Surf’s Up in Pensacola Beach
If you try to think of world-class surf destinations, Pensacola Beach almost certainly wouldn’t be near the top of your list. We’ll be the first to admit that if you’re specifically planning a surf trip, Pensacola Beach may not be the right pick. However, if you’re looking to ride emerald waves with an almost tropical backdrop on the same trip that you can explore some of America’s historic landmarks and preserved nature trails, all while enjoying the stellar amenities of a modern resort town, Pensacola Beach is exactly what you’re looking for. When the surf’s good here and you’re tucked into a crystal clear barrel, everything else seems to disappear and it can feel like a paradise rivaling anywhere else in the world.
Riding your board over crystal clear water where you can see the sand beneath your feet isn’t all that common in the South, but in Pensacola Beach, it’s the standard. And it’s not just the view under your feet that’s incredible: most spots you drop in at, you’ll be looking at the pristine Gulf Islands National Seashore, over 17 miles of preserved nature along the coast.
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What are the Waves Like?
It’s hard to predict Pensacola Beach’s surf too far in advance, but we typically have between 150 and 200 choppy, rideable days in a year, mostly in the winter and early spring. Since most of our surf comes from strong southeast winds, the waves come in at an angle providing lengthy rides despite the chop. We like to refer to Pensacola Beach’s surf style as “drop and go”—that’s to say, when you check the surf cam that morning and see the surf’s good, drop what you’re doing and get out to the beach because it may not last.
When’s the Best Time to Surf?
Winter is our best season when cold fronts approach from the west and the ESE winds blow ahead of the front. If you’re lucky enough to be here when the wind clocks offshore after a few days of strong onshore winds you’re in for a treat. It’s not uncommon to have 10+ days a year of quality offshore pumping barrels in emerald green water. Occasionally our water muddies up, when the winds come from the southwest pushing Mississippi river sediment our way. Don’t let a little brown water keep you from waxing up though!
Although we recommend seasoned surfers try visiting between November and April for the most consistent surf experience, there’s still surf to be had during the summer and fall months. And in fact, if you’re a beginner, the summer months can be an easier learning experience since the waves trend smaller and less choppy. You can have a blast longboarding on the summer’s cleaner mysto ground swells.
It’s important to note the unpredictability of hurricane season. The waves can build quickly and dangerous conditions can catch the most experienced wave riders off guard. We don’t recommend beginners attempting to surf during a hurricane swell.
Where are the Best Surf Spots?
With our shifting sandbars, you can’t always rely on the well known “spots,” but a few places to keep an eye on are: Casino Beach by the Gulf Pier, the Cross located a mile west of the Gulf Pier, any of the numbered streets with beach access to the East, and the Point at Fort Pickens.
During the summer, expect bigger crowds at the main beaches, so if that’s not your scene, you can always look for a new sandbar on your way to Navarre or Fort Pickens. If you’re super lucky you may find yourself surfing in the Bay silhouetted by the historic Pensacola Lighthouse—the wave in the bay is a novelty and only turns on a couple of times per year.