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Surfing in Thailand: Stoked in the Land of Smiles

Surfing in Thailand? Whattt? Can you surf in Thailand? Are there even any waves in Thailand? This post is part of our Sea Hearts Recon series where we bring you the inside scope on surf destinations around the world and this time we’re going surfing in Thailand!

Solving the Mystery: Is there Surf in Thailand?

The stage is set and everyone is down on the beach in surf threads.  Board shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and flip flops are the outfits de jour.  Converted-combis are pumping out cold pressed coffee, twenty-somethings sell surf suits and bikinis, and young boys whiz through the crowd on colorful Penny skateboards. The announcer calls everyone’s attention to the ocean as tiny ankle-biter waves lap at the shore.  I watch as two young boys run down to the water’s edge, surfboards in hand, and get ready to strap their leashes to their ankles.

I can’t help but ask, ‘where are the waves?’  Where is the swell for the rash-guard clad surfers waiting on the shore?  As I gaze past the crowds and onto the calm seas at Patong Beach, I’m filled with doubt. The question remains: is there really surfing in Thailand?

Anni shredding the waves in Thailand and representing the Thai Surf Team.

In the coming days, I would see for myself that the answer is a resounding yes but at that moment in Patong I’d have to use my imagination.  Luckily, my mind surfing was assisted by the Thai National Surf Team who highlighted the surf demonstration.  The standout was a girl called Anni Flynn.  You could tell that Anni ripped on a surfboard despite the fact she had to be towed into the micro surf by a jet ski while surfing tiny waves in Phuket.  When she let go of the rope, she smashed the lip of a right-handed ripple in the shore break.  If you know anything about surfing, you know that completing maneuver in extremely small conditions can be as difficult as performing in the big stuff.  Anni and her teammates showed they had talent. 

I later learned that Anni was not only a junior champion for Asia but had recently won back-to-back World Flowboard Championships. When I caught up with Anni she explained that during the surf season, which lasts from June until the beginning of December, she finds plenty of waves around Phuket. Anni notes, “when it is really big on the island is when the monsoon hits.  When you see all the storms and all the rain is when the waves really pick up.  They’re not beautiful, the water is grey, they are tumbling everywhere but they have good form for us surfers.” 

Phuket surfing is relatively new, but the government is promoting surfing in Thailand heavily with its new Phuket Surf Festival.

The waves at Patong may be hit or miss when I visited in early June, but Anni believes the best surfing in Thailand isn’t until July or August with her home beach being the pick of the Phuket surf spots.  When I ask her about where her favorite place to surf is she answers easily, “definitely, Kata. Kata is the main place where I go.  But if Kata is too small, I go to Kata Noi.  It’s a much smaller beach and so it picks up more swell.  But it’s not far, only a five minute drive.”  Of course, when the surf is microscopic, there’s always the Flow Rider in Patong, Phuket to practice your cutbacks and turns.  Turns out the super-stoked young Thais in Phuket are are finding ways to get in the water and ride their surf crafts almost everyday.

Khao Lak: A Learner’s Paradise and the Top Secret Best Surfing in Thailand

“If waves start getting bigger than 2 foot, everyone is like ‘get the kids out of the water,’” remarks my Thai traveling companion who is an adventure sports junkee and recently started surfing.  I wonder out loud if this a lingering mental effect of the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated this coast line and killed over 5,000 people back in 2004. She nods in agreement. Except for the very young, most of the Thai surfers I met during this trip were alive during the tsunami and were at least indirectly affected by its devastation.  

I asked Tah, owner of Pakarang Surf School and Monkey Dive Hostel in Khao Lak, whether the 2004 tsunami affected the development of surfing as sport in Thailand. “After 5 or 10 years, people started coming back to the beach.  Many of the kids here, they lost their family and many people are Moken people.  Matt, an expat American, started bringing all the kids from school and teaching them surfing and about the ocean after the tsunami.  So, now it’s better.  When they can surf they are proud to surf and they go to school and show other people and more people are coming to learn.”  

