By Jodi Mailander Farrell
When the rest of the world is flat, you can count on finding a wave in New Smyrna Beach.
Tucked between Daytona Beach and Cocoa Beach, NSB is a classic salty town, with narrow streets, wide beaches and a prevailing laid-back, surfer-dude attitude. It also has one of the most consistent surf breaks on the East Coast, thanks to significant rock ledges off the coast.
The reliable waves are small – generally a few feet high – but they draw some of the country’s best surfers. Every summer, the American Professional Surfing Association holds one of its premier contests here.
In 2012, National Geographic Magazine recognized New Smyrna Beach as “one of the world’s top 20 surf towns.” Surfer Magazine has ranked NSB number nine on its list of “best surf towns.”
"We’re the most consistent wave on the East Coast of the United States,” says Chuck Carter, owner of Nichols Surf Shop, the city’s oldest surf shop, having been around since 1969. “No matter what, you know you’re always going to catch a good wave.”
Want to see for yourself? Check out the surf cam, which offers an online ocean view at all times, along with a beach forecast, at www.oceanviewcam.com.
The top NSB surfing spot is Ponce Inlet, where the Intracoastal Waterway, Indian River North and Halifax River empty between stone jetties into the Atlantic Ocean. When there's a south swell, many locals also head to Bethune Beach at the south end of New Smyrna. It's just north of the Canaveral National Seashore, a 57,000-acre refuge for birds and loggerhead sea turtles. The breaks are cleaner here and it's less crowded.
Learn to Surf
If you want to learn to work fiberglass or try your feet on an old woodie, the surf shops in New Smyrna offer surfboard rentals and lessons.
Longboards are best for beginners because they offer stability and glide. Short boards are for veterans who know how to maneuver. "Fun shapes,” a hybrid between the two, provide the best of both boards, plus they're gentle on the knees.
Inlet Charley's, the closest surf shop to the beach at 510 Flagler Ave., rents boards and also provides lessons with an experienced surfer. The historic Nichols Surf Shop, 411 Flagler Ave., also rents boards and offers lessons. Surf wear, boards and other gear can be found at Quiet Flight, 508 Flagler Ave., and Red Dog, just a short drive south at 801 A1A.
Even if you don't know the difference between noseburn and sunburn, you can enjoy the Old School surf vibe that resonates in this small town. Shell shops, T-shirt shops that sell hermit crabs and those genuine surf shops keep Flagler Avenue, the north main drag to the ocean, a happening.
Of course, there's always the beach. One of the cool things about New Smyrna is that you can drive cars on the beach at the northern end of town. Concession stands every half-mile or so along the beach rent bikes and three-wheelers that you can use to boogie up and down the hard-packed sand.
Whether you’re participating or watching, surfing works up an appetite. New Smyrna’s iconic, ocean-front burger joint is The Breakers, at 18 Flagler Ave., a wooden, open-air shack that has offered stunning, panoramic views of the surf, along with cold beers and grilled grouper sandwiches, for the past 23 years.
At the opposite end of Flagler Avenue, the more recent Gnarly Surf Bar & Grill, 114 Flagler Ave., sits under the North Causeway Bridge, along the Indian River. It pays homage to all things surfing, with videos of great wave rides from around the world playing on TVs and local surfboard shapers’ boards displayed on the roof. The global menu – from Salvadorian tortillas to South African curried lamb shank – reflects surfing meccas from around the world.
A short drive south, J.B.’s Fish Camp, at 859 Pompano Ave., is a rustic, indoor-outdoor riverfront shanty overlooking Mosquito Lagoon that offers clams grown on site, steamed blue crabs and fried shrimp. It also rents kayaks, paddleboards and fishing poles, and will cook your catch.
More info: New Smyrna Beach Visitors Bureau, 800-541-9621; www.nsbfla.com. For surf conditions, call 386-427-5674.