Where To Surf In South Australia

South Australia is not generally regarded as a surfing destination.  This is probably fair enough, with travellers heading to the more popular breaks in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia and even Victoria.

However, South Australia does produce quality waves at times, especially during the winter months.  The water at this time of the year is cold, so a full length wetsuit will be required not matter which part of the State you surf.  Summer, from December to the end of February, is the most popular time to surf because of the weather, but it’s generally an early morning proposition only as during the summer, most of the coast in the State is affected by afternoon sea breezes which chop up the water.  A full length wetsuit is still the best option in summer, especially on the southern coast, unless it is very hot.

During the winter, the swells are generally larger and if there is no wind in the morning, then it is likely to stay that way all day; unless a front is forecast to move through of course.  The low pressure cells in the southern ocean move closer to mainland Australia in the winter producing the larger swells.

Close to Adelaide, about an hour south, is an area known as the mid-coast.  Starting at about Christies Beach and stretching to approximately Aldinga, there are a number of beach and reef breaks.  The mid-coast rarely has large waves, with 4-5 foot being exceptional along here.  A much more common size is 1-2 foot, so this stretch is ideal for beginners.  When the swell is up, the better reef breaks become quite crowded.  Christies Beach is a good spot to look at on stormy days with howling onshore winds and a huge swell.  Not ideal surfing conditions, but the shore break can turn on some nice little barrels for body borders.

Further south lies Victor Harbour and this area is probably the most popular area in the State for surfers.  To the south-west of Victor Harbour are Waitpinga and Parsons Beaches.  Separated by Newland Head, these two beaches produce quality waves in the right conditions.  A big swell and north to north-east winds will have consistent 6 foot waves rolling in with a nice offshore breeze.  4-5 foot waves are common here.  This is one of the best areas to head for on those hot summer days when the forecast is 35 degrees Centigrade or more with hot northerly winds.  The water is cool, the water clear and the waves small and clean.  Care needs to be taken on these beaches and they are definitely for experienced surfers only.  There are deep gutters and channels and some nasty rips.  Shark attacks have occurred in the past with at least two fatalities that I can remember.

North east of Victor Harbour lies the small town of Port Elliot (now almost a part of Victor Harbour itself).  There are a few beaches near here very popular with body boarders.  Boomers Beach is probably the most well known and the name says it all.  It has an horrendous shore dump that, on a big day, you can hear booming as it crashes on the sand.  Many broken bones have been the result of body boarding here.  You can’t really surf here; well you can but you’ll break your board and maybe your neck.  A few nearby beaches like Bashams are similar in mood but not quite as grumpy as Boomers.

A bit further east is Middleton.  Middleton Point is a very popular break and surfers can be seen entering the water from the rocks on the point.  The water is shallow for a long way out, but produces some nice beach breaks.  The beach stretches away for miles to the east, so it’s quite easy to find a nice quiet spot to surf.  Middleton Beach is safer to surf for beginners.  There are no particularly nasty rips, but care still needs to be taken.

Further east again, we come to Goolwa.  The beach here is popular, especially in the summer.  Some nice little waves come through.  Similar to Middleton, the waves tend to be a little larger on average.  There can be a heavy sideways current here, so keep on eye on your position.  Bronze Whaler Sharks are also common here and are spotted quite often, but do not generally cause any problems to surfers.

South east of Goolwa lies the Young Husband Peninsula.  This long, thin piece of land separates the Coorong from the Southern Ocean.  There is well over 100 kilometres of beach from Goolwa to Kingston.  It is exposed coastline with very large waves a common occurrence.  This beach can only be accessed by 4wd vehicle from a few areas.  Tea Tree Crossing (open usually in late summer, when the water levels in the Coorong allow access) and the 42 Mile Crossing (an all weather crossing) are the tow popular access points.  There are a few more crossings further south, but local knowledge would be helpful if using these.

The Southern Ocean Beach is an isolated and dangerous place.  The swells are large and the weather unpredictable.  The rips are horrendous and, to top it all off, sharks are common.

Southern Ocean BeachCredit: Steven Pike

Heading south still, towns like Robe and Beachport have nice little beaches suitable for beginners, and some more serious reef breaks for those in the know or are willing to look for them.

