the Western Cape, Long Beach gets its name from the impressive size of this surfing spot. Ideal for all abilities, the waves here are some of the most consistent in the whole country and offer relatively safe and predictable conditions that are great for those finding their feet on their board or who want to practice tricks and technique.
The conditions at Long Beach are best in the summer months when the south-easterly wind is blowing, but it’s a spot that gets quite busy all year round, especially at the weekends.
Muizenberg, Cape Town
If you’re a beginner surfer there’s no better place to visit than Muizenberg. Known by many as the birthplace of surfing in South Africa, it’s a long stretch of sandy beach with a gradual drop off further out from the shore, ensuring that the waves which do arrive here are relatively gentle and perfect for those who are still finding their feet.
Muizenberg is quite a long beach, so even though it’s a pretty popular place to surf it is still possible to find a quiet spot on busy days if you’re willing to walk for a bit. There are quite a few surf schools that hold their lessons here, and its proximity to Cape Town makes it an ideal location if you’re after an introductory surfing experience as part of a larger holiday.
Eland’s Bay, West Coast
Eland’s Bay is referred to by many as the surfing gem of the West Coast of South Africa. Found about a three hours drive away from Cape Town, it’s known for its incredible left-hand point break that is favoured by more experienced surfers for its potential for all kinds of advanced moves.
One of the only downsides to Eland’s Bay is that the water is usually crowded, so it’s not a surfing spot for those who like to have the sea to themselves. The surf also isn’t always that predictable, and it’s quite a long way out to come and discover sub-par conditions.
Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape
Plettenberg Bay is located along the famous ‘Garden Route’ in South Africa and is a great place to surf no matter what your level of experience is. The surrounding landscape is beautiful and the nearby town is a really popular spot for holiday makers, so if you’re less bothered about wave quality and more about atmosphere, this could be the ideal South Africa surfing location for you.
Known by locals as ‘Plett’, Plettenberg Bay and its ’Superbank’ was once one of the most popular surfing spots in the country. Shark attacks and underwater erosion have changed this reputation in the past decade or so, but it’s still a great place to visit with a board and enjoy pretty uncrowded waves that are pretty consistent in their quality.
Best Time of Year for Surfing in South Africa
One of the best things about surfing in South Africa is that the waves are consistently good all year round. However, there is a peak season when the likelihood of serious surf is much higher and weather conditions are likely to be more favourable, which is when most people plan a visit to the coast.
If you’re after big swells then the best time of year to surf in South Africa is between June and September when winter swells come from the south Indian Ocean and hit the shores of the country. Average temperatures hover above and below 20°C at this time of year but the water is known for being particularly cold, so most surfers wear wetsuits if they’re going to be out in the sea for a long time.
In the summer months the surfing conditions in South Africa are gentler and more suited for those who are new to the sport, although you may end up with days when the ocean where you are is mostly flat. Temperatures at this time of year are in the high twenties for both the air and water, but there are also high chances of rain which might make conditions more difficult to surf in.
Whilst many of South Africa’s most popular beaches are dominated by really experienced surfers, it’s still a great part of the world to come as a beginner and learn the ropes from a variety of talented instructors amongst some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. With so much coast to choose from, the surfing opportunities are endless and the swell is almost always exceptional, so why not consider hitting the waves when you visit South Africa and discovering why so many consider this country a mecca of the watersport.
Is it safe to surf in South Africa?
Surfing is a sport that carries a number of dangers no matter where you do it, so if you are surfing in South Africa it is first important to be mindful of things like the weather, the terrain underneath the water, and your own physical condition. South Africa is known for having the third-highest shark attack rate in the world, but this doesn’t make it a particularly dangerous place to surf as long as you research the beach you are visiting beforehand and pay attention to any warnings from coastguards and other surfers.
Where are the biggest waves in South Africa?
Plenty of beaches in South Africa are known for their incredible surf, but the spot that has the most impressive reputation for big waves is a place called ‘Dungeons’ in Cape Town. Located 1km out from The Sentinel Mountain in Hout Bay, it rose to acclaim after being chosen by Red Bull in 1999 as the site for their Big Wave Africa Specialty event and is now frequently visited by some of the biggest names in surfing when they come to the country.