The rocky challenges of New Hampshire's rugged coast. The warm seclusion of North Carolina's Outer Banks. Praise the Pacific all you like – left coasters aren't the only ones with life-changing breaks. They may seem more elusive, and produce smaller, more temperamental waves, but it's easy to get stoked on the East Coast's best surf spots. Our favorites are sometimes just a little out of the way. Just as easy to find in a windswept fishing village or below the cliffs of a manicured row of mansions. But ask any surfer worth his mettle about these epic waves, and you'll get the confirmation you're looking for: a wide, knowing smile. We never feel the need to leave the Atlantic side for some of America's best surfing, especially in summer. Here are six reasons why. Launch Gallery >>
Cape Hatteras Outer Banks
Midway down North Carolina's 200-mile long chain of barrier islands called the Outer Banks (OBX to locals), the rustic, off-the-grid-like Cape Hatteras has long been a draw for in-the-know surfers. Paddle out to the right of the jetty – where the continental shelf ends at a steep drop-off – and you'll discover sets of powerful, medium-size (but wide) beach breaks. Hatteras itself oozes a laid-back vibe and, when coupled with the larger ocean swells from the south, a West Coaster would be forgiven for comparing it to Malibu (only, as the summer progresses, the water gets far warmer here than in SoCal).
Hatteras's surf bona fides alone merit a pilgrimage, but there are plenty of inland offerings for when the tides aren't cooperating. Hatteras is home to the tallest brick lighthouse on the Atlantic (a towering 208 feet) and from atop it the incredible view includes a host of hired fishing boats, all trolling for marlin, sailfish, and tuna that run along the Gulf Stream. If a high seas adventure floats your boat, we recommend Teach's Lair Marina. Full-day offshore charters start at $830 a day and include bait, tackle, and ice for keeping your catch chilled. (Less intense inshore rentals, which are potentially far less rough and hardcore, start at $275.)
Hop north a couple miles and you're in Nags Head, home to the country's largest dune system at Jockey's Ridge State Park – a colossal 138-foot high climb. This veritable playground for sand-friendly sports hosts hang-gliding, kiteboarding, sandboarding, and pretty much every other board variant. Hit up the experts at the legendary Kitty Hawk Kites for rentals, and definitely try the five-hour fly-and-ride kiteboarding course. For $400, you learn the basics, including whether this extremely fun and occasionally disorienting activity is something you want to pursue. Recover and relax chowing down on the creatively spiced Japanese- and Jamaican-style seafood creations at Tortuga's Lie Shellfish Bar & Grill.
Visitors to the Outer Banks tend to rent one of the classic, gray-shingled dune homes and settle in for a week or two (check out Outer Beaches Realty for rental homes). But for shorter stays there's The Sanderling, a lodge-like resort with large, modern rooms. The highly regarded hotel is a destination in its own right, with a private beach, indoor and outdoor pools, access to a golf and tennis club, and a full-service spa. You know, all the distraction you'd need to keep a travel companion contented while you're off carving the swells.
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