Surfing on Hatteras Island in Outer Banks, NC

Surfing Vacations on Hatteras Island

On the East Coast, it’s hard to find waves like the ones on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Hatteras Island has been renowned as one of the best surfing beaches in North Carolina, attracting surfers from New Jersey to Florida when the waves are good. 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.  During storms, day-trippers from Virginia and mainland North Carolina flock to the popular surfing breaks: the S-Curves at Mirlo Beach in Rodanthe, Old Road in Avon, the old Frisco pier, and the Lifeguarded beach in Buxton to enjoy the swell. National surfing tournaments have taken notice, and Hatteras Island is home to the annual ESA (Eastern Surfing Association) tournament, determining which top East Coast surfers will make it to the USA surfing championships. 

Quick Outer Banks Surfing School Guide

Hatteras Island Surfing History

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. Now known as a surfing Mecca for locals and vacationers alike, Hatteras Island was virtually undiscovered by surfers until the 1970s.

In the 1960s, only a handful of local teens surfed Hatteras Island, but the installation of the Herbert C Bonner Bridge linking Hatteras Island with 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. When Surfing magazine ran a feature article in 1969 hailing Hatteras Island as one of the best spots on the East Coast, surfers from around the world began making a pilgrimage to the Outer Banks to see what all the fuss was about. And they kept coming back.

In response to the popularity of surfing, a number of Hatteras Island surfing shops have sprung up on the island, including the famous Natural Art surf shop, Fox Watersports, Hatteras Island Boardsports, Rodanthe Surf shop and many more. Visitors can purchase custom boards designed specifically for Hatteras Island waves, or simply rent one for the week of their vacation from a number of different surf shops. 

Hatteras Surfing Season

In the summer months of June and July, expect smaller waves that are perfect for beginners. A long board or a nice fat fish board will go a long way, and you can 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, when storms and low pressure systems will bring large swells, (especially north of Cape Hatteras), a performance board will go a long way. Locals and frequent visitors alike crave the coastal storms that can sometimes bring double overhead waves. When this happens, the beaches can get a little crowded, but generally you’ll never have to compete with a barrage of other surfers just to get a ride or two. Even on the most popular beaches, like Buxton’s Lighthouse Beach near the old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse site and the S-Curves outside of Rodanthe, there are usually plenty of waves to go around. And with miles and miles of seashore to explore, it’s not hard to find a break all to yourself.

Remember if you paddle out in the winter or spring, you’ll probably need a wet suit as the ocean can be a few degrees colder than the air temperature. In the fall, the ocean stays warm well into October, and a spring suit, or no wet suit at all, might be a good choice.

Whether you’re 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 you’re on vacation, and get ready to discover why Hatteras Island is the East Coast’s favorite surfing scene.