Surfing in Thailand was easy to access, mellow, and just plain fun. Pretty much the opposite of a hardcore Indo trip, like our trip to the Telos Islands. But, sometimes that’s just what you need.

Thailand is a perfect place for beginner surfers. Photo: @tah_surferday

But surfing in Thailand is still a relatively new phenomenon.  Despite wanting to surf since he was a child, Tah only learned to surf about six years ago.  “I think I was part of one of the first Thai groups to start surfing in this area. Many people were surfing in Patong and Phuket for the last ten years, but here was a hidden place.  You see the road coming here, it’s like a jungle.  No one believed that you could come here and surf.”  Tah remarks of Khao Lak.  In fact, Tah himself didn’t believe you could surf in his hometown until he was living in Australia and saw photographs of people surfing in Khao Lak and Phuket.

Perfect water and waves for surfing in Thailand at Khao Lak. Photo: @tah_surferday

But things have changed.  Just last year, Tah taught over 4,000 students from Bangkok and around the world to surf in Khao Lak’s gentle surf.  

I can see why wannabe surfers would flock to Khao Lak.  The beach resort community is located only 1.5 hours from the seedy shores of Patong but is a world away.  The Phang Nga region is noted for its many National Parks and abundant wildlife. The waves are gentle but more consistent than Phuket due to shadowing of the area by Sumatra.  Tah nails the reason so many Bangkokians are flocking to Khao Lak, “the beach is quiet, beautiful and easy.”

When I finally get my surf suit on, I can hardly contain my excitement to finally get out in the lineup and surf in Thailand.  I grab a board from the palm tree thatched sheds of Pakarang Surf School and run out to the sand.  Local kids rip on shortboards while older expats cruise on longboards in the small but punchy conditions.  The water is as warm as a bathtub.  All up there’s about 30 people in the water spread out down the beach.   Beyond the sand, seemingly out of place pine trees line the beach.  I pull into a glassy close out and feel the undeniable stoke that is calling all these Thais to learn to surf.

… 

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Double Shakas and Smiles

“Everyone, do the shaka hands!” Beams the announcer at the opening ceremony of the Phuket Surf Festival where this story began.  Twenty-five Thai government agents, surfers, entrepreneurs, and tourism officials shake their outstretched pinky and thumb on stage while the surf-paparazzi let their shutters fly.  There are no waves but everyone is so happy.  The Land of Smiles lives up to its name.  

But these happy people have more to smile about the 6 inch waves on offer that day.  Thailand now boasts its own talented surf team, waves that lure tourists from around the world, and the momentum to change the general population’s existing beliefs about surfing.  

The stars of the Thai Surf Team exhibiting the “shaka hands”

So, what’s next for surfing in Thailand?  

Thai Surf Team Star, Anni hopes that more and more girls get involved.   She says, “I want to see more girls.  I want to see the girls get out in the waves and have fun and not care about keeping their skin white so much.  Just wear sunscreen.  If you’re going to get dark skin, get it.  I just want to see surfing in Thailand grow so much bigger than it is with girls leading the charge!”  

Tah knows that his stomping grounds in Khao Lak will continue to bring the stoke of surfing into so many people’s lives.  But first he has some convincing to do, “actually, many Thai people don’t believe we can surf in Thailand.  They don’t understand surfing.” Slowly this is changing.  Tah is standing by to assist at his very professional surf school that will help both Thais and foreigners surf in Thailand and beyond.  “Many people improve themselves.  They go overseas and surf and see how great the waves are here in Thailand.”  

The bottom line is that if you’re looking for a fresh, refreshing surf scene in a country full of very happy people and excellent food, Thailand could be your place.  If you’re looking for a place to learn to surf or just ride some very user friendly waves, you’ve got to see Khao Lak.  

