The undisputed surf capital of the state is Margaret River, but in the far north there are flawless waves that are virtually unridden. Many of WA’s cleanest waves are for the experienced punter, but there are a handful of options for beginners as well, not to mention the numerous surf schools that can help you get out on the water.
WHERE TO GO
Up north | The winter months of June, July and August see not only an annual migration of grey nomads toward the sunny beaches of the north, but also surfers in search of the warm water swells. Surf can be found as far north as Broome. Small waves, ideal for beginners, lap against the spectacular sand of Cable Beach. More experienced surfers can find quality reefs nearer to Exmouth, plus there’s a fun beach break close to the action for beginners. Between Exmouth and Carnarvon lie two of WA’s surfing hotspots – Red Bluff and Gnaraloo – which, for the most part are strictly for experienced surfers. It pays to do your homework before exploring these waves. Kalbarri is another scenic location offering waves for the more advanced surfer, with a couple of good reef breaks and a fun back beach for the grommets. With good fishing and swimming, this is a great spot to relax. Further south in Geraldton, there’s a number of options for all levels of surfer – from beach breaks to solid reefs.
Down south | Spring marks the mellow change in the weather systems, and surfers start to migrate south to the world-class waves of the southwest region. En route to the predictably good surf of Margaret River, there are the many surf beaches and reef breaks of Mandurah, where there’s a break to suit all levels of ability. On the south coast, Walpole, Denmark and Albany are wave-rich destinations and, further east, Esperance has great surf. Beach breaks are plentiful here, although be aware that it can be a long drive between spots. But it’s the famous Leeuwin coast, 270km south from Perth, that the diehard surfers flock to. It’s home to close to 100 surf breaks, from Yallingup in the north to Augusta in the south – there are too many spots to mention… It’s truly the ultimate playground for all surfers.
THE BEST OF MARGS
Tom Innes, a stunt double in the surfing movie Drift, was born and bred in Margaret River, and so he has a soft spot for the waves in the Margaret River region. “The southwest coast is documented to have the most consistent swell and offshore winds through four seasons. There is always somewhere to find a wave, no matter what the conditions are like. The waves are punchy and powerful. Margaret River in particular has a huge range of surf break options, like small, soft learner waves, punchy beach breaks, shallow slabs, point breaks, outer ocean bombies, rip bowls, river mouths, A-frame peaks, rock wedges and more. It keeps it interesting, having so much choice and variety.”
For would-be surfers, it’s disappointing to see a perfect barrel when you’re in Margs, and not know how to ride it. Head to Surfing WA’s website surfingaustralia.com/wa and follow the links to the list of surf schools in the region. If you think you’ll be a klutz on a board, private lessons are available – most schools provide boards and wetsuits, so all you’ll need is a towel.
The Rivermouth, Margaret River | Learner breaks in Margaret River are a dime a dozen, and The Rivermouth is a popular one. Despite the seaweed, the wave is a fun ride and only a 25m paddle offshore. If you’re feeling plucky, head there for offshore swell when it starts to get heavy.
Redgate Beach, Margaret River | The beach break is great for beginners and kids. The waves are clean and you’ll catch some speedy barrels that will give you a nice long ride. The only downside is that it gets pretty crowded on weekends, and especially in summer; try to get there in spring, or on a weekday.
North Point, Cowaramup Bay (Gracetown) | In prime conditions, the break is arguably one of the heaviest and best right-handers in WA, and deservedly named
a world-best location among pro surfers. At this epic spot, it’s not uncommon to see two barrels on one wave. Catch it in southeasterly winds when the waves grow up to 7ft (2m); be sure to paddle out from the bay (in smaller swell, go from the point). The waves aren’t for the faint-hearted, and beginners to intermediates should stay well clear.
The Box, Margaret River | Surf at The Box and you’re asking for a beating, but get a good ride and you’ll be hooked. Its name reflects the square barrel shape that’s formed from the shallow, often exposed reef slabs. Skilled surfers need to be sensible; the wave can break bones, so be sure to watch a local paddle out and catch a wave first. If you’re having second thoughts, retreat to Grunters or Boranup Beach.
Supertubes, Yallingup | With its consistent, fast barrels, Supers often makes its way into surfing videos and magazines. Intermediate surfers will relish the right-hand tubes, which generate enough power to get you grinning. Be warned: the reef is shallow, so don’t be surprised if you take some skin off your shoulders. The best place to park is in the small dirt car park halfway down the hill on Yallingup Beach Road.
