It’s a sign of the times that seemingly all surf shops must now come equipped with a Slayer espresso machine operated by a pretentious barista. No longer contented to simply fondle a few handshapes and leave with a bar of wax, surfers—particularly urban-based surfers—also need an exotically sourced pour-over from a third-wave coffee purveyor and a selection of artisanal baked goods, while they scope out new surf crafts.
It’s clear that the needs of surfers have evolved quite a bit since the post-war years of Kivlin, Quigg and company, content to eat canned meats and retire to improvisational thatched-roof shelters after hours of riding waves on the North Shore. Today, it seems that coast-adjacent, dense, urban areas best meet the needs of the contemporary surfer.
In the gig economy, cities—regional and global centers of industry, commerce, and culture—are where the jobs are. Modern cities have become walk-able, gastronomic and booze-centric, tolerant and progressive playgrounds for a Millennial generation primed to live and work in a more communal, stimulating environment. And when you stir in an accessible coastline and roughly a hundred days of ridable waves per year, a city can also provide a surfer a dynamic and balanced existence.
So in case you’re considering a relocation opportunity, we pored over job statistics, surf reports, and city guides—taking into consideration surf proximity and quality, employment opportunities, and quality of life—to narrow down the world’s best surf cities.
The list we’ve assembled includes ten world centers, economic hubs revered for their cultural institutions where one can find a steady job and consistent-enough surf to satiate the most wave-obsessed among us. These are cities where, even if you’re resigned to only surf with the weekend warrior crowd, you’ll never be bored—provided you haven’t handed over all your disposable income to some pretentious barista.
Tel Aviv, Gush Dan
It ain’t SoCal and it certainly ain’t the Sunshine Coast, but Israel’s got surf. And with the surprising amount of fetch it picks up off the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Tel Aviv beachbreaks like Hilton Beach Jetty and Dromi to the south can provide some punch, while northern reef breaks like Bat Galim add some variety. It’s about as far off the known surf map as one can wander, but that’s part of the appeal—as is the region’s warm water and the city’s richly eclectic and international cultural scene.
Tel Aviv’s economy is surprisingly dynamic, with world-envied business and scientific research sectors and an upstart high-tech scene, which has helped earn Israel the nickname “startup nation.” A rapidly developing city with a raging tourist economy and relatively high minimum wage (north of $2k/month), Tel Aviv’s got a plethora of opportunities for those looking to work in the service industry and construction. Meanwhile, the financial sector, built around the renowned Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE), is bolstered by several international venture capital firms and investments in the previously mentioned high-tech industry. It’s expensive, so if you want to live and work here, it’s best to come correct with some experience, expertise, or resilience—but preferably all three.
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The existential threat related to the region’s centuries long geo-political turmoil is of less concern than one might think in Tel Aviv. Ignoring the potential for impending harm, an international contingent of tourists and ex-pats flock to the city and Tel Aviv greets them with immutable sunshine, delectable Middle Eastern cuisine, and a 24-7 party atmosphere from the beach to the discotheque.
With a mild climate, abundance of sunshine and central location among a 125-mile stretch of Europe’s best surf, Bilbao is the Basque Country’s largest and de facto surf city. With their golden sand, cliff-backed, beach breaks and penchant for nudity, the nearby beaches are a model of year-round consistency. Meanwhile, Mundaka—arguably one of the world’s best lefts–is about an hour from the city center. Fall is when the Basque Country really turns on, but there are waves in Spring and Winter, as well. And in the Summer time, it’s one of the few places in Europe that still gets surf. If you have a car, you’ll have access to variety and substance via any direction. Pick one, and enjoy.
The Basque Country combines the highest gross salary and the shortest working hours in Spain, with one of the highest productivity rates and household net income. How’s that for a recruiting pitch aimed at surfers? Sounds chill, but with a population of one million and counting, the city of Bilbao is home to nearly half the economic activity of the Basque Country, and is one of the most competitive and innovative economic regions in the European Union. An industrial center, somewhat economically detached from the rest of Spain, Bilbao weathered the Great Recession much more successfully than many other major European cities. Home to BBVA, the city is a major financial center with a first-class commercial port. A firm grasp of Spanish and some expertise in financial services or technology are good starting points for employment here. But as a major tourist destination and cruise ship hub for Americans and Europeans, service industry jobs are not out of the question.