Destination: Surfing In Thailand

Thailand is not typically known as a surfing destination due to its lack of consistent waves. However, there are a few spots where you can catch some surf, particularly during the monsoon season from May to October. Here are some places to consider for surfing in Thailand, along with surf instruction, places to eat, and things to know before you go:

  1. Phuket: Kata Beach and Kamala Beach in Phuket are popular spots for surfing, especially during the monsoon season. There are several surf schools in Phuket that offer lessons for beginners.
  2. Khao Lak: Located north of Phuket, Khao Lak has several beaches that can offer good waves during the monsoon season. There are also surf schools in Khao Lak that offer lessons and board rentals.
  3. Koh Lanta: Koh Lanta is a quieter island with a laid-back vibe, making it a great place to relax and surf. Long Beach on Koh Lanta is a good spot for beginners to learn how to surf.
  4. Places to Eat: Thailand is famous for its delicious and affordable street food. You can find street food stalls and local restaurants near most surf spots in Thailand. Some popular dishes to try include pad Thai, green curry, and mango sticky rice.
  5. Surf Instruction: There are several surf schools in Thailand that offer lessons for all skill levels. Look for schools that are accredited by organizations like the International Surfing Association (ISA) or the Academy of Surfing Instructors (ASI).
  6. Things to Know Before You Go:
  • Check the surf forecast before you go to ensure there will be waves.
  • Renting a board is often cheaper than bringing your own board.
  • Be mindful of local surf etiquette and respect the locals in the lineup.
  • Wear sunscreen and stay hydrated, as the sun in Thailand can be intense.

While Thailand may not be a world-renowned surfing destination, it can still offer some fun waves for beginners and intermediate surfers, especially during the monsoon season. Make sure to do your research and plan accordingly for the best surfing experience in Thailand.

Spotlight on Surfing In Khao Lak

On my trip, we went surfing in Khao Lak and I found the place quite enchanting. Khao Lak, located north of Phuket in Thailand, is known for its beautiful beaches and relaxed atmosphere, making it a surprising destination for surfing. While there aren’t as many surf schools in Khao Lak as in some other surfing hotspots, there are a few reputable ones that offer surf lessons and rentals. Here are some surf schools in Khao Lak:

  1. Pakarang Surf School: This is one of the oldest surf schools in Khao Lak, offering surf lessons for beginners and intermediate surfers. They have experienced instructors who provide personalized instruction based on your skill level.
  2. Surf House Khao Lak: While not a traditional surf school, Surf House Khao Lak offers a unique experience with its simulated surfing wave. It’s a great place for beginners to learn the basics of surfing in a safe environment before hitting the waves.
  3. Nang Thong Beach Surf School: Located on Nang Thong Beach, this surf school offers lessons for all levels, from beginners to advanced surfers. They also provide board rentals for those who want to surf on their own.
  4. Khao Lak Surf Rider: This surf school offers private and group lessons for beginners and intermediate surfers. They focus on teaching proper surfing techniques while ensuring a fun and safe experience.

Before booking a surf lesson, it’s a good idea to check the reviews and credentials of the surf school to ensure they meet your expectations. Additionally, consider the time of year you plan to visit, as surf conditions can vary depending on the season.

When to go Surfing in Thailand

In Thailand, the surf conditions vary depending on the season and location. The best time for surfing in Thailand is during the monsoon season, which typically runs from May to October. During this time, the southwest monsoon brings consistent swells to the west coast of Thailand, creating ideal conditions for surfing.

The main surf spots in Thailand are along the west coast, particularly in Phuket, Khao Lak, and the Andaman Sea islands. Some of the popular surf spots include Kata Beach and Kamala Beach in Phuket, as well as Bang Tao Beach in Khao Lak.

During the monsoon season, you can expect to find waves ranging from 2 to 6 feet, with occasional larger swells. The water temperature is warm, averaging around 28-30°C (82-86°F), so you can surf comfortably in board shorts or a shorty wetsuit.

Outside of the monsoon season, the surf conditions in Thailand are generally less consistent, with smaller waves and less reliable swells. However, there are still occasional surfable days, especially in the shoulder months of April and November.

Overall, the best time to go surfing in Thailand is during the monsoon season, from May to October, when you can enjoy consistent swells and warm water temperatures. If you’re planning a surf trip to Thailand, be sure to check the surf forecast and local conditions before you go to make the most of your surfing experience.

Check the Khao Lak surf report.

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