Surfing in Cuba: Riding the Winds of Change
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There’s more to Cuba than mojitos and Che Guevara. Far beyond the country’s quintessential symbols, its colonial architecture, hand-rolled cigars, Spanish guitars and African drums echoing in the streets, lie fantastic diving spots and… some sweet surfing!
Although not exactly on the international surf map, Cuba is a promising surfing frontier. It is the largest island in the Caribbean, with no less than 3,570 miles (5,745 km) of coastline. For the majority of us, this means surfing paradise.
Not so fast!
To call Cuba an off-the-radar surfing destination is an understatement. It is a land of infinite unexplored possibilities and uncharted territories, and while surfing in Cuba may not be as popular as the one found in Hawaii, Portugal, Tahiti or Bali, it is an adventure nonetheless. The Caribbean rhythm, the year-round tropical climate, and the vibrant and fascinating capital city of Havana will have you hooked.
We’re here to show you when and where to surf in Cuba. Here’s to Cuba Libre (or should I say Surf Libre) and to the Surfing Revolución!
Is Cuba safe for surf & travel?
Only 90 miles (56 km) south of the US, Cuba has been living in a bubble ever since Fidel Castro and Che Guevara stormed the island in the late 1950s. As far as surfing is concerned, it is still in the dark ages, with a huge untapped potential.
This is probably a good time to say that Cuba is not very open to surfing. In fact, not too long ago, some surfers were arrested because the police were convinced they were trying to escape from the island. The Cuban government still does not recognize surfing as an ‘official’ sport, and there are only a handful of surfers in the country (less than 100).
Photo by COREY MCLEAN // MAKEWILD FILMS
The US embargo and the country’s policies have made surfing in Cuba quite a complicated endeavor, both for traveling surfers as well as for local ones. Surfboards, wax, and other equipment are hard to find. There are no surf shops and you can hardly find rental gear. Therefore, it’s better to bring your own when traveling to Cuba.
But let’s not lose our optimism – thanks to sweeping government reforms on both the American and Cuban side, surfing might finally stand a chance. Furthermore, legalizing surfing in Cuba is something we can all help come true. Sign the petition to legitimize surfing in Cuba! If you have a surfboard lying around the house or some fins and wetsuits you don’t use anymore, donate them to your surfing pals in Cuba. Help Cuban surfers represent their country at the 2020 Olympics!
As far as traveling is concerned, Cuba is a friendly and safe country. Crime is almost absent. Unfortunately, the surfing etiquette and surf culture are not as evolved as in other places. On the other hand, there are no crowds – the surf spots to the east of the country are practically deserted. However, this also means that most surf beaches do not have lifeguards, so please take extra caution.
When to surf in Cuba?
Kitesurfing in Varadero – Photo credit: kitesurfatlas.com
Cuba does not have big swells – the North Atlantic’s activity is blocked by the Bahamas. While the island may not have world-class breaks, there is some neat surf around Havana during winter and in the eastern Guantánamo region during summer.
Average water temperature rarely drops below 77 ºF (25 ºC) throughout the year. Therefore, you do not need a wetsuit even if you do go surfing during winter months.
Surfing on the north coast of Cuba
Winter months are northern Cuba’s surfing season, from December through March. This is when the Atlantic groundswell from the northeast produces some neat barrels. Cuba’s position, in the hurricane corridor of the Gulf of Mexico, puts it in the way of some crazy storms. When there’s a storm in the Gulf, this usually means great waves on the north coast of Cuba.
It is not recommended to be in the water during hurricane season (between June and November). If you’re a fan of hurricane surfing, you’re on your own!
Surfing on the southeast coast of Cuba
The rainy season lasts from May through October. During these months, humidity can go up to 80%, making temperatures feel warmer than they actually are. The southeast coast of Cuba receives consistent swell starting with August all the way through November. Starting with November, the skies clear up.
Where to surf in Cuba?
Photo credit royal70.net
When flying into Cuba, there are two main points of entry: Santiago de Cuba to the southeast extreme and Havana to the northwest extreme. It’s an 11-hour drive between the two, but they are both worth visiting.
There is consistent surf on the iconic Havana seaside promenade of Malecón. Provinces like Guantánamo and Holguín have the best exposure to North Atlantic swells, while the north-westernmost tip of the country remains virtually unexplored.
Havana Bay – Morro Castle
Havana’s number one break, Calle 70 can be quite treacherous. The steel-blue waves here are of excellent quality, but they just happen to break over a razor-sharp reef dotted with sea urchin and stonefish. Needless to say, wipeouts end in cuts and blood. While there are surf schools offering lessons for beginners, Calle 70 is not the most beginner-friendly spot on the island.
The best months to surf in Havana are December, January and February.
Photo by Maxence
La Setenta is located to the west of the old center of Havana, in front of the Russian Embassy in the Miramar district. During strong northeast Atlantic groundswells, waves at La Setenta can reach 8 ft (2.5 m). You can also wait for a big storm to break out in the Gulf of Mexico.
Although suitable for all surfers, this shallow and treacherous reef break works best at high tide due to the jagged rocks on the bottom. Due to its vicinity to the old town, La Setenta can get pretty crowded.
Playas del Este
Photo by Jelle H.
The long sandy beaches of Playas del Este are quieter than La Setenta. They tend to receive smaller swell, but are a great option when the surf’s too big or it is too stormy in other spots on the north coast of Cuba.
You have to wait for a good groundswell or an offshore storm to enjoy some proper waves, which can reach 8 ft (2.5 m) or more, depending on the strength of the wind.
Kitesurfing remains the favorite water sport on these stunning beaches, offering something for all skill levels. There are even kitesurfing schools and shops in the area.
Sun Beach (Varadero)
Photo by lezumbalaberenjena
On the north coast of the island, on the Hicacos Peninsula, Varadero opens to a 15-mile (25 km) stretch of white sand beaches. Here, Sun Beach is Cuba’s number one tourist spot. There are A-frame beach breaks for all levels of surfers, but lifeguards here tend to shut the beach down if the waves get too big.
Sun Beach is also a great kitesurfing destination, with plenty of room to launch and land, good winds all year round and a few kitesurfing schools too.
Photo by Geoffroy Magnan
In the Guantánamo province, 18 miles (30 km) east of Baracoa, Boca de Yumurí is one of Cuba’s best surfing spots. This picturesque pebble stone beach is home to some nice left and right rivermouth breaks that are great for all surfers. Yumurí is considered the best right in Cuba, and works best between August and November.
Parque Baconao is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve located 37 miles (60 km) from Santiago de Cuba. With a remarkable biodiversity, the park is famous for its crab and crocodile populations. There are over 70 stunning scuba diving spots, as well as some nice surf areas along the south coast of the Baconao National Park.
Cabo de San Antonio
Photo by Werner Wilmes
On the far western tip of Cuba, Guanahacabibes Peninsula receives good swell during storms in the Gulf of Mexico. This untouched surfing spot offers an empty A-frame reef break that usually puts on its best performance between December and February.
When the waves are too big, you can visit the Guanahacabibes National Park, home to an important sea turtle nesting beach and some awesome diving spots.
Are you planning a surfing trip in the Caribbean? Support and help grow Cuba’s surfing community! While you’re at it, check out the nearby surf in the Dominican Republic.