Saturday, April 20, 2024

Surfing in Los Cabos: A guide to cabo surfing and the best times to visit

In the early 1970s, before the Transpeninsular Highway was completed, and before Mexican tourism trust FONATUR began turning Los Cabos into the internationally famous resort destination it would eventually become, two groups of people were already regularly flocking to the area: fishermen and surfers. 

The first generation of surfers started coming from California in the 1950s, setting the path for all who followed, including legendary figures like Mike Doyle, Kelly Slater, and Laird Hamilton. Doyle, a champion surfer during the 60s, became a notable exponent of the Los Cabos lifestyle, eventually founding a surf school at the Cabo Surf Hotel. Slater wowed spectators at the Fletcher Los Cabos Classic in 1991, walking away with cash and ownership of an East Cape property. More recently, Hamilton partnered with local luxury resort One&Only Palmilla on a lifestyle-based apparel brand. In Los Cabos, where spectacular suites and villas are often situated near some of the most famous breaks, luxury and surfing aren’t always mutually exclusive. 

It’s not the big names or the big-time amenities, however, that make Los Cabos a notable surfing destination. Rather, it’s the variety of surf breaks across a wide swath of the municipality’s 100-plus miles of coastline, from San José del Cabo and the East Cape to the Pacific Coast breaks near Todos Santos. Great waves are rideable year-round, with the breaks of choice varying according to the changing of the seasons. Yes, some of these breaks are best left to experienced surfers. But there are beginner-friendly ones, too, along with schools and lesson providers eager to introduce a new generation to the joys of surfing in Los Cabos. 

How does the time of year affect surf conditions in Los Cabos?

What’s so special about surfing in Los Cabos? Its coastline is defined by not one major body of water, but two: the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of California, or Sea of Cortés. The conditions relative to each, not surprisingly, are the determining factors for the local surf calendar. May to October, for example, is traditionally the best time to surf on the Gulf of California side (thanks to seasonal southerly swells), while the scene shifts to the Pacific side from November to April, notably at beaches like Cerritos, San Pedrito, and La Pastora. Surfing is good year-round, in other words. 

For context, Gulf of California-oriented beaches and breaks are those found in San José del Cabo, on the East Cape, and along the Tourist Corridor (the 20-mile coastal corridor that connects San José to Cabo San Lucas). The best Pacific Ocean side surf beaches are about one hour north of Cabo San Lucas by car and are located in Pescadero and Todos Santos.

Why is San José del Cabo such a great surf destination?

Surfing in Los Cabos starts with Zippers, a fast and fun right-hand reef break that has been the centerpiece of both the Fletcher Los Cabos Classic and Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) and World Surf League (WSL) sponsored Los Cabos Open of Surf tournaments. As Surfline notes, it’s “dreamy except for the fact that Zippers is Cabo’s most crowded wave.” 

Zippers is one of three noteworthy breaks at Playa Costa Azul, the others being The Middle and The Rock (La Roca). The latter is another popular, advanced-level, righty reef break, and as the name suggests, rocks (plural) are a factor. The Middle, by contrast, is one of the best beginner-friendly surf breaks in Los Cabos. A respected local adventure company, High Tide Los Cabos, has surf professionals teaching private and group lessons here. Nearby Playa Acapulquito (aka Old Man’s) is another great spot to learn or improve rusty skills, thanks to the Mike Doyle-founded surf school at the Cabo Surf Hotel.

Can you surf in Cabo San Lucas?

There are no notable surf breaks in Cabo San Lucas proper, but one is nearby, with picturesque backdrops of Land’s End and El Arco. It’s a famous one, too, and not just for the views. Monuments is its name, and its spinning left-handed point break ranks with Zippers as the most famous ride on Los Cabos’ Gulf of California side. Like La Roca, it’s best left to experts, not only because of rocks but also because of abundant stinging sea urchins.

The Cape, A Thompson Hotel, a luxury property that opened overlooking the beach (Playa Monumentos) in 2015 provides a retro California-style atmosphere, albeit of the decidedly upscale variety. A surf-themed villa and board rentals are available. 

Which East Cape beaches are surfari-worthy?

Los Cabos’ East Cape begins at the outskirts of San José del Cabo and extends for over 70 miles to Los Barriles. Because dirt roads are still common in this area, some surfers have been introduced to regional surf breaks through “surfaris,” or transportation-provided expeditions from San José. However, as the East Cape continues to be developed — the Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas being a notable recent addition — surf-friendly beaches like Shipwrecks, La Fortuna, and Nine Palms will become increasingly accessible. 

All three of the most popular surf breaks here are located in and around — to the north and south — of La Fortuna, one of several small off-the-grid communities along this stretch of coast. The ALA1A Surf Lodge trailer is the accommodations option of choice, putting surfers within easy driving distance (15 minutes either way) of Shipwrecks, the southernmost of the trio, a favorite of locals when the summer season brings southerly swells fueled by the region’s famous chubascos (squalls). Just don’t look for the shipwreck. It’s long gone.

What are three top Pacific Coast beaches for visiting surfers?

Cerritos is the most popular surf spot on the Pacific Coast of Los Cabos, drawing surfers of all skill levels due to its variety of waves. Several companies — High Tide Los Cabos and Mario Surf School, for example — offer instruction here, while the Cerritos Surf Town Beach Hotel & Spa is a mecca for those seeking day pass privileges or board rentals. 

Like nearby San Pedrito — home to a rippable right-hand point break — Playa Los Cerritos is located in the small town of Pescadero, a few miles south of Todos Santos. The latter is famed for both its artists’ colony and its surfing, most famously at La Pastora, a local hotspot that benefits from seasonal northwest swells, and features both left and right-breaking sections. These Pacific Coast beaches are gorgeous year-round, but see their best surfing during the winter months; meaning, peak season for snowbirds.

Chris Sands is the Cabo San Lucas local expert for the USA Today travel website 10 Best, writer of Fodor’s Los Cabos travel guidebook, and a contributor to numerous websites and publications, including Tasting Table, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, Forbes Travel Guide, Porthole Cruise, Cabo Living and Mexico News Daily. His specialty is travel-related content and lifestyle features focused on food, wine and golf.

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