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Bibao is a deceptively modern city with one architectural foot in the future and one in the past. Among modern urban trappings like renowned cultural institutions (the Guggenheim Museum), public green spaces, and superlative bars and restaurants, you’ll be inspired by the city’s prime examples of gothic, neo-gothic and Art Deco architecture. If you need to escape Bilbao’s quaint urbanity, there’s the Rijoa wine region to the South, the Pyrenees to the East, and, best of all, waves everywhere.
You’re in Hawaii. On Oahu. Do we really need to discuss further? OK. Yes, it’s Town, but Honolulu’s city center is close to the high-quality lefts of Publics. You can get cruise-y at Waikiki or pick up the pace at premiere Town spots like Ala Moana Bowls. And with the North Shore just an hour drive away, Honolulu’s urbanites are never wanting for access to good surf. The water’s warm. The swells are prolific. And did we mention it’s Hawaii? 'Nuff said.
Honolulu is not just the cradle of surfing-civilization, the city’s downtown is a major portal for International business and a world financial center. As a shipping gateway to the Pacific, there are jobs to be had in transportation and logistics, finance, manufacturing, and all the other industries found in an globally important port city. With Internationally recognized research institution, University of Hawaii at Monoa located near the central business district, Honolulu is also a hub for research and development in oceanography, biomedicine and astrophysics. Even without a degree or experience in a high-skilled field, if you can mix a mean drink, garnish a steak dinner, fold a towel, park a car or teach a surf lesson, tourism accounts for $10 billion annually in Honolulu and there are lots of opportunities to service the more than five million visitors Oahu attracts each and every year.
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Rent prices have grown exceedingly expensive in Honolulu, accurately reflecting the city’s standing as a surf-town, world-city, and tropical paradise all rolled into one. From the hectic urbanity of the city’s downtown and its thriving arts district, Honolulu residents can avail themselves of a true metropolitan experience, or head to the North Shore for more pastoral, though equally hectic, adventures. The pervasive Aloha spirit is also seemingly infectious, as Honolulu is one of the safest cities in America and also cited often as one of the most “livable” in the world.
Cape Town, Western Cape Province,
So you’re in South Africa and Jeffreys Bay is a two-hour flight away. While those may be untenable circumstances for many regular footers, those with an open-mind and a willingness to put in the time dialing in Cape Town’s complex relationship with wind and swell directions, there is an enormous variety of world-class waves not starting with J and ending with bay to be shredded. While the water temp is warmer, on average, than in some major cities like SF or NY, if trunks and a rashy are part of your idyllic surf scenario, then Cape Town may not be for you. But shiver not, when the winter swells pump through June, July, and August, the water is actually at its warmest, climbing as high as 72F.
Cape Town’s the oldest urban area in South Africa and the economy has suffered through fits and starts related to political turmoil for decades. But since the end of Apartheid in 1994, Cape Town has earned a reputation for facilitating entrepreneurship, as the Western Cape Province has shifted from a largely agricultural based economy to a service based one. With a lengthy visa process and laws prohibiting foreign workers from entering the country if not employed prior to arrival, the job hunt in South Africa is tough but not impossible. Foreign applications from skilled people in industries with shortages are typically welcomed. The healthcare, telecommunications, tourism and finance industries are suffering from labor shortages, and many other industries seek out high-skilled foreign workers. Income inequality remains a problem, however, and with the unemployment rate in Cape Town hovering around 20 percent (though it’s the lowest of any major city in South Africa), many employers look to hire native-born workers. Bottom line: if you’re passionate about making the move, you do your research and have a flexible skill-set, opportunities are available in South Africa.
QUALITY OF LIFE:
With its natural beauty, agreeable and temperate climate, world-renowned architecture, and a ranking of 17 on the Deutche Bank Quality of Life index, the city of Cape Town is one of the most desirable places to live in the world. Rent is relatively cheap, as is food and other services. There are acclaimed museums, restaurants, beaches, and nature trails. But in a city of four million people that boasts a high rate of income inequality, experiences can seem extremely disparate from person to person. Of course, tourists and residents with the proper means can access everything this world-class city has to offer, but Cape Town’s high crime rate, economic volatility, and susceptibility to extreme weather events like droughts, threaten to effect people of all walks of life. This, of course, can easily be said about most major cities.
