LAIDBACK AND OFFBEAT

Legendary Surf Towns

Follow the surf-board-toting crowd, and wherever you land, you'll find a great vibe. Not to mention plenty of sun, sand, and good eats. Surfer Kimball Taylor takes you on a guided tour.

By Kimball Taylor, Tuesday, Oct 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Dominical, Costa Rica (Nikki McLeod)

BRAZIL
Fernando de Noronha
This island 225 miles off the northeast coast of Brazil is as pristine as they come, and it's determined to stay that way—visitors have to pay an environmental preservation tax (TPA) of $20 per day. But the surfing, diving, and snorkeling are so good, and the scenery is so lush, that no one seems to mind chipping in for the island's protection.

Sleep: The bright, air-conditioned apartments at Pousada Del Mares are decorated with Brazilian artwork (Rua do Sol, Vila dos Remédios, 011-55/81-3619-1243, from $111).

Fuel up: Surfers love Fernando's big family-style dinners, which have a tradition of joining locals and travelers together. Palhoça da Colina serves up one of the best spreads on the island—but make sure you have a reservation, and get there by 8:30 p.m. (Estrada da Colina 4, Vila do Trinta, 011-55/81-3619-1473, palhocadacolina.com, from $49).

Hang out: Join the eclectic crowd at Bar do Cachorro, which thumps nightly with forró music—similar to a polka lost in island rhythms (Terminal Turístico do Cachorro, Vila dos Remédios).

Surf: The friendly folks at Your Way will set you up with a local instructor suited to your level of experience (011-55/81-3619-1796, www.yourway.com.br, one-hour lessons from $31).

MEXICO
Troncones
Though only about 50 miles from the larger resort communities of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, its rural setting, jungle backdrop, and eco-vibe make Troncones feel a world away. The town is a haven for surfers, who are lured by the miles of waves and white- and golden-sand beaches.

Sleep: Quinta d'Liz is a clean and colorful B&B made up of six beachfront bungalows. Each has a private bathroom, and there's a communal kitchen (Playa Troncones, 011-52/ 755-553-2914, playatroncones.com, from $38).

Fuel up: The resort food at Manzanillo Bay's garden-patio restaurant might seem a bit much for surfers (golden malted waffles with fresh fruit and cream, anyone?), but that doesn't seem to deter them. Of course, the nice surf break directly in front of the restaurant doesn't hurt (Playa Troncones, 011-52/755-553-2884, www.manzanillobay.com, breakfast from $4.25).

Hang out: Go to the beachfront restaurant El Burro Borracho for local seafood like red snapper, shrimp tacos, and abalone fajitas. Wash it all down with a michelada: ice-cold Mexican beer that's accented with lime juice and salt (Playa Troncones, 011-52/755-553-2834, burroborracho.com, entrées from $6).

Surf: ISA Mexico offers one-day group and private lessons year-round. From November through May, when the weather is more reliable and the waves are more rideable, it also conducts multiday surf camps (541/550-7343, isamexico.com, lessons from $50).

PORTUGAL
Ericeira
With its cobblestoned streets and tiled buildings, Ericeira looks like a quintessential Portuguese fishing village. But north and south of the village center, scalloped cliffs give way to white-sand beaches and—much to surfers' delight—consistent right-hand reef breaks. Done surfing? Spend some time at the region's palaces and vineyards.

Sleep: Pensão Gomes, home to 20 modest rooms, might be a little rickety, but the staff is so effusively friendly that you won't mind a bit (Rua Mendes Leal 11, 011-351/261-863-619, from $37).

Fuel up: At Pão da Nossa Vila I, a café on the east side of the village square, the servers may be stoic, but the stiff cappuccinos, delicious pastries, and seven types of queques, similar to muffins, are anything but (Praça da Republica 12, 011-351/261-865-958, pastries from $1).

Hang out: In the center of town, the cozy Neptuno Pub offers Super Bock beer and, occasionally, fado, traditional Portuguese music with soulful lyrics backed by acoustic guitar (Rua Mendes Leal 12).

Surf: Na Onda Surf School has been teaching mere mortals to surf since 2003. It offers private lessons as well as multiday packages (Rua Patrocinio Ribeiro 7, 011-351/917-822-851, ericeirasurf.com, two-hour lesson $30, packages from $88).

FRANCE
Hossegor
The combination of relaxed European living—think leisurely French lunches—and miles of beaches with waves for every level has lured surfers to this spot in southern France for 20 years. A word of warning: If you're looking for a little peace and quiet, don't schedule your trip for August, which is when the rest of Europe descends on the town.

Sleep: All of the bungalows and cottages at Camping du Lac have full kitchens and sleep four to six people. Open April to September (580 route des Lacs, 011-33/5-58-43-53-14, camping-du-lac.com, one-week minimum in July from $386, two-night minimum for the rest of the season from $134).

