If learning to surf has been on your to-do list for a while, the good news is: it’s never too late. You can pick up this sport at any age. And now’s the perfect time: With surfing set to make its debut at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the sport is only going to continue to get more popular.

 But before tackling chest-high waves, some baby steps are in order. As a newbie, it’s important to seek out gentle, rolling waves and sandy ocean bottoms when first getting your feet wet. You want a no-pressure environment when perfecting the art of balancing on a board. Lucky for you, we’ve chosen a few beginner-friendly breaks from the world’s longest lefthand wave in Peru to a friendly spot in Hawaii to an ecological preserve in California. 

a family of five runs down a beach with a cottage in the background each one holding a surfboard or boogie board
Every one knows Maui has some of the larges breaks in the world, but here are smaller, steadier spots on the island that are fun for everyone © FatCamera via Getty Images

Lahaina, Hawaii

We all know Maui has some super epic surf spots like Jaws and Ho‘okipa Lookout, but what about the breaks that are suited to first-timers? No worries, there are plenty of those, too. 

Ukumehame Beach Park near Lahaina on Maui is one of ‘em. Also known as “Thousands,” this spot off of Honoapiilani Highway, has an impressive stretch of breaks. With so many peaks available, you and your surf instructor will be able to find one that’s not crowded. 

Make it happen:

Maui Surf Lessons will teach you everything from how to select the best waves to surf etiquette (aka how not to be a kook). Because the lessons are private you also may catch on a bit more quickly than if you were in a large group lesson. Bonuses: 1) The view of the West Maui Mountains. 2) Maui Surf Lessons provides digital photos so you have proof to show your friends back home.

Better yet, the company is big on ocean stewardship and supports the Hawaiian Ecotourism Association principles of sustainable tourism. You, and your guide (who happens to be a certified marine naturalist) will do a mini beach cleanup before you surf, and you’ll learn lots about caring for our oceans along the way.

Two people scale steep stairs down to a deserted white sand beach
With miles of beaches from North to South, Peru has a rich surfing culture with plenty of opportunities for beginners © Sarah Sekula / Lonely Planet

Puerto Chicama, Peru

Peruvians have been surfing since at least 1000 BC. Pottery from pre-Incan times show a man on a log-like vessel plowing down the waves. Fast forward to today, and the surf culture is still going strong. With 1,600 miles of coastline, Peru is a surfer’s paradise year-round from Punta Hermosa, where world surfing champ Sofia Mulanovich learned to surf, to Lima, there are enough waves to please every level.

Puerto Chicama, home to the world's longest lefthand wave, is ideal for beginners. That's because the length and direction of the waves makes them easier to catch, and gives you more time per wave to practice your moves. For novice surfers, December to March is the best timeframe when waves are smaller and more mellow.

Make it happen:

Chicama Boutique Hotel hosts surfers and travelers from around the world. After hours out on the water, wind down at the hotel with a cooking lesson, yoga or a nearby hike for a grand view of the waves from above.

Don’t have a lot of planning time? Consider having a company like Austin Adventures put together an adventure trip including as much surfing, hiking and biking as you can handle. They do all the leg work and customize it, so you get to just worry about having fun.

Related Content:

Learning as you go: American family adventures

8 adrenaline-filled U.S. trips for teens

Catch a wave in the 10 best countries for surfing

A young boy on a surf board in a wet suit flashes hand signs and makes a funny face while riding a wave
San Diego is a great family destination and what better thing to do as a family than learn a new skill? © Surf Diva

San Diego, California

There’s no doubt San Diego has plenty of waves to choose from. This popular coastal city has 70 miles of epic coastline just begging you to paddle out. La Jolla Shores is a great place to learn thanks to the prevailing southwest wind and the lifeguards who stay on duty throughout the year.

Make it happen:

Everyday California will have you catching waves in no time in one of southern California’s prettiest surf locales: the La Jolla Ecological Reserve. Here in the calm, shallow water packed with nutrient-rich kelp forests, you’ll be surrounded by four microhabitats. A 90-minute surf sesh will teach you the basics and likely have you stoked on surfing for life. There’s also a very good chance you’ll spot bright-orange Garibaldi fish.

Three people run down a beach under towering palm trees with surf boards
While Barbados has one of the most epic waves in the world, check out the southeastern side to catch a few gentle rollers © John Seaton Callahan / Getty Images

Inch Marlow, Barbados

Of course, the Caribbean is the ideal environment for beach lounging, but there comes a point when you’ll be ready for some action. When that time comes, go to Surfer’s Point, on the southeastern part of Barbados where the Atlantic joins forces with the Caribbean Sea. It is the ultimate hang-ten mecca for newbie and intermediate surfers.

Soup Bowl, on the other hand, is a nasty curl off the island’s eastern side which you’ll want to steer clear of. Kelly Slater – the Michael Phelps of surfing – says it’s one of the top three waves in the world. However, it’s only for veteran surfers. 

It’s still worth driving over to Bathsheba (where Soup Bowl is located), though, to glance at the fierce waves from the craggy cliffs. The giant, moss-covered limestone boulders standing stately above the ocean floor make for an excellent photo op. If you’re visiting in November, make a point to check out the annual surf competition

Make it happen:

Burkie Surf School takes beginners out on friendly 1 to 3-foot waves in the horseshoe-shaped bay at Surfer's Point. While getting the hang out it, be sure to keep an eye out for sea turtles, manta rays and reef fish. Another major plus: The water never goes below 75 degrees; so there’s no need to wiggle your way into a wetsuit. Besides surfing, this is also a prime spot for kayaking, wake boarding kitesurfing and windsurfing.

A man stands with is back to the camera at the edge of the ocean with a surf board
Uncrowded and with consistent waves, Eleuthera is the perfect place for beginners © Bahamas Ministry of Tourism

Eleuthera, Bahamas

In north central Eleuthera, two miles south of Gregory Town, where the southwest winds blow in from the Atlantic, you’ll find Surfer’s Beach. It’s off the beaten path, but that’s exactly its appeal. In addition to having the most consistent break on the island, it’s also rarely crowded. This is key when you’re learning to surf since it takes some time to master turning the board to dodge other surfers.

Make it happen:

Surfer Pete is happy to show you the ropes. He’s been carving up waves here for decades and shares his knowledge through surfing lessons. Pete and his wife, Rebecca, run a shop where you can rent the essentials—surf boards, boogie boards, snorkel gear, you name it. 

Pete says his favorite things about Surfer’s Beach are the fact that local surfers are super welcoming and helpful. You’ll often spot regulars like Rat Dog or Tattoo while paddling out, and they generously share the waves. He also appreciates how clean and insanely gorgeous the water is. Be aware of sea urchins, rocks and coral on this reef break. May through July is the best time for beginners.

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

This article was first published Nov 19, 2019 and updated Feb 7, 2020.

Explore related stories

Surfer girl - stock photo
Taken outside of San Diego in the spring.


8 of the best things to do in San Diego

Jun 3, 2024 • 7 min read