Los Angeles, California,
The post-war crew had Malibu to themselves for years before Gidget introduced the world to Los Angeles’ perfect wave. Miki Dora would then introduce those inspired by the Hollywood film to seek the sun, surf and carefree Southern California lifestyle to localism, and by the mid-60s everything we know today about surf culture (absent Simon Anderson’s thruster) had been established. But surfing in Los Angeles, like the experience of living in L.A., in general, is bigger and more diverse than Malibu. A variety of waves, from chunky beachies to points to breaks-once-in-a-decade novelty spots abound in this part of Southern California. The West facing beachbreaks of south Los Angeles are somewhat below average, but consistent and can, on occasion, get very good. Things get above average as you move north, starting with Santa Monica up through County Line. And while, Malibu is still the cat’s pajamas among today’s longboard revivalists, if you don’t feel like scrapping with 200 other surfers (some of them famous actors), premier Orange County and Ventura spots remain accessible, though nearly as crowded.
If you’re looking to chase a creative muse, Los Angeles is one place where it’s possible to do so and earn a living wage—if you can land a job. There are nearly half a million Angelenos working as freelancers or entrepreneurs in the city’s thriving arts, entertainment, fashion and design sectors. Yet, the unemployment rate remains higher than the U.S. average, due to a highly competitive market for salaried jobs in the entertainment industry. Yet, entertainment is not even the biggest game in town. Los Angeles remains an internationally important port city, where transportation, logistics, and manufacturing are vital sectors of the local economy. Like most big cities these days, earning a living wage here and maintaining a surf-y lifestyle requires a fair amount of ingenuity and flexibility—but isn’t that what makes living worth while?
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Like the townie intruders who were greeted unceremoniously with a nose-block to the temple complements of Miki Dora, many a doe-eyed L.A. transplant will be blindsided by the notorious traffic jams and long delays that stem from the city’s struggle with overcrowding. Meanwhile, gentrification has seemingly gone into hyper-drive over the past half-decade, turning traditionally gritty though affordable enclaves from Venice to Silverlake into the trendy, upscale and untenably expensive havens of a newly moneyed, Millennial class. When selecting a neighborhood in which to reside, its important to choose wisely, as L.A.—with its unmatched sprawl and aforementioned traffic jams—can feel inconveniently segregated. But for all the traffic and change, Los Angeles still offers residents an incomparably diverse experience, with its 21,143 miles of freeways and roads leading from mountains and forests, through suburban and urban neighborhoods, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. And with its unassailable reputation for great food, art, music and literature, L.A. remains one of the most inspiring places on the planet.
New York City, New York,
If being in the center of the world and occasionally finding yourself in the belly of a cold, heaving tube, appeals to you, New York City is undoubtedly a smart bet. It takes knowledge, grit, and experience, but if you can make it in this increasingly competitive and expensive city, you’re surely capable of dialing in the surf that surrounds it (something that takes a comparable amount of perseverance). The Rockaways offer fairly consistent surf within striking distance of most of the five boroughs, but even heading there (like heading anywhere in NYC) can be a precarious undertaking depending on the traffic. Further east, the long Island surf scene is as diverse as NYC-itself, from hollow, New-Jersey-esque beach breaks like Lido, to the classic, New England-style points of the easternmost vacation town of Montauk. Starting with the late summer hurricane season and continuing with the brutal cold fronts and size-producing Nor’easters of the harsh winters, things stay relatively hollow and heavy-though frigid-for long stretches of the calendar year. Though the conditions are fickle and fleeting, spring and summer bring warmer water-temps and ridable surf, though you’ll have to outmaneuver the throngs of pasty urbanites visiting the shore to wade in the still-chilly Atlantic.
In New York City, everyone wants to know what you do. And though you may surf in your free time, they really want to know how you afford to live in New York City-because to do so truly requires a fair amount of hustle. The city’s status as a world financial center and publishing mecca makes for a plethora of high skilled job opportunities for those with the proper education and connections. Meanwhile the tech scene has grown strong over the last decade, with more and more startups setting up shop in Brooklyn. Of course, the city also plays host to millions of tourists each year and the service industry’s needs are endless, though-in a city of 8.5 Million-those jobs can also be ridiculously competitive.
