Keep the Waves All to Yourself at Secret, Exotic Surfing Spots

Bocas del Toro, Panama
Bocas del Toro, Panama

The waves at Bocas del Toro, Panama, are uncrowded and warm. (Photo:

By Julie Earle-Levine

Tired of shredding the crowded waters where you live? Try these under-the-radar global locales, recommended by our experts, for empty beaches, gnarly waves, and laid-back nights. Get ready to jet to Indonesia, Papua, New Guinea, and Israel for starters.

Indonesia — Nihiwatu, Sumba Island


Terry Simms surfs Nihiwatu beach in Indonesia.

Pro surfer-turned-teacher Terry Simms, who recently launched Kadu, a beach and surfwear line inspired by Sumba’s ikat textiles, has been coming to this archipelago for more than a decade. Though he traverses the globe as a private instructor, Simms — who has surfed with Rob Lowe, Eric Eisner (son of Michael Eisner, the ex-Disney CEO), and Olaf Hermes of the French fashion house Hermes — says Nihiwatu is still his favorite spot. “When you arrive and set your eyes on a perfect left, there is not another surfer in sight,” he says. “Its eye-popping empty left is worthy of its name, ‘Gods Left.’”

Sleep: Stay at the lavish Nihiwatu ecolodge in a hillside bungalow with private plunge pool overlooking the 1 ½-mile white sand beach; it accepts only 10 guests at one time. The resort reopened in April with new U.S. owners, including a former general manager of The Carlyle in New York. From $495 a person per night, minimum three-day stay.

Dine: If you can drag yourself away from the local organic fare at Nihiwatu, go to Clayton’s Warung, within walking distance of the resort, for local food such as tofu or chicken and peppers over rice.

Related: I Hate Being Wet and Cold. So Why Did I Go Surfing in Ireland in October?

Papua New Guinea — New Guinea

Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Intrepid surfers have been riding the world-class waves here since the 1980s and, Simms says, “it’s on the top of my list of new places to go. There’s a thousand miles of coastline and a hundred possibilities.” He notes “curlies” and “slipperies” — fun, small peaks close to shore found near the Rubio Plantation, are a great way to start. He warns, however, to be aware of sharks in this region.

Sleep: Stay at Rubio Plantation on the beach for basic traditional accommodation (think mosquito nets, solar panels and, yes, flush toilets and showers). It’s a quick paddle out to waves, and additional surf spots can be gotten to at extra cost. From $130 a night, including meals.

Dine: Eat at the resort, where the chef serves up family-style meals, and homemade breads and pastries in a dining room overlooking the surf break. The specialty here is chocolate, made from cocoa beans grown on the plantation.

Panama – Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro surfing
Bocas del Toro surfing

Bocas del Toro, Panama. (Photo:

The uncrowded, warm waves at Bocas del Toro archipelago are recommended by Calavara founder Anna Jerstrom, an intrepid surfer and swimwear designer originally from Stockholm. Calavara is a favorite of Beth Behr (“2 Broke Girls”), Jill Fink (Patrick Dempsey’s wife), and surfer and model Anastasia Ashley. “Bocas has a very Caribbean vibe and breaks for different levels. You can get to them by bike or boat, which I love,” says Jerstrom. There are busy, popular breaks, such as those found in Carenero — an island in the archipelago — which are also great for watching the locals rip it up. Or, try Isla Colon, whose “Paunch” and “Tiger Tale” are the closest breaks to town. Alana Blanchard, Mike Fanning, and Tom Curren regularly surf Bocas, as does Helena Christensen’s boyfriend, rocker Paul Banks.

Sleep: Stay at Pukalani Hostal close to the surf. Plus, the owner has a boat to take you on day trips. Oceanfront rooms from $80 a night.

Dine: Directly in front of Tiger Tale is Paki’s Point Art, Surf, Food, a bar and restaurant great for jalapeno burgers, seafood, cold beers, and margaritas.

Related: Hang 10, It’s Hurricane Season! Where to Surf the Craziest Storm Waves Around the World

Mexico – Salina Cruz, Oaxaca

Salina Cruz, Oaxaca surfing
Salina Cruz, Oaxaca surfing

Pro surfer Josh Mulcoy, left, is a fan of Las Palmeras, owned by David Ramirez, right. (Photo: Las Palmeras Surf Camp)

Josh Mulcoy, a pro surfer and owner of Mulcoy Travel, which books surf camps worldwide, has been coming here for 15 years. “It’s the best place on the Earth to surf,” he says, comparing it to Australia’s Gold Coast minus the crowd, in part because of the more than 30 scalloped sand headlands between Salina Cruz and Hautulco. “There are so many world-class waves lumped into a small area.”

Sleep: Mulcoy likes Las Palmeras, a locally owned-and-operated surf camp for a nice, safe place to stay. Local guides can take you to the best waves in the area (driving to find surf spots on your own can be difficult). Mulcoy also offers one-on-one personalized coaching there.

Dine: Eating at the resort is a treat. “The food is incredible,” says Mulcoy of the fresh seafood plates, pastas, and beans and rice, plus delicious watermelon, mango, and pineapple juices. Cost is $1,025 a person including guided tours, three meals a day and resort accommodation for 12 surfers.

Israel – Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv surfing
Tel Aviv surfing

Teens surfing in Tel Aviv. (Photo: Shutterstock)

While surfing was brought to Israel back in the 1950s, by Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz, it’s recently been attracting a growing number of world-class athletes, including surf legends Kelly Slater and Tom Curren. Steve Weinrib. a New York surfer who co-founded ReSurf Project, a mentorship program that teaches underprivileged kids in Tel Aviv and in New York to surf, says Herzliya, a 10-minute drive from Tel Aviv, is a great, friendly area for out-of-towners to stay and to surf. Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium Beach is another big surf spot. Go to Israel Surf Club (Retsif Herbet Samuel St 5), within walking distance to the beach, for boards, and lessons.

Sleep: Stay at Okeanos Bamarina, luxury one- and two-bedroom apartments on the water in the most affluent beach area in Israel, and around the corner from great surfing. Rates are from $230 a night for a junior suite.

Dine: Splurge on cocktails at the rooftop bar with pool and sweeping beach views at The Ritz Carlton Herzliya at the marina.

Related: Surfing in the City: The Netherlands Announces Plans for Crazy Urban Wave Pool

Costa Rica – Santa Rosa National Park

costa rica surfing
costa rica surfing

GoSouthCR Adventures in Costa Rica.

A legendary surf paradise, Costa Rica is best known for Santa Rosa National Park’s Witch’s Rock and Ollie’s Point. But there are no less than 14 other excellent park surf spots, including a locale literally known as “the place nobody talks about,” according to Walter Lotz, the Costa Rican owner of GoSouth Adventures who has surfed with Toms shoes founder Blake Mycoskie, Cuban model Tammy Torres, and surfers Alexa Bunny Star and Sunny Garcia. Situated an hour off the Papagayos Peninsula — Lotz can take you there by boat — it’s populated only with Coast Guard and fishermen.

Sleep: Stay at Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo, a 181-room luxe hotel where GoSouth can pick you up for surfing. After, try the Costa Rican volcano mud treatment or a scrub with Arabica coffee at the hotel’s swank spa. The hotel’s restaurants and lobby are getting a revamp this fall. From $475 a night.

Dine: Ruhal Barrientos Gazel, a French-trained Costa Rican chef and surfer with GoSouth, delivers tuna “lollipops” — chicken skewers with tamarind sauce, watermelon gazpacho and ceviche, washed down with chilled, local Imperial beer.

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