Surfing is big in the Cape Fear area, and it’s a sport that has been enjoyed by decades of locals and vacationers alike. With gentle summertime waves that are perfect for beginners, and larger and more challenging swells that can make an appearance with a passing storm or hurricane, the surfing scene in the Cape Fear area can be as wild or as laid-back as a surfer wants.
Visitors who want to get their toes wet in this popular beach activity will find ample destinations – and ample learning opportunities – to hit the waves. From cool camps that are perfect for young surfers just learning the ropes, to popular tournaments where East Coast’s best surfers shine, there’s something for everyone when it comes to the Cape Fear surfing scene.
Where to Go Surfing in the Cape Fear Area
Arguably, the question isn’t where can you go surfing, but where can’t you go? The Cape Fear region is home to miles of beaches which all have similar characteristics – wide shorelines, a gently sloping ocean floor, and traditionally smaller waves that can get nice and challenging when there’s a swell.
With that being said, there are a few spots that are more popular than others when it comes to riding the waves.
Masonboro Inlet – Located just south of Wrightsville Beach, Masonboro Inlet has a rock barrier on either side that can churn up the waves and make them slightly larger than other, neighboring beaches. As a result, the shorelines that border Masonboro Inlet can be popular with surfers – just watch for currents and maritime traffic, and stay 100’ ft. away from the rock jetty itself.
Wrightsville Beach – Wrightsville Beach has miles of shoreline and lots of beach accesses which makes reaching the ocean a breeze. Head to the northern or southern ends to avoid the crowds, or head close to the local piers for better rides – just note that surfing is not allowed within 350’ ft. of either the Johnnie Mercer?s Pier or the Crystal Pier at Oceanic Restaurant.
Carolina Beach – Like Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach is another popular town for surfers, with ample beach accesses and plenty of surf shops scattered throughout the town. Check out the waves near the Carolina Beach Pier, (but don’t get too close to the structure itself), or for a more isolated experience, head south to the lesser populated Kure Beach, or north to the undeveloped but popular Freeman Park.
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area – Located on the southern end of “Pleasure Island,” Fort Fisher State Recreation Area is a popular destination for swimmers, fishermen, surfers and beachcombers. With six miles of beaches, it’s relatively easy to find a spot to get in the water and start paddling – just watch for the rock border that’s found along the northern section of the park.
Surf Lessons in the Cape Fear Area
Visitors who want a little instruction before they take to the waves will find ample options for lessons and camps in the Cape Fear area. With nicely shallow beaches and traditionally smaller waves, the area is ideal for learning, and as a result, a number of surf instructors can be found throughout the local beach towns.
For the most options, start in Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Combined, these two towns have roughly a dozen different options which include surfing “schools” like the Tony Silvagni Surf School, full day camps, and private hourly instruction. Classes and group surfing lessons are generally divided by age group, skill level, or both, and can accommodate new students and more advanced surfers alike. Private instruction is likely a better bet for surfers who want to improve their existing skills, but can also be tailored for newcomers who want more specialized instruction.
Regardless of class type, most all surf camps or schools provide the boards, equipment, and wet suits (if needed), and students will want to bring along their own water and plenty of sunscreen.
Regardless of where a surfer lands, the most important thing is to reserve a lesson, camp or class as far in advance as possible. Slots for surfing instruction can fill up fast – especially in the summer months – so advanced preparation is key. Most all surfing lessons can be booked online, making it an easy process.
Surf Rentals and Surf Shops in the Cape Fear Area
As one would expect, the Cape Fear area is flooded with surf shops and watersports stores where visitors can load up on all the equipment and gear they’ll need to enjoy the beach.
While the inland town of Wilmington has a handful of surf shops and / or chain sporting goods stores, the best place for visitors on the hunt for gear are the towns of Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Beach. Both of these towns have at least a dozen surf shops each, which can be easily found along their respective “main drags” – (aka, Lumina Ave in Wrightsville Beach, and US 421 in Carolina Beach.) At these shops, visitors can pick up new or used boards, wet suits and accessories (like hoodies and booties), wax, apparel, sunglasses, and sunscreen, which makes them catch-all destinations for everything a visitor needs to enjoy the beach.
Rentals are also available in both coastal towns, either from local watersports shops or from catch-all rental businesses that cater to vacationers. Surfboard rentals are generally available on a daily or weekly basis, and can be picked up at the respective business location, or in some cases, can even be delivered to a local rental home. Call in advance or book online ahead of time for stress-free access to gear.
In addition, some rental businesses and surf shops may offer great discounts on used boards that were utilized as training or rental boards during the summer season. For used board sales, check out the local businesses around mid or late fall, which is typically when the summer visitor season is at an end.
Surfing Events and Competitions in the Cape Fear Area
The Cape Fear region is home to a long roster of surfing events, simply because of the high local surfing population as well as the predictable but fun series of waves.
The Eastern Surfing Association, (or ESA), has been hosting events in the Cape Fear region since the organization was first established in 1967, which includes semi-final or qualifying competitions for ESA championships, as well as additional surfing competitions like a HotWax Challenge in March, a 17th Street Shred Fest in August, and a Wahine Classic in the late summer / early fall. Additional tournaments in the region include the O’Neill/Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest which attracts roughly 100 surfing professionals from all around the world in a three-day competition in Wrightsville Beach, as well as smaller events that are hosted by the local surf shops.
Check with local surf and watersports shops to see what tournaments or events are held throughout the year to join in the fun, or to just have an opportunity to watch the East Coast’s best surfers in action.
Tips and Tricks for Surfing in the Cape Fear Area
- One of the best times for surfing is around 1-3 hours after a low tide, so try to time a trip accordingly for the best waves of the day. In addition, a good swell direction for area beaches is typically southeast, east, and northeast, while a good wind direction for the area is northwest, west, and southwest.
- Aim for a day with a little wind. On those dead calm summer days, the waves can be tiny – which is great for beginners and long boarders, but which may be disappointing for more experienced surfers.
- Advanced surfers will want to keep an eye out for offshore hurricanes and tropical storms. Systems passing hundreds of miles offshore can produce nice swells close to the beach, and this is when the Cape Fear surfing is arguably at its best.
- Watch out for other visitors enjoying the beach – including fishermen, kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and swimmers. Lifeguarded beaches can be especially popular and crowded, so move a couple hundred feet down to enjoy more waves and fewer crowds.
- Because of the warm climate, it’s certainly possible to go surfing in the winter, and often, surfers won’t even need extra gear like a hoodie or booties. A spring suit is perfect for late fall and spring, while just a full suit may be required for wintertime waves.
- Surfing may be the area’s biggest watersport, but it’s certainly not the only one. Visitors who want to expand their water education can also try kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding for a different way of riding the waves.
- If you’re heading to a public beach access, arrive as early as early as possible. Parking areas in Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach can fill up quickly, especially on summertime weekends when the locals from Wilmington come out to play.
The Cape Fear area is a wonderfully popular destination for surfers, thanks to its easy-to-reach locale, variety of surf shops and available lessons, and miles of beaches to go around. Discover a new way to enjoy the local beach scene and sign up for a rental or lesson on your next escape to the Cape Fear coastline. With traditionally gentle waves and beautifully calm and warm waters, surfing is a breeze in this corner of coastal North Carolina.