Both novice and professional surfers can catch waves off the coast of Martinique, where The World Surf League’s Martinique Surf Pro event is held in April. // © 2016 Damien Poullenot
Feature image (above): Barbados is home to some of the largest waves in the Caribbean. // © 2016 Barbados Tourism Authority
Agents can be forgiven for thinking the surf travel segment isn’t worth their attention, since surfers have a reputation for choosing the cheapest accommodations (for many, it’s all about catching the next wave). While this might have been true at one time, the surf market has grown up over the years. Many surfers are now parents with children, and they have a desire to introduce their kids to the sport. Even travelers who are no longer active surfers continue to seek out surf beaches, especially if there’s a competition scheduled. The surf market — including the Caribbean surf scene — is more multifaceted than it may appear at first glance.
While big-wave destinations in the South Pacific, such as Fiji and Hawaii, are attention grabbers, Caribbean surf spots are beginning to get noticed. The below offer a range of surf breaks, annual surf competitions, convenient and affordable flight options from the U.S. and budget-friendly lodging, including a highly developed all-inclusive resort product.
The best time for surfing in the Caribbean is from November to April. Swells get even larger during the July to October hurricane season but are often too big for anyone but the most seasoned surfers. The Atlantic side of the islands generally has the optimum surf conditions.
On Barbados, surfers in the know head to Bathsheba Beach (locals call it the Soup Bowl), where they test themselves against some of the strongest waves in the Caribbean. Other popular spots include De Action Beach, where surf lessons and board rentals can be arranged; and Duppies, a beach on the island’s northwest shore. Each November, competitors from around the world convene for the Barbados Independence Pro Surf Festival.
Cabarete, Dominican Republic
When most people think of Cabarete, a town on the Dominican Republic’s north coast, they think of its excellent windsurfing conditions, which may be the best in the Caribbean. The locale is also a premier surf destination, with a laid-back scene that surfers love. There are scores of inexpensive, bungalow-type lodgings in Cabarete, as well as plenty of four- and five-star properties within close range, perfect for clients who prefer a greater degree of comfort. Surf central is Playa Encuentro, where the wave conditions are consistent; they’re forgiving enough for beginners while still supplying challenges for experienced surfers. There’s also a surf school at Playa Encuentro. Additionally, another superb surfing spot is Camino del Sol.
Martinique has primo surf conditions on its northern coast. The World Surf League’s Martinique Surf Pro event held in April attracts world-class competitors from around the globe. Surfers will want to head over to Anse Bonneville (known as Surfers Beach) for its challenging northwest swell. Less-experienced wave riders can get up to speed in Le Lorrain, near the northeast town of Basse-Pointe.
Port Antonio, Jamaica
Boston Bay, on Jamaica’s northeast coast, offers the twin charms of great surf conditions and an off-the-beaten-path atmosphere. With both left- and right-breaking waves, the conditions here are suitable for everyone from novices to experts. Part of the appeal of Boston Bay is its location in Port Antonio, which saw its tourism heyday from the 1940s through the 1970s. While the region is once again on the rise, Port Antonio has a caught-in-time ambiance that experienced travelers will find enchanting.
Rincon, Puerto Rico
It could be argued that the best surf scene in the Caribbean is in Rincon, on Puerto Rico’s west coast. The best surf breaks are found at Tres Palmas, Domes Beach, Maria’s Beach and Little Malibu. The popular Rincon Surf School offers lessons as well as tours that access the best breaks. In addition to small hotels in Rincon, there are also condominiums and villas catering to visitors.
Trinidad & Tobago
In Trinidad, surf conditions are fine all year, with enough variety to accommodate beginners and test the skills of the more experienced. The best surf is on the island’s northeastern coast, with standout breaks at Balandra Bay, Salybia Beach and San Souci. The optimum time for surfers to hit Tobago is November through March; surfers in the know head straight to Mount Irvine Bay.