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Catch Waves Surfing on Hatteras Island 

It's hard to find better waves on the East Coast than the ones on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. For years, Hatteras Island has been known as one of the best surfing beaches in the state, attracting surfers from New Jersey to Florida. Almost any swell or storm that makes its way across the Atlantic will produce waves along Hatteras Island, and with 70 miles of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, it's easy to find a spot where the surf's up.

When storms occur, day trippers from mainland North Carolina and Virginia flock to popular surfing breaks: Mirlo Beach in Rodanthe, Old Road in Avon, the old Frisco Pier, and the lifeguarded beach in Buxton to enjoy the waves. National surfing tournaments have taken notice of the world-class surfing here, and the Outer Banks is home to the annual Eastern Surfing Association tournament, which determines the top East Coast surfers who will make it to the USA surfing championships.

Surfer with surfboard under an arm traverses a grassy due in silhouette heading toward the ocean
Water view of a surf instructor pushing a boy on a surfboard into a green wave under a blue sky as part of a surf lesson

The History of Hatteras Island Surfing

While Hatteras Island is now known as a surfing mecca, it was virtually undiscovered by surfers until the 1970s. In the 1960s, a handful of local teens surfed here. However, the installation of the Herbert C Bonner Bridge linking Hatteras Island to the rest of the Outer Banks, as well as the surge in surfing's popularity following the "Gidget" era, put Hatteras Island on the map.

Surfing Magazine ran a feature in 1969, hailing Hatteras Island as one of the best East Coast locations, drawing the attention of everyone. Surfers worldwide started making the journey to the Outer Banks to see what was so special, and they kept coming back.

Due to the rise in popularity of surfing, several Hatteras Island surfing shops have sprung up on the island, including:

  • REAL Watersports located in Waves, offers lessons from two-hour private sessions to three-day full immersion camps. 
  • Ride Hatteras is located in Avon and offers lessons from one-and-a-half to two-hours long. No need to bring your own board, they will supply one for you!
  • Hatteras Island Boardsports, located across NC Hwy 12 from the Avon Pier, offers two-hour lessons. Whether you want one-on-one coaching or want to learn with the whole group, they will supply everything you need including the board and even a wetsuit for colder water temperatures. 
  • Fox Watersports in Buxton offers lessons including up to three people lasting about an hour and a half long. They also offer surfboards for sale of varying brands.
  • Natural Art Surf Shop is located in Buxton and offers lessons through the Endless Summer Surf OBX surf camp. Ranging from two-day to five-day packages, you can utilize the knowledge of up to two instructors to get you up on the board and coasting towards the shore. After your lesson, head to the store and purchase your own board! 

Visitors can purchase custom boards designed specifically for Hatteras Island waves or simply rent one for the week of their vacation. Several of these shops also offer lessons, perfect for beginners.

What to Know about Hatteras Surfing Seasons

North swells wrap around the cape, creating fast, powerful lefts that reel for hundreds of yards. South swells, including those generated by hurricanes, tend to produce hollow beach break rights along the north side. 

In June and July, expect smaller waves, ideal for beginners. A longboard or a nice fat fish board will go a long way. Find a break near your vacation rental home, or drive along the beaches via ORV access ramps to hunt for the best spot.

In the fall and spring, storms and low-pressure systems may bring larger swells, especially north of Cape Hatteras. Locals and visitors alike crave the coastal storms that sometimes bring double overhead waves. Even on the most popular beaches, like Buxton's Lighthouse Beach near the old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, there are usually plenty of waves to go around. With miles and miles of seashore to explore, it's not hard to find a break all to yourself.

If you paddle out in the winter or spring, you'll probably want a wetsuit as the ocean can be a few degrees colder than the air temperature. The ocean stays warm in the fall well into October, and a spring suit, or no wetsuit at all, might be a good choice.

Whether you are a novice or an expert, the beaches of Hatteras Island can offer everything from easy chest high waves for beginners to storm-induced swells that rival the best West Coast surfing beaches. Bring your board, or rent one while on vacation, and get ready to discover why Hatteras Island is the East Coast's favorite surfing scene.

Two young girls ride as small wave on a longboard surfboard with big grins on their faces