By Mark Lebetkin
The Active Times

Most people think of surfing as a sport for the sun-drenched shores of Southern California, Hawaii or Australia --- places where tanned surfer boys and girls can ride waves in paradise.

While there's a kernel of truth to that stereotype, surfing has come a long way since the days of the Beach Boys and Gidget. It’s truly a worldwide phenomenon, showing up in such diverse places as India and Morocco.

In addition, surfing is so simple in concept -- board, meet wave -- that there’s no reason for it to be exclusively a warm-weather, saltwater activity. Waves, not sunshine, are the currency of surfing; and if those waves are in the Great Lakes, on a river in Wyoming, or breaking on Iceland’s volcanic shores, so be it.

No matter the location, devoted surfers will find a way to shred. A tiny Alaskan fishing village can become the “Far North Shore” if the waves are right and word gets out, and an underwater seamount a hundred miles from land can be a place where the surfing elite flocks to ride waves the size of buildings.

A wave doesn't even need to exist in nature to be a draw. Despite being on the Persian Gulf, Dubai's state-of-the-art wave park is what puts this glitzy Middle Eastern city on surfers' radar. Munich's Eisbach, a man-made river, wasn’t even designed with surfing in mind, but surfers found it, nevertheless.

If surfers know about an amazing point break or a recurring tidal wave, chances are someone has ridden it—and someone else is checking the swell forecast at this very moment.

The World's Most Surprising Surf Spots Slideshow



This fiery Arctic island may seem like the last place you'd want to catch some waves, but it has a couple major advantages. If you don’t mind donning some thick neoprene and braving near-freezing temperatures, you'll have your pick of uncrowded breaks along the rugged shore of Iceland's Reykjanes Peninsula, just southwest of Reykjavik. And, because the peninsula is so exposed to the North Atlantic, it gets swell from all directions all year long, according to Transworld Surf magazine. Still, you might want to wait for those endless summer days.


Dubai, U.A.E.

While it's no stretch to imagine surfers paddling out into the Persian Gulf (and they do), this ritzy Arab Emirate also sports one of the world's most advanced wave pools -- and it's in the middle of the desert, to boot. Wadi Adventure, which also has a whitewater kayaking course, has adjustable waves that reach up to 10 feet high. They're good enough that pro surfer Sally Fitzgibbons (pictured) has used them to perfect her aerials.


Munich, Germany

An artificial river flowing through southern Germany's biggest city, the Eisbach forms a meter-high standing wave that begat the sport of river surfing in 1975, according to This dangerous wave isn't for beginners, but that doesn't stop people from lining up for their chance to rip hundreds of miles from the ocean.


Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole is famous for a lot of things: access to two incredible national parks, world-class skiing, miles of mountain biking trails, whitewater rafting -- and surfing. The same class 3 rapids that send rafters barreling down the Snake River during spring runoff are also home to the "Lunch Counter," a standing wave that has attracted surfers since the 1970s. “This year the standing wave was at a great level for surfing for over a month,” says Eric Seymour, spokesman for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Surfers often line up, sans lifejackets, for turns on the wave.


Kovalam, India

Although India has 4,700 miles of coastline, the country's fledgling surf culture is only now finding its legs. Kovalam Surf Club, India's first organized surfing group headquartered in the coastal region of Kerala, was founded in 2005 by an NGO as a way to entice poor children to stay in school. The club’s success, along with the construction of an artificial reef 150 meters off of Lighthouse Beach, has made this city India's surf central. The town hosted the country’s first ever surf competition, the Spice Coast Open, in May.


Mullaghmore Head, Ireland

The countryside isn't all that's green in Ireland. Enormous emerald waves pound Mullaghmore Head during the winter, making this treacherous Atlantic break on Ireland's west coast a favorite for surfing daredevils. You don’t have to have a death wish to surf western Ireland, though: several breaks support nearby city of Sligo's multiple surf shops and surf schools.


New York City

Where else can you take the subway to your favorite local break? New York's concrete jungle may seem inhospitable to surfers, but the city has miles of uninterrupted beach on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, as well as a fiercely loyal surf scene to go with it. Within weeks of Hurricane Sandy, some locals were even hitting the waves in sight of the their own gutted homes.


Southern Morocco

South Africa doesn’t have a lock on the continent's surfing destinations. In Morocco, where the Atlas Mountains meet the North African coast, you can find miles of untouched beach along the wild North Atlantic. Surf tourism is picking up in the Berber fishing village of Taghazout, led by tour operators like Moroccan Surf Adventures, who offer "surf safaris" that head all the way to the Sahara.


Lake Tahoe

The Sierra Nevadas aren’t just for skiing. A growing number of adventure junkies have recognized the potential for surfing Tahoe’s chilly, crystal clear waters when fall storms blow in. "To be able to surf and ski in the same day in Tahoe, as we've been able to do on a handful of days this fall, is something really special," one surfer told ESPN.

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For the complete slideshow of the World's Most Surprising Surf Spots, go to

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