You’ll find decent surf all year round in the southwest. For mammoth waves, head south in autumn when there’s an increase in intense low-pressure systems through the Indian and Southern oceans that produces crisp, barrels. Size-wise, in winter the surf is still huge but the waves are far less clean. Spring and summer bring smaller waves with the odd heavy day (better for beginners). In the north, big swell pushes up the coast in winter, creating epic, barrelling waves at locations such as the Abrolhos Islands and Kalbarri. Hit the northwest surf in the morning; offshore, easterly winds make the ocean glass-like in the afternoon.
Red Bluff | A mesmerising location set among the rugged landscape of the West Australian desert. The Bluff is a quality left-hander that peels perfectly up to 2.5m, offering tasty barrels!
Jakes Point | The sleepy fishing town of Kalbarri comes alive during the winter months. With huge swells hitting Jakes Point, this freight-train left-hander dishes out some hefty punishment. Watch the locals as they make the tricky take-off section look easy!
Ocean Beach | Once a year, around July, the Wilson Inlet is opened up and sand is allowed to flow freely between the ocean and the inlet. It suits beginners and pros alike, the right-hand break has incredibly consistent, barrelling waves. The break was used as a filming location for the 1966 documentary surf movie The Endless Summer.
Abrolhos Islands | The breaks are rarely ridden for most of the year, and while it costs an arm and a leg to get there, the near-perfect, world-class waves are well worth it (best suited to experienced surfers). Reach the Abrolhos on a charter boat from Geraldton. Non-surfing mates will enjoy the extensive coral reef and diverse marine life, ideal for snorkelling and diving.
SPRING & SUMMER FAVOURITES
Surfers Point | Although Surfers Point in Margaret River is one of the busier breaks on the coast, it is still a favourite. A solid A-frame peak, Margs can certainly test your lung capacity should you wear one of these rogue waves on the head!
Boranup | This beach break, to be found south towards Hamelin Bay, has some of the greenest, cleanest, and most fun waves for everyone. Bear in mind you’ll need a 4WD to reach it, and it’s best in the morning before the sea breeze comes in.
Grunters | This Margaret River wave is great on its day, throwing up some chunky right-hand barrels for anyone game enough to try. Although it’s a short walk, it’s a bit of a paddle offshore to catch the meaty waves, but if the swell is decent there are small waves closer to shore.
Shark shields | Whether you admit it or not, sharks scare the life out of plenty of surfers, which makes a shark deterrent a handy purchase for peace of mind in the water. WA-based ocean explorers Terra Australis trialled the Shark Shield and reported that it’s incredibly effective and will keep sharks 2-3m away from the wearer. It uses an electric field, which keeps sharks at bay, and there are different variations that clip onto boards or ankles. It will set you back between $600 and $700.
Wavefinder Australia | If you’re travelling up and down the coast in search of waves, throw this guide onto your backseat. Pocket-sized and packed with over 900 surf locations, the best thing about the guide is that it doesn’t just list all the overcrowded breaks; there are plenty of quiet little spots recommended too (thanks to over 100 contributors). It’s easy to understand, and includes details of optimal swell and wind that you can track on www.seabreeze.com.au or www.coastalwatch.com.au.
Coastalwatch | Coastalwatch isn’t new, but it’s the best for checking out the surfing conditions. The live cams make it easy to suss out the swell without leaving your house. A membership with Coastalwatch Plus is cheaper than a Maccas feed, and comes with wave trackers and SMS alerts. If you aren’t convinced that you need more than the standard website, you can sign up for a free trial of the plus version, and breathe easy if you aren’t keen to commit long-term.
Margaret River Classic This November event is one of the longest-running surfing competitions in the state. The event makes for a great weekend, with social events at the local taverns during the competition. Spectators are free.
Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Held in March, the event is a World Championship Tour, which sees the guaranteed participation of the top 32 ranked male, and 18 ranked female surfers in the world. Plan a holiday around this event; it’s likened to Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline.
HIF Pro Am Series This awesome three-event surfing series is held between February and July, and travels to some of the state’s best surfing locations, including Margaret River, Geraldton and Rottnest Island.
Taj's Small Fries This is one of the biggest junior events in Australia, hosted by Taj Burrow at his home break in Yallingup. The three-day event has heaps going on for families, and is celebrating its 10th anniversary in January 2015.