Fuel up: Surfers like to boost their energy levels with fresh fruit or vegetable juice from Le Café Sud (Les Terrasses de l'Océan, Capbreton, 011-33/5-58-43-42-64, lecafesud.com, juice from $5).

Hang out: Follow the crowd to Rock Food, a restaurant and bar right next to the beach. When the Quiksilver Pro surfing contest is in town every September, the festivities last well into the night (place des Landais, 011-33/5-58-43-43-27, rockfoodhossegor.com).

Surf: Surf Trip will teach you how to ride a longboard or shortboard, bodyboard, or bodysurf (011-33/5-58-41-91-06, 90-minute class $52).

ECUADOR
Montañita
A relative newcomer on the surf scene, this tiny South American village is what some of the more established surf towns were like 20 years ago. Many of the accommodations are hostels or just barely a step above, but the bohemian international crowd wouldn't have it any other way. After all, the camaraderie—and consistently good waves from November through April—are why people come here in the first place.

Sleep: About a block from the beach, the hostel Cabañas Pakaloro has 10 rooms and plans to open more before the end of the year. Each room boasts a private bath. Most have a balcony with a hammock, and there's a shared kitchen and courtyard (Guido Chiriboga Parra, 011-593/9-741-5413, pakaloro.com, from $8 per person).

Fuel up: Go to Hotel Restaurante La Casa Blanca for the omelets and fruit smoothies, and stay for the board games in the open-air setting (Guido Chiriboga Parra and Costanera, 011-593/9-318-3202, continental breakfast $1.75).

Hang out: The nightly happy hour at Tiki Limbo Restaurante tends to be the ignition point for beach bonfires and all-night fiestas (Guido Chiriboga Parra, 011-593/9-954-0607, montanita.com/tikilimbo).

Surf: Montañita takes a laid-back approach to pretty much everything, surf lessons included. Rather than book in advance, simply meander along the three blocks of the main road, stop in one of the surf shops, and ask for a lesson. Rates start at $15 for a two-hour private session.

HAWAII
Haleiwa, Oahu
They say that if you're not surfing the monster waves on the North Shore between November and February, you're not serious about surfing. Fortunately for novices, there are some small, gentle breaks, too. When you're not in the water, head to Haleiwa town for its surf shops, cafés, and shave ice, a sno-cone-like Hawaiian specialty. Flip-flops required.

Sleep: Sharks Cove Rentals offers beach cottages with full kitchens and close access to Waimea Valley, Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Shark's Cove, a favorite snorkeling spot (59-672 Kamehameha Hwy., 888/883-0001, sharkscoverentals.com, from $75).

Fuel up: Big waves call for big breakfasts, and Café Haleiwa provides. Oversize omelets, banana pancakes, and breakfast burritos draw surfers, both before and after they ride the waves. (66-460 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-5516, breakfast from $6).

Hang out: The pupus—the Hawaiian word for appetizers—and cocktails at Haleiwa Joe's Seafood Grill are a nice way to end your day, but it's the view, which is worth a whole lot more than the price of a mai tai, that makes this spot a favorite gathering place (66-011 Kamehameha Hwy., 808/637-8005, haleiwajoes.com, appetizers from $3.50).

Surf: Hans Hedemann Surf, founded in 1994 by a former pro surfer from Hawaii, gives lessons at North Shore's Turtle Bay Resort (808/447-6755, hhsurf.com, two-hour lesson $75).

COSTA RICA
Dominical
The breaks attract surfers, and the setting—rain-forest-covered mountains, the Río Barú, long stretches of beach—attracts everyone else. This small Pacific coast town has experienced a bit of the Costa Rican boom in the past few years (Internet cafés and tropical-fusion restaurants abound), but it has managed to hold on to its rustic roots.

Sleep: Set just outside an 815-acre wildlife reserve, Hacienda Barú Lodge has a butterfly garden, bird-watching hikes, and some of the most beautiful orchids you'll ever see—all within walking distance of the beach (215-8000 San Isidro de P. Z., 011-506/2787-0003, haciendabaru.com, cabins for two $47).

Fuel up: Tortilla Flats, right on Dominical Beach, is the go-to spot for a sandwich and a drink. Surfers love its California Chicken sandwich, a baguette with grilled chicken, avocado, tomatoes, and mozzarella (Playa Dominical, 011-506/2787-0033, tortillaflatsdominical.com, sandwiches from $5.50).

Hang out: San Clemente Bar and Grill is the original surfer hangout, with a pool table, a ping-pong table, darts, broken surfboards hanging from the ceiling, and surf videos playing on the TVs (next to the soccer field on the main road, 011-506/2787-0055).

Surf: When you take a surfing lesson from Green Iguana Surf Camp, you get use of the board for a full 24 hours. Don't worry about storing it—most local hotels have designated surfboard areas or will let you keep it in your room overnight (011-506/8825-1381, greeniguanasurfcamp.com, two-hour lessons from $40).

SURF'S UP

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