There has always been something inherently charming about the expectations of surf.
Anticipating and arriving at a destination has weaved itself into surf culture. From a flight descending to a palm-lined isle in the middle of the blue ocean to the romantic images of a singlefin strapped to a van, the act of getting there is as much a part of surfing’s story as the actual waveriding. Even the most pasty-faced tourist family knows there’s something special about Kam Highway or PCH.
The actual roads that lead to surf have become iconic themselves in the surf world and beyond. Here are a few of them.
Kamehameha “Kam” Highway – Oahu
Perhaps the most highly anticipated byway in all of surfing is named after King Kamehameha, Hawaii’s King from 1782 to 1819. Technically starting at Nimitz Highway on the South Shore and composed of several different numbered highways, it runs north through the cane fields and military bases of Oahu. But the famed stretch is home to some of the most high-profile surf spots in the world.
The North Shore lives on swells that march down from the violent North Pacific Ocean. During the summer, it’s a quiet ride. But in the winter, expect to encounter half of the surfing world (and a whole lot of tourists).
You head north past the town of Haleiwa over the Haleiwa River and traffic stops in front of Lani’s, which (depending on the swell direction) might be a firing right-hander. (Maybe grab an icy cold fresh pineapple juice from a stand on the side of the road.)
Then you lose cell service as you drive the sacred Waimea Valley before passing Log Cabins, Pipeline and Rocky Point. You make the requisite stop at Ted’s Bakery before the Sunset Beach neighborhood. It’s called the “7-Mile Miracle” for a reason.
NC 12 – North Carolina
It is Southern charm and heavy beach breaks through unspoiled coastal nature. NC 12 is a 148-mile coastal road that starts at the beach town of Corolla and actually runs all the way down past the island community of Ocracoke, where stretches of 12 are connected only by the NC Ferry System. (Think barrels, surf fishing and hush puppies.)
The most traveled parts of NC 12 for the wave hungry are where it becomes the coastal road through Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, running parallel to the multi-lane 158 (aka Croatan Highway), bustling with bars, restaurants, all manner of attraction and surf culture including Brew Thru, a tradition for all visitors.
But the two roads merge at Whalebone Junction and 12 runs the miles and miles of skinny barrier island that makes up the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, peppered with only a few small towns.
Life slows down here and the beauty of this stretch is that you can score one of the named spots like S-Turns, Rodanthe Pier or Hatteras Lighthouse, or you could happen onto a random sandbar for just you and your buds.
413 “Road to Happiness” – Puerto Rico
Generations of surfers have arrived in Rafael Hernández Airport to sample the tropical wonders of the West Coast of Puerto Rico. And while the Aguadilla region is loaded with reefs, a trip down 413 delivers you to more surf, sun and good times in Rincon.
This stretch runs through authentic barrios, with rum and fresh baked donuts on every corner. Even with Hurricane Maria devastating this region in 2017, it’s fully open for business this winter.
Many East Coasters remember Rincon as their first tropical surf trip. Today, it’s as much a tourist/party town as it is a surf destination, which has caused the infamous highway to be dubbed the “Road to Rehab,” but it’s still holding plenty for the surfer, diver, fisherman and adventurer.
From Rivermouth to Pools Beach and Domes, (don't worry, that old nuclear reactor has been dormant since the ’70s) around the point at “El Faro” to Marias, Dogmans and the infamous Caribbean big wave spot, Tres Palmas, it’s still the stuff dreams are made of.
Pacific Coast Highway – California
This list would be seriously incomplete without the inclusion of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) through California. This longest state route in California, is a stunning coastal tour of the Golden State. From the north, it runs through San Francisco, past Half Moon Bay (Mavericks), Northern California's waveriding hub of Santa Cruz, past Monterrey, through the dramatic seascapes of Big Sur and the long stretch of Central Coast into Ventura and Los Angeles.
However, for the sake of this piece, let’s focus on the segment starting in Orange County. Surfing was born in Hawaii, but this is now Ground Zero for the surf industry. There’s a certain excitement based on the nostalgia of the surf history here, and with temperate climate year-round and a dense population, it’s also a snarl of traffic.
You can still stop at the Katin store in Seal Beach for legendary custom trunks, pick off a few waves at the Huntington Beach Pier, take a beating at the Wedge in Newport, and check the swell at Doheny State Beach from your PCH vantage, all on your way down toward the spoils of San Clemente.
And when you need to refuel, there’s a taco stand just about every mile. (We’re partial to the local staple, Pedro’s Tacos.)
“The Freeway” – Tahiti
The Freeway makes our list simply because one of the most celebrated and dangerous surf spots in the world, Teahupoo, is located at the end of it.
Although it’s known for the menacing man-eater of a wave formed by all the energy in the Pacific stacking up and folding onto a shallow reef, the literal Tahitian translation of the village of Teahupoo is “the end of the road.”
There is really only one way to get to this famed reef pass and that is the West Coast Freeway, which runs almost the entire circumference of the island, stopping at Teahupoo. It’s an easy drive, although you should certainly make a stop for Poisson Cru, a dish of raw tuna and coconut milk.
The pride of French Polynesia, geographically, Tahiti looks like a circle with an misshapen conjoined peninsula – two volcanic mountain ranges, Tahiti-Nui and Tahiti-Iti. Assuming the overland portion of the journey begins at Fa’a’ā International Airport, the freeway runs south along the coast from the population center of Pape’eta gives way to the tropical villages. Teahupoo is about a 90-minute drive.
With the 8,000-foot high lush mountain ranges on your left and gorgeous South Pacific on your right, if you’re a little nervous about what’s at the end of the road, well … you should be. Thankfully, there are other surf spots around that are less life-threatening.
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