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Already home to 8.5 million people speaking more than 200 languages, there’s a reason people keep coming to New York. Whether an artistic muse or financial gain, people come to New York to chase their dreams. Some of the world’s best theaters, museums, art galleries, restaurants, and public parks are here. The city’s fastidious, round-the-clock lifestyle is not for everyone. And with rent prices sky-rocketing in the quickly gentrifying borough of Brooklyn, maybe young New Yorkers are now musing about seeking more affordable housing back in Manhattan. But if you can stomach the hustle and bustle and handle paying roughly $3000/month for a dingy, one bedroom apartment, there’s literally no place like New York City.
San Francisco, California,
With a world-class beach break and a few novelty points—including one with an iconic backdrop—San Francisco does, indeed, have surf. Stretching from Kelly’s Cove to the Sloat Blvd parking lot, Ocean Beach is one of the heaviest, most dynamic beachbreaks in the world. With its constantly shifting sandbars and northwest exposure, the surf at OB can be heavy at under head high and downright terrifying during wintertime, long-period swells that produce waves up to 20 feet. The fall brings warm weather, playful surf, and offshore winds for weeks on end, while the spring and summer will be blown-out and onshore for even longer durations. But with Santa Cruz just an hour and a half to the South and a gorgeous stretch of the PCH offering dozens of nooks and crannies capable of blocking wind from nearly any direction, SF is not just a seasonal surf town.
Traditionally thought of as a city of artists, musicians, and poets, San Francisco’s reputation for catering to its residents’ Bohemian lifestyles now exists only in the minds of hopeless romantics. As it has emerged as a tech-industry hub and world financial center, the rat race is in full swing in SF. The city is home to the headquarters of 30 financial institutions, roughly two-dozen colleges and universities, and nearly every tech company you have (and haven’t) heard of has at least a satellite office here. Though tech gets all the hype, tourism is the city’s biggest economic sector. While artists can no longer afford to chase their muse in SF, if you have a worthy idea and are seeking seed funding, angel investors, or just a tech-bromance, this is your place to network.
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You can blame the tech industry—and its willingness to bus its employees to offices beyond the city limits—for the untenable rent prices (everyone does, anyway). The Ocean Beach adjacent neighborhoods of the Sunset and the Richmond—traditionally home to the city’s eclectic, underground surf scene—is now nearly as affordable as more centrally located neighborhoods like the Haight and the Mission (which is to say unaffordable). But if you can find a spot to lay your head -perhaps a hall closet-turned-illegal-unit— between its rich literary history, renowned arts and culture institutions, and history of social justice advocacy and diversity, San Francisco is definitely worth the hassle. While you can quickly escape in nearly any direction and find solace in nature—be it redwood forest, snow-capped mountains, world-renowned vineyards, or Pacific Ocean bliss—you may rarely want to, as there is perhaps more to experience in San Francisco than one could fit into a lifetime.
From cold, scary, bombing beach breaks to cruise-y, mellow points, the sundry surf scene in Lisbon is as distinctive as the City of Seven Hills, itself. Peak-y beach breaks like Carcavelos, just ten minutes from the bustling, historically important city center, wedge and heave in front of throngs of tourists and Portuguese urbanites, while mellow points like Sao Pedro offer long rides and a more quaint experience not too far removed from chaos. Short-period windswells and mild water temps of summer give way to long north Atlantic low pressure produced groundswells, which light up the majority of spots in the fall for weeks on end, before frigid temps and even longer period groundswells make for call for wintertime heroics. With a mix of relatively chilly, and notoriously dirty water, pervasive afternoon on-shores, and its old-European-meets-contemporary Metropolitan affect, Lisbon is a bit like San Francisco, only with about a few thousand more years of recorded cultural history under its belt.
In 2011, at the height of the World recession, Portugal was being lumped in with other economically shattered European countries like Italy, Greece, and Spain-PIGS, as they were referred to. But Lisbon–which predates other modern European cities like London, Paris, and Rome by centuries-didn’t survive invasions by Germanic tribes, the Moor, and Napoleon, the Crusades, and a catastrophic earthquake or two, without a little resilience. Just a decade after the recession, Lisbon’s service-based economy is the envy of Europe, and its job market is the best in the EU. As the wealthiest region in Portugal, responsible for 45% of the nation’s GDP, Lisbon is a hub for manufacturers, media companies, and financial institutions. Tourism is growing faster in Portgual than any other country, so there is currently a high demand for service industry jobs.
