The Ultimate Guide to Surfing Alaska
Alaska should be on your surfing bucket list.
Many don’t think of Alaska as a surf destination and in reality it isn’t because surfing here is like nothing any surfer has experienced anywhere else.
It's really not possible to surf here on your own either.
Typically there are guides that take you to surf spots by boat or bush plane and it usually isn't cheap.
If you think California or the Pacific Northwest is cold, wait until you feel the water in Alaska.
The average water temperature in Alaska is 52 degrees.
With so many hazards and unknowns in the Alaskan wilderness it's important to know where to go, we’ll break down everything there is to know about surfing in Alaska.
What’s So Special About Surfing in Alaska?
Waves in Alaska
The waves here are pretty tricky. It truly is an environment like no other.
To start off, the daylight cycles are really funky during the winter months making it pretty much impossible to surf there during that time. On top of that the water is freezing and dips into the 30s.
So fall and spring are usually the best time because summers are pretty flat.
Also since the salt content of the water is pretty low, the water won’t float your board as much so you’ll need something with a little more volume.
Alaska has a lot of rivermouth breaks with some pretty weird sandbars and point breaks and the reef breaks are pretty miniscule because of how cold the water is.
The Surf Culture in Alaska
The fact that there’s a community of surfers in Alaska is saying something about its surf culture. Pretty much every break you visit in Alaska will be empty.
However, there are crews of surfers who take visitors out by boat or bush plane to spots all around the Alaskan coast.
Take Scott Reierson for example, he helps run Alaska Surf Guides and takes people by helicopter or bush plane to take foreign surfers to Alaska’s best surf spots.
Alaska Surf Guides also runs boat tours of Alaska surf spots.
Surf Gear Needed For Surfing in Alaska
You are pretty much going to need all the cold water gear you can get to surf in Alaska.
To start, get a nice thick hooded wetsuit, Scott Reierson of Alaska Surf Guides recommends a 5/4. Then look into buying booties, 5 mm thickness should be perfect.
Finally, gloves are a nice add on to make sure no skin is exposed to the ice cold water.
The Best Surf Spots in Alaska
Cannon Beach is a rather lackluster beach in Yakutat, Alaska. It’s a pretty mushy beach break that's only accessible by boat or plane.
Luckily it’s still located on the mainland of Alaska so there isn’t too much island hopping happening for this break.
It’s usually best during the summer when the winds turn offshore. However, summers are a little smaller but keep in mind conditions are cleanest during this time.
Winters are usually too big and blown out to surf.
There are a variety of peaks breaking both left and right and you’ll likely find nobody surfing them because of its accessibility.
Fossil Beach is located on Kodiak Island which is an island off of the Alaskan mainland.
This is another spot that is only accessible via boat or plane but there is an airport in Kodiak that you can fly into.
Since it's on an island the accessibility is even rougher than getting somewhere on the mainland.
The break has a cobblestone bottom and it typically has pretty consistent waves. It has the potential to get big and there is a reef that will break when it gets really big.
Since this is one of the more accessible waves, given the airport and roads on Kodiak, you might run into a few surfers but nothing too major.
Located in Sitka is a legitimately good wave known as Shoals Reef or Wall.
Sitka is a small fishing town not too far from Juneau, the state's capital.
To get to Shoals reef it's about a 30 minute boat ride from Sitka.
It's a pretty meaty reef break capable of holding some size and has seen some 15 foot swells push through it.
It really starts to turn on with a south swell. Since it's a 30 minute boat ride from the nearest town, the wave should be pretty empty.
Sea Lion Cove
Sea Lion Cove is also located in Sitka. In order to get to Sea Lion Cove prepare for an hour or more walk along the Sea Lion trail.
This trail will lead you right to the surf.
The cove has two sides; the north side is capable of holding some serious size.
Waves on the north have been known to get in the 20 foot range. The south side is a different story.
It’s way more manageable and is better for beginners.
The south side is primarily a beach break while the north side is a reef.
This spot should be pretty much empty like the rest of the state.
Another spot located in Sitka is Sandy’s Beach which is also one of the only waves on this list that is accessible by road.
This beach isn’t anything special but it's a pretty consistent sandbar with mushy waves.
You shouldn't expect any huge waves to roll through here but the water, much like the rest of the state, is freezing.
Since this spot is one of the few spots in Alaska and the only one in Sitka accessible by road expect a few people out in the water with you.
This doesn’t mean it will be crowded, it just means you won’t be the only soul out in the water.
What To Do In Alaska When the Waves Are Flat
Pretty much all the activities done in Alaska will be done outdoors. For example, hiking is a great way to get outside when the waves are flat.
Alaska has quite a few National Parks like Denali National Park and Glacier Bay are great places to see some of the raw Alaskan wilderness.
There are quite a few non surfing boat tours as well which could be another interesting way to see the coast.
Kayaking on a river or lake is another fun option.
Alaska is also one of the few places where you can see the northern lights and there are plenty of tour guides willing to take you to see this spectacle.
Surfing in Alaska
Alaska is truly a unique surfing destination.
It's not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a surf trip but maybe it should be.
It has a lot to offer and plenty of coastline that can’t be summed up in one article.
So go see it for yourself!