Life is truly a beach on the Crystal Coast, and visitors to the barley inland town of Beaufort, NC will find that there are a number of coastal shorelines nearby to appease a need for wave riding. From isolated barrier island destinations to popular beach towns that attract a crowd, surfers will discover that a great day of waves is a quick drive or boat ride away when they stay in historical Beaufort, NC.
Popular Beach Accesses and Surf Spots near Beaufort
Though Beaufort is technically a mainland town, visitors will find that accessing the ocean waves is a relatively easy venture. Whether you’re a newcomer to the sport or an old pro, you’ll want to check out these beaches that are a shell’s throw away from the heart of town, and which are known as popular destinations for surfers and beach lovers of all varieties.
The Circle, Atlantic Beach – The Circle is arguably the most popular beach along the Crystal Coast shoreline, and is an easy destination for Beaufort vacationers thanks to its locale that’s just across the bridge from neighboring Morehead City. Located almost directly off the Causeway, this popular beach features plenty of public parking, a wide beach with seasonal lifeguards, and a traditionally gentle sloping shoreline that makes it a great destination for beginners. Just watch out for other swimmers, surfers, and watersports fans sharing the waves and open waters – as the area’s most popular beach, surfers are bound to have some company.
Fort Macon State Park – For a slight break from the big summertime crowds, head east from the heart of Atlantic Beach and pay a visit to the Fort Macon State Park. Located just outside the town’s borders with nothing but sand dunes and a nearby historic Civil War-era fort, this destination is a great spot for beginning surfers, due to its typically small waves and shallow, gradually sloping shoreline. A large parking area just east of town has seasonal restrooms, snack stands, and a boardwalk which makes it easy to lug gear to the sand, and surfers can always venture down the shoreline 100 yards or so to find more desolate beaches where the crowds are thin. Though hopping in the summer months, fall and spring surfers will find plenty of elbow room both on the sand, and in the water.
Shackleford Banks – Beaufort beach fans will be just a quick water taxi ride away from one of the most pristine and undeveloped shorelines along the NC Coastline – the Shackleford Banks. Although there are no lifeguarded beaches on this undeveloped barrier island, Surfers will find plenty of elbow room as well as decent waves that can be exceptional when a storm or distant hurricane travels well offshore. This area is best explored by more advanced surfers due to its out-of-the-way location, however beginners will also be able to get their toes wet, especially in the summertime when the waves are small and relatively gentle.
Cape Lookout National Seashore – For a truly adventurous exploration, hop onboard a ferry in the heart of Downtown Beaufort and take a 40-45 minute cruise across the sound to land on the South Core Banks of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The beaches in this region that borders the Cape Lookout Lighthouse are nicely undeveloped, with little foot traffic, and miles of waves to go around. When a storm or hurricane is lurking offshore, the waves are outstanding and are at their best, providing miles of fun for the few surfers who decide to venture this far out into the Atlantic Ocean. If you visit, just use plenty of caution reaching the shoreline – there are no lifeguards, very few visitors, and regular rip currents, so a little experience with surfing along the OBX will go a long ways in staying safe.
Surfing Conditions near Beaufort
Because of Beaufort’s location on the edge of the coastline, the surfing conditions can vary widely depending on where a surfer lands, as well as the local weather or season. All of the surfing beaches close to Beaufort are on barrier islands that stick up to 20 miles offshore, and as such, currents, wind, and storms all play a huge factor in determining how large and ride-able the waves will be.
In the summer months, surfers can expect generally smaller waves that are ideal for beginners or long boarders who want a smooth and stress-free ride. The waves generally remain small and gentle until the fall and spring months when offshore hurricanes, storms, and high winds can churn up the waters and produce larger, waist to head high waves.
The best time for advanced surfers to hit the beach is when there’s a storm well offshore, (think Bermuda or even further), which in turn brings those big aftershocks of the waves close to the beach. During this time, expect local public beaches like The Circle and Fort Macon to be teeming with surfers, and use caution when exploring more isolated shorelines like the barrier islands of the Cape Lookout National Seashore.
As for water temperatures, surfers can generally paddle out from late May until October without a wet suit, and even in the cooler spring and late fall months, a spring suit may only be needed to stay warm. The water temps even in the dead of winter are generally in the high 50s, so surfers don’t have to worry about freezing, or heading to the beach with a hoodie and a full suit in tow.
One factor that surfers do have to keep in mind when it comes to surfing conditions, however, is rip currents, as the shifting sandbars found offshore as well as the maze of currents that affect the barrier island shorelines can result in the formation of rip currents all along the beaches. Watch for deep water dips or troughs where it looks like the waves are heading out to sea instead of close to shore, and use caution as needed. If you’re caught in a rip current, don’t panic, and paddle parallel to the shore until you’re out of it completely and can safely head back to the beach.