Right near the border of South Australia and Victoria, Port MacDonnell is another popular area, but you will not find any nice little beach breaks.  Reef breaks abound, with shallow rocky reefs a feature of this coastline.  There are some nice breaks in this area, but it is sparsely populated and sharks will always be on your mind here.

If we head west from Adelaide we come to the Yorke Peninsula.  At the bottom of this Peninsula inside the Innes National Park we have the well known break of Chinamans.  A left hand reef break, it only really works with swells around 6 feet.  It breaks fast over a shallow, sharp reef, but produces some excellent barrels.  On a good day, this break is fiercely surfed by the locals. 

Breaking WaveCredit: Steven Pike

There are a number of other, lesser known breaks inside the Innes National Park.  The beach at the site of the Ethel Wreck is often OK, along with Gym Beach (move around to the rocky headland for the best break – the beach has nice little beginner waves at times).

From Marion Bay north to Corny Point, the coastline is very rugged but a few beautiful and deserted beaches offer nice beach breaks with very large waves at times.  Daly Heads is well known and has big rideable waves, well over 8 feet at times.  Berry Bay also has nice waves, and can be OK for beginners with a small swell.  North winds are the best for an offshore breeze.

The exposed coasts of the Eyre Peninsula are the next best bet.  Things start to get interesting here.  Port Lincoln is a good starting point.  It is home to Australia’s largest fishing fleet, famous for it’s Bluefin Tuna fishery and extraordinary amount of Great White Sharks.

Sleaford Bay is only about 15 kilometres from Port Lincoln and offers some nice beach breaks.  Bronze Whaler Sharks are common here.

A bit further north- west is Coffin Bay.  Inside the Coffin Bay National Park we have Almonta and Gunyah Beaches.  Both are renowned for their Australian Salmon Fishery.  Both have large holes and gutters which are great for catching salmon.  Unfortunately this also means large rips and currents.  The swell can be quite large but 4-5 foot is more common.  Sharks are a distinct possibility, usually Bronzies.

Heading up the coast towards Elliston there are a few beaches like Convention and Sheringa.  Similar to Almonta and Gunyah, but not quite as exposed, they are good for beach breaks. 

The Elliston area is deep water, big wave country.  The locals keep very quiet about the waves around here, but big reef breaks are there is you explore.  Unfortunately, deep water and reef means sharks in this part of the world, and quite a few Great White Attacks have been recorded in the waters around Elliston.

Between Elliston and Ceduna there are hundreds of beaches and headlands to explore.  Beach breaks and reef breaks abound, but it is a very isolated coast.  There is potential along here for some massive waves and there are a few secret spots that fire up when conditions are right.  It is rumoured that some of the offshore reefs along this section of coast are producing waves in excess of 15 feet.

Probably the most famous surfing spot of all in South Australia is Cactus Beach.  A surfing mecca in the 60’s and 70’s, Cactus is about 80 or so k’s west of Ceduna.  Cactus Beach itself is relatively safe beach break, but it’s the headland of Point Sinclair that produces the quality reef breaks that Cactus is known for.  There are two main breaks here, one out near the end of the headland and one a bit closer in.  Between the two breaks lies a deep channel which is full of sharks.  Both Bronzies and Great Whites frequent this channel and it is a hairy experience paddling across it t6 reach the outer break.  Both breaks are for experienced surfers only and work at around 6 feet.

Further west still lies not much, before you reach the Great Australian Bight which is a huge stretch of coastline characterised by huge limestone cliffs falling into the deep ocean waters.  Before you reach the Great Australian Bight though, there is the opportunity to access some deserted beaches.  You will need a 4wd to do this, or better yet hire a local guide.  These beaches are well known here in South Australia for the large mulloway caught by fisherman.  The surf along these beaches is unpredictable, but some quality breaks can be found.  Of course, following the schools of large mulloway are the sharks.

Cold water, sharks and huge travelling distances are the draw backs to surfing in South Australia.  However, it is one of the few areas left with unspoilt and largely unpopulated coastline.  It is still easy to find your own stretch of beach of patch of reef to surf without another sole in sight.  Surely that’s what surfing is all about.