We all want to say that we’ll surf forever, but realistically, there’ll come a day when we get our last tube, do our last turn, catch our last wave and paddle out for the last time. Ideally, our saltwater odysseys won’t come to an end until we’re old, wrinkled and ready, but hey – let’s not think about the lasts! Instead, I want to give you a list of firsts: places in the world to surf while you still can, before climate change and rising sea levels and general environmental degradation force some of these spots to have their last rideable waves. Some are going to challenge you, others just delight, and wherever you are in your life at sea, you’ll find something here to tickle your fancy. Go get ‘em before it’s too late!
Snapper Rocks, Gold Coast, Yugambeh Country, Australia
Okay, so you’ll probably never surf Snapper Rocks itself, as it’s the smallest and most hotly contested part of an unfathomably long and unbearably crowded example of manmade perfection called the Superbank. If you can find Rainbow Bay Surf Club, look for where the literal hundreds of frothers are entering the water and follow them. There, you will fight tooth and nail, be dropped in on, threatened and have your legrope pulled, but when you finally get one – even a smaller one – and you find yourself absconded in a back-of-your-schoolbook perfect tube, with time standing still as the water pulls off the sandbank and over your head, well – all the scrapping and scraping will have been worth it.
Whāingaroa/Raglan, Aotearoa/New Zealand
The Land Of The Long White Cloud could be named the Land Of The Long Left Point, and most of that moniker is down to Raglan and the way it reels. Just follow the undulating green hills until you get to the round black stones and out into the Tasman Sea, and you can’t miss it. Not as many barrels as Snapper, but walls for days and weeks, and the people are so friendly and quaint in their gumboots eating meat pies. Oh, and it’s bloody cold!
Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia
My first trip to Bali was when I was eight years old, and I’ve been going back ever since. Schoolies was my first trip without supervision, and between marathon kretek-smoking sessions, we rode around on motorbikes and surfed Uluwatu a lot, which is a long-walled lefthander (these first few spots are following a theme) that you enter by scrambling down a cliff and through a local village and then through a sea cave! And then a paddle across the reef, timed so the whitewater doesn’t push you down and down and down and into the cliff. Once you get out, wait your turn, and there’s a good chance that the best wave of your life will come to you.
Teahupo’o, Tahiti, French Polynesia
This isn’t exactly on the bum surfers’ travelling hitlist, but if you can get to Tahiti, then you have to surf Teahupo’o – pronounced Chop-pu. Commonly known as the ‘End of the Road’ (but translating to something akin to “pile of heads” from Tahitian/Polynesian), to get here, you follow the road from the capital of Pape’ete until you get to the end, cross a little bridge and then either get a boat to take you out, or paddle.
I paddled, and it’s about a 30-minute ordeal, while black-tipped reef sharks dart around you, but it’s so worth it once you’re out there. The water is startlingly clear – you can see every nook and crevice and other blade-edged distortion in the reef, and when a set comes and draws the water off the ledge so that the wave seems to break below sea level, it will make you double-guess whether you’re supposed to actually be there… but you are, and so you have to go. When you do and don’t die, maybe it’ll make you a better surfer and more accomplished human; or maybe you’ll realise the folly of your ways and will return to shore to drink mai tais by the pool for the rest of your trip. Either is fine.
Also, I can confirm that Tahiti is absolutely paradise on earth, from its jagged peaks to blue lagoon to plethoric surf spots wrapping around every break in the reef. Just being there for a fortnight and having my senses assaulted and benefitting from Tahitian hospitality, I could fully conceive why the mutineers mutinied from The Bounty.
The Old World is a bit new world when it comes to surfing, but the collision of culture and cuisine with North Atlantic swell creates an absolute treat for the bon vivants amongst us, of which you should or must be. France in September is sublime, where surf sessions planned around the four-metre tides can be complemented with a duck baguette topped with French fries (just called fries there, I guess).
Hossegor is ground zero when it comes to European surfing: a place where heaving barrels detonate mere metres from the shoreline and naked Frenchpeople walk up and down jiggling in the second summer sun. The waves here are unreal, the lifestyle unparalleled and a surfing life isn’t complete without a few days/months jaunt amongst the pines and peaks of Les Landes.