Surfing Lessons and Camps
Visitors who have never taken the plunge into surfing but who would love to start will find that there are a number of options for lessons and even day camps located just an easy drive away from Beaufort.
The best and easiest spot for new surfers to go to learn the tricks of the trade is the town of Atlantic Beach, which is the easternmost town along the Emerald Isle or Crystal Coast shoreline. In this popular beach destination, visitors will find a half dozen shops that offer lessons for new surfers of all ages, including kids and teens. Most lessons are held in a small group environment, and are just a couple hours long, allowing surfers to learn the basics and even catch a ride or two before their tutorial is done. Private instruction may also be available upon request, and visitors will want to peruse the local surf shops online before their vacation to see what’s available during their stay.
In addition, there are several surf shops in both Atlantic Beach and the town of Emerald Isle that offer full day, or multiple day camps, which allow visitors to truly dive into the sport and go from beginner to established rider in no time. These camps generally last all day, (or about 6 hours), and are fully immersive and available for boarders of all ages, and all skill levels.
While exact dates and times of lessons or camps vary, most surfing instruction is available in the summer months, when the waves are gentle enough to be conducive to new riders. Fall and spring lessons may also be available with advanced notice or reservations – contact your local surf instructor, surf camp, or surf shop for more information including dates, prices and availability.
Visitors who need a new board, rash guard, wet suit, or even just a little extra sunscreen will find a wide range of surf shops and watersports companies in Beaufort and beyond. Downtown Beaufort has several boarding stores where equipment like surf boards and wet suits can be acquired, and neighboring Morehead City and Atlantic Beach have even more options for wave riders of all varieties.
The majority of surf shops – especially in the Atlantic Beach area – also have rental boards for new riders and vacationers who are in need of temporary gear. Available by the hour, day, or even the week, a rental board is a great way to get your feet wet in the surfing scene without a long term equipment.
In addition, many of the surf shops in the Atlantic Beach area have new boards for sale from local and regional acclaimed carvers, as well as used boards at a discounted price – (and particularly at the end of the summer season, when old rental boards may go on sale.) With more than a half dozen surf shops in Atlantic Beach alone, and many more in nearby Emerald Isle and Morehead City, Beaufort vacationers will have no problem finding all the gear they need to ride the local waves for a full vacation, or even for a lifetime of on-the-water fun.
What to Know Before Surfing near Beaufort, NC
- Water repellent sunscreen is a must have item, especially in the summertime when the sun reflects off the ocean waves and is at its most potent and powerful.
- New surfers should steer clear of the Cape Lookout National Seashore and instead hit the lifeguarded shorelines of nearby Atlantic Beach. Because the Cape Lookout shorelines are isolated, with no lifesaving service or lifeguards, the waves can be dangerous for surfers who get stuck in a riptide or who are in need of assistance.
- If you are heading to the Cape Lookout beaches, (i.e., the South Core Banks or the Shackleford Banks), and are traveling to the shoreline via a ferry or water taxi, check ahead to see if there’s an extra fee for carrying along your gear. Some water taxis or ferry services may charge a little extra for passengers who bring along bulky equipment like surfboards, so be sure and see if there are any restrictions or extra costs involved before climbing aboard.
- Several beaches along the Crystal Coast shoreline are popular with all varieties of watersports fans – including surfers, paddle boarders, fishermen, kayakers, and swimmers – so use caution and pay attention to other folks enjoying the water. This is especially true at some of the area’s most popular beaches, like The Circle in Atlantic Beach.
- Want to scout out larger waves? Head north. Neighboring Ocracoke Island and Hatteras Island are two of the hottest destinations for surfers along the East Coast, and are a relatively easy drive away. Visitors just need to head north on NC Highway 12, and hop on a 2.5 hour vehicular ferry across the Pamlico Sound to connect with Ocracoke Island, and in turn, the Hatteras Island shoreline.
- Want the best chance of encountering big waves? Make a fall trip. With higher winds, offshore storms, and regular swells, the fall months are the best time for surfers to catch a bigger, better ride.
Surfing is a steadily popular sport along the Crystal Coast, and Beaufort vacationers will be close to the heart of the action, thanks to an outlying barrier of beaches that can have exceptional wave conditions for beginners and advanced boarders alike. Swing by a local watersports shop for a board rental, or sign up for a lesson in neighboring Atlantic Beach, and get your toes wet into one of the Southern Outer Banks’ favorite ways to enjoy the waves.