“It’s not really glassy, but it ain’t choppy, either,” Rob pronounced, and Aaron nodded knowingly. Now there’s a phrase to stick in your back pocket for when you need to sound like a surfer dude or dudette on the beach.
My husband, Rob, has retired his longboard, but as he stood on the sand with his surfer son and Aaron’s fiancée, he may as well have been catching a gnarly wave at the Cocoa Beach Pier, right there in the surfing capital of Florida. The two of them virtually surfed every break set that morning, with commentary informed by hundreds of rides, misses, and wipeouts.
Glassy, choppy, break, ankle-biters, sets, shred, swell, wipeout, cutback, duck-dive, barrel, closeout, quiver, skeg, gnarly, brah: It’s like they were talking their own language. This just goes to show that you need not be riding a board to be a surfer in Cocoa Beach. You just need to know how to talk, dress, and hang out.
Whether you are a wannabe or just wanna-appear-to-be surfer, you can hang with the best of them when it comes to riding the swell of surfing culture in Cocoa Beach on Florida’s so-called Space Coast. Follow these tips, which I’ve gleaned from years of traveling with my surfer guys, for visiting the state’s surfing capital like a true wave-shredder.
1. Prepare For Your Descent On Cocoa Beach
It’s a lot about attitude and image. So, before you head to this Florida East Coast surfing mecca, download some Beach Boys tunes to your playlist, get a bushy blonde wig (optional), break out the Sex Wax (hey — mind out of the gutter; it’s for sticky-ing up your surfboard), practice your shaka (aka hang loose) hand sign, and tune into the local surf report. Pack your board shorts and rash guard, a wetsuit if it’s winter (usually the best time for surf in Florida), and that’s about it. You might want some flip-flops if you ever plan on leaving the beach. Don’t worry if you are lacking in gear. Cocoa Beach has enough surf shops to equip the entire state.
2. Get A Room
Speaking of leaving the beach, you should book accommodations ahead of time, and of course, they should preferably be on or near the beach so as not to waste a moment of wave action. A number of chain hotels huddle around the pier. If you’re more into the beach-chair surfer scene, however, go for something with built-in surfer flavor. For instance, we love Beachside Hotel & Suites, steps off the beach and just a couple of miles from the pier.
It has a retro surfing theme with a bar called Duck Dive and free soft-side surfboard usage — also beach wagons, bikes, beach chairs, and boogie boards to borrow. (But as any bona fide surfer knows: Friends don’t let friends boogie board; you may want to get that sticker for your car.) If you’re bringing young kids along, they’ll go for the lazy river-style pool, and the free hot breakfast buffet rates way higher than the average.
3. Use Your Words
Just google surfer jargon so you are ready to hold your own in conversation with surfers, or to deliver, like Rob and Aaron, your expert-sounding surf report for hours on end from the beach.
4. Head To Ron Jon
If I need to explain Ron Jon Surf Shop, your case just may be hopeless. Stick to the swimming pool. The gigantic shop on Cocoa Beach is Florida’s original Ron Jon. With its spires and spaciousness, I like to refer to it as “the cathedral of surf shops.” Before you enter, pay homage to its sand-like sculptures of Florida surfing greats such as Kelly Slater out front around the jumbotron and other surfing video screens. Inside, you will find, on its two floors, everything you need for your new surfer look — from rash guards and cool shades to wetsuits and, of course, surfboards.
5. Don’t Buy That Surfboard Yet
Rent first, buy later. After all, you may just be carrying it around for effect, or decide you’re too goofy-footed (google it) to make the grade. Ron Jon and just about every hotel and surf shop along Route A1A lends or rents surfboards. Sure, they’re foam boards and not as cool as the slick fiberglass ones. But those pro boards will set you back three figures, even four for the top name brands.
Pro Tip: “Yeah, brah, I had to leave my Lost board at home ‘cuz I flew down,” will work almost as well as carrying around a top-dollar board.
6. Grab Some Surf Culture
While you’re at the rental shop at Ron Jon, head to the back and soak up some surfing history at the Florida Surf Museum. It’s just big enough to educate but small enough to swallow before you head to the beach. Changing exhibits address surfing bygones with retro photos, videos, boards, and other artifacts as they apply to Florida.
Pro Tip: Stop next door for homemade key lime pie or ice cream and a six-pack of local beer for apres-surfing.
7. Head To The Pier
Now officially known as the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier, it was first built in 1962 out of 270 pilings and enough boardwalk planks to stretch 2.5 miles. The draw for surfers is obvious, as the structure causes waves to break around it. You don’t have to be a surfer or even a wanna-be to while away most of a day at the pier, however. The beach around it is textbook gnarly, with volleyball nets and wide, white sands.
If you are there just to watch the surfing, there’s no better vantage point. The end of the pier outdoor bar and Pelican’s Bar & Grill inside look right down on the surfers as they catch waves. Or don’t. A number of dining options, bars, and kitschy souvenir shops line the 800-foot pier with various styles of wares and ambiance, all suitable for surfing or beach attire.
Pro Tip: Best selfies? Stand on the designated spot in the parking lot to get the Cocoa Beach Pier archway sign in the picture behind you. Or gather on the oversized Adirondack chair or in front of the 3D underwater-motif mural at Trader Rick’s Marketplace.
8. Head To The Jetty
The second most popular spot to surf along Florida’s Space Coast, Jetty Park — named for another structure that naturally causes wave break — lies 3 miles north of the pier at the mouth of Port Canaveral. It has its own live online surf cam (as does the pier), so you can check out the waves in real time. Island Watercraft Beach Rentals rents boards. If you get serious about learning to stand up for a thrill ride, the shop even offers private lessons and surfing camps.
On this part of the coast, the best place to stay for the surfing vibe is Cape Canaveral Beach Resort (formerly Ron Jon Resort, now a Holiday Inn product). It has plenty of fun water features and dining for families and resort potatoes.
Pro Tip: Jetty Park is a popular spot for also watching space shuttle launches. So, if you’re serious about getting some quality wave time without wading through crowds, you may want to avoid it whenever nearby Kennedy Space Center has one scheduled.
9. Plan Your Next Spectating Trip
If, like me, you become obsessed with watching surfers in the flesh, plan your next visit to Cocoa Beach during a surfing event. Most respected, the Annual NKF Rich Salick Pro-Am Surf Festival happens at the pier beach over Labor Day weekend in September and has for 36 years. In March, Ron Jon hosts Beach ‘N Boards Fest at nearby Shepard Park beach. It includes competition in professional surfing, foil surfing, SUP/kayak fishing, 5k run/walk, paddle races, and beach volleyball.