Along the picturesque west coast of Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, lies a surfers’ (albeit a beginner surfer) paradise that often goes unnoticed. Despite not being renowned as a world surfing hotspot, Phuket boasts passable surf conditions thanks to its easy accessibility, a multitude of beautiful west-coast beaches, and a favourable exposure to the mighty Indian Ocean. When you peer out westward from Phuket’s famous beaches, you’re looking across thousands of kilometres of Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean, towards India.
Beyond its allure as a tourist destination, Phuket stands apart as the only place in the Land of Smiles with a thriving, year-round surf community. The bigger waves will appear in the wet season, from May to November.
The real surfing action is concentrated along the west coast, adorned with over 25 enchanting bays and beaches, each adorned with hidden coves and rocky reefs.
While Kata Beach and Nai Harn are among the prominent spots, seasoned surfers recommend exploring beyond these initial sessions. Armed with a rental car or taxi, surf enthusiasts head on a journey from one spot to another, discovering surprising quality waves that remain uncrowded, ranging from the airport in the north to the palm-topped Promthep Cape.
There are also long stretches of beach north of the airport but these beaches have a nasty shore break and unsuitable for anything beyond walking along the beach.
The island is an ideal place for beginners to commence their surfing journey. Phuket surf largely caters to beginners, offering a chance to refine skills before taking on more powerful waves found in destinations like Kuta Bali in Indonesia or Siargao in The Philippines.
At the northern end of Phuket, Airport Reef, aptly named due to the planes soaring overhead, features a wide bay called Nai Yang. While the shorebreaks vary with the shifting sandbanks throughout the seasons, the real attraction is the offshore coral reef, producing occasional head-high A-frame sets during larger swells. It remains a rare intermediate+ spot due to the 1,000-metre paddle required to reach the break.
Nai Thon is a less crowded gem, offering decent rights at the north end and mirroring lefts at the south end, provided there’s an extra touch of swell power.
Bang Tao Bay showcases long-period sets refracting into its northern headlands, creating quality logger rights, albeit rarely. The middle and southern ends are more consistent, though the waves may lack shape, attracting windsurfers to the area. The beach has also become one of the most popular tourist beaches, feeding off the growing community just inland at Cherng Talay.
For an exceptional right-hand wave experience, Pansea Beach, hugged by a reef cluster on the northern headland, stands out. Despite the luxury hotels in the vicinity trying to keep surfers away, catching a decent size swell can reward surfers with a thrilling 30-40 metre shoulder with a good wall for ripping.
Surin Beach, boasting luxury surroundings with swaying coconut palms and infinity pools, offers its best waves on the southern and northern headlands. The center of the beach tends to be sucky and shorebreaky, particularly during high tide.
Further south, Kamala Beach benefits from fringing reefs that hold the sandbars in place, providing a range of wave types along its length. The northern end near InterContinental Phuket Resort offers 1-2 metre swell days with long rides, while the middle of the bay features mellow beach peaks that change with the shifting sandbanks.
On the southern end of Kamala Beach, surfers will find cobblestone sections and smaller coves, where a fantastic left-hand point can come alive during bigger storm swells, catering to experts looking for a challenging ride.
Kalim Beach, at the very north end of Patong Beach, offers a rare delight as a pure reef break, capable of channeling the biggest wet-season swells into overhead waves. Surfing enthusiasts seeking a thrilling performance wave need to brace themselves for local company, as this spot attracts the island’s devoted surfers.
In contrast, Patong Beach doesn’t hold much allure for surfers – dominated by go-go bars, touts, traffic and a party-centric environment. Trying to surf there, you’ll be playing dodge-the-tourist and end up unsatisfied with the experience.
Relax Beach is in front of Le Meridien Hotel and is about 350 metres long. It offers a point break left off the rocks at its southern end, providing an exhilarating ride and even potential for aerial tricks. However, surfers may have to contend with hotel guards to access this wave. Be assured, you ARE permitted to access the beach as all of Thailand’s beaches are Crown property, not private.
Karon Beach welcomes total beginners with extra protection from dominant south-west swells, providing a friendly learning environment for those looking to catch their first waves in Asia.
Kata Beach is the best known surf beach on the island and remains a popular spot and an ideal starting point for surfers. It attracts wave riders with its neat sandbanks, particularly at the south end, plumping up even 1 metre swells into something steeper and faster. It has become increasingly popular with swimmers but the locals will be picking the spots along the beach… follow their lead.
Just nearby, Kata Noi entices a crowd of returnee surfers with its right-hand point break. It’s a small beach mostly dominated by upscale hotels.
Further south, Nai Harn Beach secures its place among the top surf spots in Phuket, strategically situated for swells and even some impressive waves, at least by Phuket standards. The north head provides a crumbly right-hander, while the south reveals occasional hollow, fast waves, even offering barrels during the biggest days, surprising surfers expecting the typical Thai surf experience.
Phuket remains a cherished destination for both seasoned wave chasers and enthusiastic beginners, offering a delightful blend of tropical beauty and occasional thrilling surf adventures.