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More sunshine than some of the sunniest European cities, with ancient architecture, superlative seafood, raucous nightlife, quality surf, and relatively reliable public transportation to access it all, Lisbon is a dream city for a surfer. You’re not likely to tire of the views from atop the Seven Hills, but if you’re looking to get out, you’ve got all of Europte to explore. And if you get homesick, Lisbon is the closest European capital to America.
Sydney, New South Wales,
Sydney is the globally recognized epicenter of the wave-rich NSW coastline. Cut down the middle by the world’s largest natural harbors, both sides of which boast a seemingly endless array of sandy beaches and headlands, warm-to-mild year-round water temperatures, sunny days, and options (so many options) await Sydney’s economic participants of every stripe, from the bohemian hustler to the rat-racer. The city’s two most popular beaches, Bondi and Manly, face opposite directions, protecting from nor’easter onshores in the summer and magnifying wintertime north swells, respectively. Sure, the quality of surf pales in comparison to other regions in NSW, but with ridable to well-above average waves within close proximity to the city center, and the rest of the NSW coastline within striking distance, Sydney’s easily one of the best cities in the world to be a surfer.
It’s one of the most expensive cities in the world, so to live Sydney, you’ll need gainful employment and/or the capacity and skillset to hold down a side-hustle, or two. The fashion capital of a hyper-stylized country, opportunities in the creative sector, while highly competitive, abound. The city is also a global financial center–financial services account for nearly half of Sydney’s economic impact—and with a great many multinational firms keeping offices here, it’s possible you could be one of the ex-pats lucky enough to receive a transfer to Sydney. Meanwhile, with thousands of tourists, as well as commuters from the surrounding suburbs, pouring into the city each and everyday, and an endless amount of bars and restaurants popping up to serve them, service industry jobs are plentiful, though not often lucrative enough to match the high weekly housing costs. Again, be prepared to hustle.
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With beautiful weather and gourgeous beaches, superlative restaurants and bars, an infectious entrepreneurial and creative spirit, and lots of economic opportunity, there’s a reason there are more than 5 million “Sydneysiders,” currently–and more moving here everyday—despite Sydney being one of the most expensive cities in the world. If you’ve got moderately low standards for wave quality, with ridable surf nearly everyday, you’ll be satiated during the work week, and—if you take the time to venture out—stoked on what the rest of NSW has to offer.
Rio De Janeiro, Rio De Janeiro,
If you follow professional surfing, your impression of Rio’s surf quality has perennially been filtered through a lens of derision. Inconsistent. Imperfect. Dirty. Crowded. The truth is, however, that the Rio coastline—which boasts miles of puntable, wedgie beachbreaks—is a relative surfers paradise, with warm, turquoise water, consistent swell, a thriving beach culture, and ease of access to it all that could only fail to satisfy the most spoiled Top-34 surfers among us. Yes, surfing is quite popular in Rio and the lineups can get clogged. But with miles and miles of peaks breaking along various sandbars at a variety local beaches like Ipanema, Leblon, Arpador, and Barra, there’s abundance of places to get your fins loose.
Starting in the mid-2000s, Brazil’s economy began growing at a rapid clip, earning Rio international intrigue, huge foreign investments, and the opportunity to host both the Summer Olympic games and the World Cup. But after a precipitous drop in oil prices, political and economic turmoil has rattled the country, and Rio is now in the midst of a financial crisis. With the city government on the verge of bankruptcy, Rio’s meteoric rise has stalled for the time being. That being said, the city is still home to a variety of growing industries looking for highly skilled talent. If you want to live and work here, step one is to earn a four-year degree. And step two is to learn Portuguese. With emerging media, electronics, engineering, computer and banking sectors, Rio’s long been cultivating a large ex-pat community of highly skilled labor. If you have the passion and drive and can speak the language, gainful employment awaits you in Rio.
QUALITY OF LIFE:
As Rio limps through its current state of economic woes, income inequality–which has been a perennial bugaboo in this part of the world—is on the rise, as is crime and rates of HIV/AIDS. Despite its recent setbacks, though, Rio remains a richly eclectic, artistic, and romantic city, where surfing pairs nicely with a nearly tropical climate. And beyond the urban trappings of the second most populous city in Brazil—acclaimed restaurants, thriving arts and culture scene, madcap nightlife—there are giant green mountains, rainforests, and miles and miles of sandy beaches, all making it easy to see how Rio earned the nickname, cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city).