Surfing and road trips have always gone hand in hand. To chase waves, you need a fair degree of mobility, and nothing offers the get-up-and-go freedom of a road trip.
We’ve scoured five continents to source five of the best surf road trips on the planet. Pack your board bags. We’re hitting the road.
Hossegor to LisbonDistance: 750 miles as the crow flies or 1,500 miles as the camper van drives
Description: Taking in the southwest of France, the northern coastline of Spain and the whole of Portugal, this a multicultural feast that includes some of the world’s greatest waves and cities.
Stopovers: A route that takes in Biarritz, Mundaka, Rodiles, Pantin, Porto, Nazaré and Ericeira will ensure memories that will last a lifetime.
Dangers: The Spanish and Portuguese locals aren’t exactly known for embracing tourists, while theft is a problem in some of the more built-up areas. Falling hopelessly in love with a local is also a concern.
You’ll need: A camper van — nothing else will do. There are great campgrounds set up along the whole drive and no one looks after camper vans as do the Europeans.
Don’t miss: The town of Mundaka boasts incredible charm and one of the best waves in the world. A stop-off at Nazaré, and the chance to watch 100-foot waves, should also not be missed.
Sydney to the Gold CoastDistance: 540 miles
Description: The Pacific Highway traces 500 miles of secluded beaches, famous pointbreaks, coastal towns and infinite good times. Campgrounds line the coast and you can choose to do the drive over a week, three months or a year.
Stopovers: Byron Bay, Yamba, Crescent Head and Pacific Palms are musts, but by simply heading off the Pacific Highway and detouring to the coast, you’ll find hidden gems along the whole stretch.
Dangers: The Australian police don’t tolerate speeding or drunk driving, and a single infraction can end your trip, as will a bite by any number of snakes, spiders, lizards, scorpions, octopus and sharks.
You’ll need: A trusted co-pilot, an esky (an Australian cooler), 1,500 bucks for gas, a car with four wheels, a tent and plenty of sunscreen.
Don’t miss: Crescent Head is a perfect pointbreak made for learning, surrounded by empty beaches and the clearest water on the coast.
Baja CaliforniaDistance: 1,000 miles
Description: The Trans Peninsular Highway runs from Tijuana to Cabo San Lucas and has provided West Coast surfers an outlet for waves and adventure for more than 50 years. It’s not always easy, and disasters can happen, but the rewards will always be worth the potholes, breakdowns and shakedowns.
Stopovers: Heading south, Guerrero Negro is around the midpoint and is a great place to sit back and reassess. Wave-wise, the most popular spots include Abreojos, Scorpion Bay, Los Cerritos and The Wall. However, these are just the very tiny tip of what is an enormous iceberg of right-hand points and fun beachbreaks.
Dangers: Past Ensenada, the true wilds of Baja start, and there are vast tracts of road without food, gas, water and cell-phone reception. Potholes are legendary, the roads can be diabolical and the police are not always your friend.
You’ll need: A reliable 4WD, plenty of planning and provisions, a fair amount of patience, some mechanical know-how and as many surfboards for as many conditions as you can pack.
Don’t miss: Loreto, Bahia Concepcion, the remote La Paz settlement for adventure and Los Cabos for more debauched fun.
Durban to Cape TownDistance: 1,000 miles
Description: Those 1,000 miles cover a hugely diverse range of habitats, from the warm beaches of Durban to the isolated grasslands of the Transkei and the coastal majesty of the Garden Route, before finishing under the mountains of Cape Town.
Stopovers: The traditional huts of the Transkei, the waves of Jeffreys Bay, Addo Elephant National Park’s wildlife and the coastal bays of the Garden Route are perfectly spaced along the stretch.
Dangers: It’s a sharky place, and surfing at dusk and dawn is to be avoided. Violence is also prevalent, but less so on the coastal routes away from major urban centers.
You’ll need: Thick wetsuits, a reliable vehicle, a stack of surfboards and the ability to eat a lot of red meat.
Don’t miss: The waves of Jeffreys Bay are known as some of the most perfect in the world, the Cango Caves are incredible and a trip to the top of Cape Town’s Table Mountain is a must.
Santiago to AricaDistance: 1,200 miles
Description: Driving south from Chile’s capital, Santiago, to its northernmost surf town is one of the great surf adventures left on the planet. Huge waves, endless left-hand points and dramatic scenery await, and if you can deal with the cold, and a lack of crowds, wild surfing doesn’t get better or cheaper.
Stopovers: Stop at the surfing and population bases of La Serena, Antofagasta, San Pedro de Atacama and Iquique before ending up at the big-wave haven of Arica near the Peruvian border.
Dangers: The cold water is a constant issue, and the road network isn’t exactly Route 66, so vigilance and a safety-first attitude are required. Survive them and you just have to worry about the huge waves.
You’ll need: A well-equipped and reliable 4WD, a handy grasp of Spanish, a load of rubber and surfboards that don’t break easily.
Don’t miss: The Atacama Desert is the world’s driest place and offers a bare but beautiful landscape that’s out of this world.