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Morning glory at First Peak. Photo: Jason Hines

10 Best Surfing Campsites on the East Coast

A guide to going gritty on the Eastern Seaboard, from the Deep South to the Great White North.

If, like most surfers, you’re just an occasional outdoorsman who wants nothing more than to score great waves in this technologically charged, convenience-modified Age of Information — quite frankly, you just can’t beat a surgical strike or storm chase. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain benefits to going full Papillon once in a while. Camping under the stars (and bugs), illuminated by the moonlight (or lightning), with only the sound of the ocean (or storm surge) to lullaby you to sleep. Because, like a wise man once said, If it looks good when you’re checking it, you’re already too late. And if you’re already staked-out and bagged-up once it does turn on — the rumble of fresh swell stirring you awake before the sharks have even heard the breakfast bell — it’ll feel like God’s giving you your own personal, That’s what’s up.

When it comes to camping for surf on the U.S. East Coast, well, it ain’t California. Which is to say there aren’t a whole hell of a lot of options within walking distance of the best breaks. And since it gets too cold in the winter north of Florida, and too hot in the summer south of Maine, and too unpredictable in the spring, no matter where you are, it really only makes sense to camp in the fall, during the surf-saturated Atlantic Tropical Season. Nevertheless, we’ve unearthed a few no-brainers, from the Deep South to the Great White North, where going grid-less and getting gritty might work out in your favor.

1. SEBASTIAN INLET STATE PARK, FLORIDA

You can’t go wrong by starting at the star bar, Sebastian Inlet. Follow in the footsteps of giants. Acquaint yourself with Slater’s childhood muse. Trace the paths of aerial surfing’s pioneers. Or simply trip out on the animated, polychromatic spectacle of it all — exotic wildlife and schizophrenic weather battling for attention where the Indian River kisses the Atlantic Ocean. Loaded to the gills with amenities, the full-facility, 51-site-deep campground at Sebastian Inlet State Park is open 365 days a year and is a mere stone’s throw from one of the most legendary manmade waves in the country, First Peak, which has incubated more pro talent over the last 50 years than any other spot on the East Coast. While the classic wedge days are few and far between, the Inlet is still a wave magnet, preferring E swells, but between Spanish House to the north and Monster Hole out the back, there are myriad options to accommodate northerly pulses that might otherwise over-wedge at Sebastian Inlet proper.

Type: Tent or RV, 40ft maximum RV length, water and electrical hook-ups available.
Location: Sebastian Inlet, Florida.
Nearby waves: First-Third Peak, OK Signs.
Best season: Fall.
Who’s there: Rippers galore, including a who’s who of CT alumni, QS grinders, industry fixtures and phenomegroms. Who knows? Kelly Slater might even randomly pop in for a sesh.
Resources: Surfline Cam | Regional Forecast.

More info here.

2. ANASTASIA STATE PARK, FLORIDA

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When beach nourishment goes right (or left). St. Augustine. Photo: Patrick Ruddy

While not nearly as touted or crowded as Sebastian’s society, St. Augustine offers a much mellower scene, where camp life slows to the pace of a manatee filing his taxes. Nestled within some 1,600 unsullied acres of tidal marsh, maritime hammock and Ancient Dunes Nature Trail sublimity, Anastasia State Park is open year-round, offers 139 sites (electricity, water, picnic table, in-ground grill and fire ring included), and is a short trot away from the shore, where four miles of beachbreak bowls await your fancy footwork. Depending on size/period/direction of the favorable NE-SE swells, and any nourishment projects happening nearby, the sandbars here can be a revelation: horseshoe shorebreaks with board-breaking power. And surfing is actually listed on the park’s website as one of their main attractions, a testament to the stoke overflowing out of St. Augustine. “Ocean and beach equipment can be rented from Island Beach Shop and Grill, right in the park by the beach,” they pride. “There are also local surf shops around to help visitors.”

WATCH: See more from our live cam at St. Augustine Pier

Type: Tent or RV, 40ft maximum RV length.
Location: St. Augustine, Florida.
Nearby waves: Middles, Blowhole.
Best season: Fall.
Who’s there: Gabe Kling, Tory Strange and a couple kennels of St. Auggie doggies.
Resources: Regional Forecast.

More info here.

3. LITTLE TALBOT ISLAND STATE PARK, FLORIDA

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Michael Dunphy, covering his tracks on Little Talbot Island. Photo: Billy Watts

Not as aggro as Sebastian and not as hippie as St. Auggie, Jax Beach’s identity exists somewhere between, occupying its own uniquely tough urban/country plane. One of the last few undeveloped barrier islands in North Florida, Little Talbot offers five miles of sugary sand, sun-bleached roots and fallen cedar trunks to frame your shred. Open every day, 8am til dusk, all year long, campers get access to 36 campsites offering 20 and 30amp electricity, fresh water, fire ring and picnic table. Aside from the Robinson Crusoe-meets-M.C. Escher maritime vibe, the surf can get surprisingly good — long, powerful and hollow — particularly when a solid hurricane swell or coastal low does its thing, on a low to incoming tide, and with W winds. And unlike a lot of Floridian hotspots, Little Talbot can accommodate a variety of swell directions, and handle a fair bit of size.

Type: Tent or RV, 30ft maximum RV length.
Location: Between Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach, Florida.
Nearby waves: Talbot Island, North Jetty.
Best season: Fall.
Who’s there: Asher Nolan, Justin Quintal, the Thompson tribe… If it’s pumping, Talbot will be littered with Jax shredders. This is one of the East Coast’s most talent-rich strongholds.
Resources: Regional Forecast.
More info here.

4. FREEMAN PARK, NORTH CAROLINA

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Ben Bourgeois, holed up a half-hour from home in Carolina Beach. Photo: DJ Struntz

Twenty minutes south of the booming stokeopolis of Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beachoffers not only better camping options, but oftentimes better surfing options. Freeman Park on the northern end of CB consistently boasts surreal sunsets — and less consistently but still sometimes, throaty, thumping barrels comparable to Hatteras. Scoring an easterly groundswell with NW winds at low tide along this southeast-ish-facing beach can be a magical experience. After passing the pier, paying the fee and shifting to four-wheel drive, a quick scoot up the beach reveals a mile-and-a-half stretch of wide-open camping space (pay attention to the high tide line) to do with what you will. Well, not entirely. Camping on the beach usually comes with a lot of rules. Walking/driving on the sand dunes and blocking the travel lane are rightfully prohibited, while the strictly enforced trash-free policy extends to weird beach gear, ATV’s, fireworks, glass, and even liquor.

Type: Beach camping, 4WD vehicles only, stationed more than 10ft from dune fencing.
Location: Carolina Beach, North Carolina.
Nearby waves: CB Pier, Pelican Watch.
Best season: Fall.
Who’s there: Tony Silvagni, some tough locals and the occasional squad of ITK shredders from the Wilmington area.
Resources: Regional Forecast.
More info here.

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