There was a time when even Bali was under the radar, when no surfer had ripped up the lips of Uluwatu or Padang Padang. Same goes for Oahu, for Hossegor, for Newquay.
These now-epic spots had to be discovered and conquered by wave riders before they could enter the international surf consciousness – and there are more still to come.
Cue this guide to five of the world's under-the-radar surf breaks. Rather than tearing up the unwritten rulebook and spilling the beans on secret waves, we've focused on a handful of surf destinations that are on the rise. It's an eclectic mix, boasting both taverna-backed isles in the Med and desert-fringed nations on the Arabian Peninsula.
Before diving in, know your surf etiquette
We'll go right ahead and say it: surfers can be downright touchy about their breaks. Localism – the tendency to be protective over your home waves – is likely to be an issue all over the globe, no matter if you're paddling out at Trestles, South Cali, or chasing one of the lesser-known waves listed below.
Hate it or see the justification, the best way to handle anger in the lineup is the same as it would be out of the water. Ignore. Smile. Apologize if you have to. Just do everything you can to avoid being caught up in the aggro. The bottom line is that surfing is supposed to be fun.
Of course, the usual rules also apply, perhaps even more so when you're charging under-the-radar waves. That means handing rides to the person who has right of way – first to the furthest out, then to the one closest to the peak, and then to the rider who's fastest to pop to their feet. It means never dropping in on waves that aren't yours and apologizing right away if you do get something wrong.
On top of that, people in up-and-coming surf destinations might not be used to seeing board riders in the water. Be respectful of the cohorts that were there before – swimmers, snorkelers, fishing folk.
Hong Kong's surf scene has come into its own
About 30 minutes' ride from the steaming dim sum houses and shimmering skyscrapers of Kowloon and Central, there's a whole leg of the Hong Kong archipelago that hoovers up wintertime waves from the Pacific Ocean. Truth is, surfing is nothing new here. It was popularized in the 1970s and '80s by British and American expats, who even dodged government beach closures to ride the strong typhoon swells.
Fast forward to today and it's all much more mainstream in the metropolis. There are at least three dedicated surf schools playing their trade. Yes, the waves are fickle. Yes, there are always whispers of sharks breaking through the nets. But there are occasional days when the beaches of Cheung Sha and Shek-O really come into their own, offering peeling lefts and rights to rip on.
The best surf spot in Hong Kong: Big Wave Bay
Anyone who's ever surfed in Big Wave Bay will know it's hardly the Oahu North Shore that its moniker implies. But it is the most reliable surf spot in Hong Kong, with a direct southwest-facing swell window that receives all the winter action from the Pacific. Perfect for learners, the spot offers crumbly knee-high breakers most of the time, but there are moments when the stars align and it holds big six-footers for more experienced riders.
Namibia is a surfing one-hit wonder
Before 2008, Namibia was a place for exotic surf expeditions out of South Africa. Then Surfing Magazine ran a now-legendary Google Earth Challenge asking armchair adventurers to find potential breaks using satellite imagery, and the rest is history.
An unsuspecting software developer from the OC named Brian Gable came up with a strange dogleg of a sandbar somewhere on the remote Skeleton Coast. A year later, pro Cory Lopez was riding it, conquering what's gone down as one of the longest sand-bottomed left handers ever recorded – more than a minute in the tube!
The thing is, Skeleton Bay, as the break is now known, is Namibia's surfing one-hit wonder. There aren't really any other spots. But this is enough to catapult it to epic status, even if you're looking at gnarly 4X4 rides over the desert and navigating waters rife with great whites on the hunt for that barrel.
The best surf spot in Namibia: Skeleton Bay
It's expert-only stuff at Skeleton Bay, the break that's singlehandedly responsible for putting Namibia on the surfing map. A fortuitous confluence of geography and bathymetry, the spot only appeared in the last 20 years or so thanks to a shift in the dominant wind direction. They say it will disappear just as quickly, which is why pros flock to catch the northwest swells between July and September.
Expect a churning left-hander that rifles for up to 2km (1.2 miles). It's not for rippers – it's a case of swerving into the pocket and whizzing through a tube from start to finish. Epic stuff.
Italy's waves are best in autumn and winter
Come in search of saffron risotto and visions of ancient Roman temples, leave having scored some of the top waves in the Mediterranean basin. That's doable in Italy these days, thanks to a burgeoning surf scene up and down the western coast – there are waves to be had all the way from the rocky bays of Sicily to the beaches of Tuscany.
The downside is that Italy gets zero ocean groundswells, the bigger, more powerful waves that roll into Portugal and France. That means you need to wait for the autumn and winter wind systems to push up through the Ligurian Sea, bringing punchy, wedgy sets that can combine to create some seriously fun conditions. Overall, it's the Green Coast of Sardinia and the Italian Riviera that get the best.
The best surf spot in Italy: Varazze
Spilling into the sea from the lush hills of the Ligurian Alps, not that far away from the Italian-French border, Varazze is a salt-washed town of Romanesque-Lombard churches and sparkling beachfronts. In the winter, when the bikini bodies have departed, it's also home to one of the best-quality waves Italy can muster. As the swells hit the Molo Marinai d'Italia breakwater, they form a wedge that froths right into a bowl-like wall, which holds more like something out of Southern California than the Med.
Oman's point breaks are a logger's dream come true
Rarely do waves feature in the travel offerings of Oman – usually it's all shifting sand dunes, trekking in the serrated Al Hajar Mountains, 4X4 adventures into craggy wadis and the bazaars of Muscat. But the country's western coast, one that's totally exposed to the open Arabian Sea and the vast Indian Ocean, has piqued the interest of surfers in the last decade or so. Those who've come have been rewarded with clean, shifty point breaks that are a logger's dream come true.
Many of the spots remain a hushed secret. But there's no embargo on the exposed beach breaks of Ras Al Hadd, the stomping ground of the well-rated Oman Surf School, or the peeling point at Al Asilah. Summer has the more reliable conditions, but perpetual south winds are the enemy. Winter is better, but good swells are few and far between then.
The best surf spot in Oman: Joe's Point
There are many dents and nooks in the Omani shoreline around the pint-sized beach hamlet of Al Asilah, creating a medley of breaks of varying quality. Best-known among them is Joe's Point, by winter a cruisy peeler where you can enjoy longboard rides of over 300m (984ft) on big-period swells.
Greece has great surfing for beginners
More than 9,000 miles of coastline ensure that the land of feta and dancing Zorbas has enough exposure to the water to make it a potential surf destination. But you'll have to forgo the sun-baked sands of the Cyclades for a winter trip to Greece if you want the best waves. Again, it's windswell reliant, meaning December to March is high time at the most famous spots, which are sprinkled all over, from the distant Costa Navarino on the Peloponnese to the west-facing bays of Crete.
There's been a nascent local surf scene here for decades, mainly made up of opportunist enthusiasts who've scouted the tail end of medicanes (cyclone-style storms that sweep through the Med from September to January). That's changing though, and there's now a well-rated school in Tinos, one on the Athenian Riviera and a couple along the north coast of Crete just west of Chania.
The best surf spot in Greece: Kolymbithra
The shape and orientation of this umbrella-dotted bay on the north side of Tinos means it gets knee-high rollers that are spot on for surfers still learning the ropes. The best part? High season for both sun and waves converge here, as it's summer's Meltemi winds that bring the goods. The local surf school operates out of the run-down VW camper that doubles as a beach bar – obviously!