Can you surf in Port Douglas?

If you’re in the process of planning a visit to Queensland, it’s quite possible you’ve been checking out photos of Port Douglas and other coastal towns in the region on the internet. If you have, you’ll have seen some amazing images of golden beaches where the frothing white foam of the waves is breaking against the shore. There’s no arguing with the fact Port Douglas looks like a surfer’s paradise. So if the pictures have inspired you to get your surfboard out of the garage and give it a good waxing ready for some surfing action on your vacation, then the one thing you’ll really want to know is – can you surf in Port Douglas?

The closest beach to Port Douglas, Four Mile Beach, does not have the best waves for surfing with longboards but is good for stand-up-paddleboarding or wind and kite surfing when the Trade winds are blowing. Port Douglas does make an ideal base for visiting other surf spots located nearby along the stretch of Queensland coast and for participating in other adventure sports.

Where Are The Best Surf Spots Near Port Douglas?

There are reasonably good surf spots on the beaches both to the north and south of Port Douglas. Some are patrolled by members of the Surf Life Saving Australia organization but many, mostly those north of Port Douglas, are not. The SLSA recommend checking out the surfing conditions on their website for each beach before going. The site is updated daily with weather reports, swell sizes and tidal information as well as any marine hazard warnings relevant to each beach.

The beaches monitored by the SLSA lifeguards will usually have red and yellow flags posted to mark the safe area for swimmers. Either end of the flagged zone there will be black and white chequered flags showing the boundary limits for surfing as surfers and their boards are not permitted inside the swim areas.

Cow Bay is a one and a half hour drive north of Port Douglas and provides surfers with a choice of three different beaches all with waves of over half a meter in height. Both the Cow Bay north and south beach are better for surfing when the Trade winds are blowing as the beach breaks can reach up to one meter high. Although the Cow Bay beaches are all unpatrolled, they’re rated low risk on the SLSA hazard scale.

Kewarra Beach is just under an hour’s drive south from Port Douglas. It’s only worth the journey for keen surfers if there’s a south-easterly wind at mid-tide to liven up the mostly calm waves. It’s not a bad place to throw a towel down on the sand and wait for surf up though. The views from the beach are scenic, and the SLSA have a clubhouse nearby which has a bar, bistro-restaurant, and a gaming room.

Ellis Beach is in the area of Palm Cove and a forty minutes drive south from Port Douglas. The two and a half kilometer long beach receives waves which are on average half a meter high with a sloppy grading from low to mid-tide. The SLSA maintain a clubhouse on Ellis Beach and provide lifeguard patrols from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon.

Wonga Beach, half an hour to the north of Port Douglas, offers surfers a low beach break at mid tide. The beach is not patrolled, and surfers should be aware of the possible presence of strong tidal currents and saltwater crocodiles around the Daintree River inlet .

Is It Dangerous To Surf In Port Douglas?

Before hitting the waves on the beaches around Port Douglas with a surfboard, it’s good to know about some of the dangers you might encounter in the water.

Rip tides or rip currents are one of the major dangers in the waters around Port Douglas and along the Queensland coastline. If you’re new to the area where you are planning on going surfing, ask the locals or if the beach is patrolled, the lifeguards, if there are rip currents present.

Rips can appear without warning when the sea conditions change for any reason and can be strong enough to carry both surfer and board out to sea. Being caught in a rip current can even go initially unnoticed while you’re paddling out until you realize you’re not just paddling but being swept along. The best way to get out of the clutches of a rip current is to stay on your board, don’t try to paddle against the current, but wait until the rip runs out then paddle to where there are waves breaking or white water which will carry you back to shore. You can find in-depth information and videos about rip currents on the Surf Life Saving Australia website – here.

Salties or saltwater crocodiles inhabit the Coral Sea along the coast of Queensland and are present in some areas on the beaches near Port Douglas. Avoid anywhere which has a sign showing crocodiles are present, surfing near river inlets or walking along areas on the beach where there are mangroves growing.

Shark sightings off the beaches of Port Douglas are rare, but there are sharks in the Coral Sea. To avoid any mishap don’t go surfing at night or if you have an open wound which is bleeding.

Box and Irukandji jellyfish occupy the waters off Port Douglas from November through to March. It’s best to avoid surfing during the months of stinger season. If a beach has signs posted saying it’s closed, don’t go surfing there.

Are There Alternatives To Surfing In Port Douglas?

It has to be said; if you’re looking for one, you’re never far from an adventure in Port Douglas. If the waves in Port Douglas aren’t big enough to get your adrenaline flowing or don’t appear when you want them to, there are several other aquatic-orientated options which you might enjoy just as much as surfing.

Kayaking or canoeing are both great ways of exploring the offshore areas and waterways of Port Douglas without getting wet. Paddle out over the Great Barrier Reef early in the morning in a sea-kayak, and you could spot dolphins, green turtles, and sea eagles. Most canoeing and kayaking tours take up about half a day so aren’t too hard on the arms if you’ve never done it before.

For a complete change from Port Douglas’s coastal scenery, canoe or paddle board down the Mossman River and through the lush rainforest of Mossman Gorge. It’s a surreal experience being in the natural habitat of strange creatures like tree kangaroos, eastern water dragons and platypus all of which you stand a fair chance of seeing as you paddle along the gorge. If you’re new to paddleboarding, no worries, all SUP tours include a skill lesson and practice session with a qualified instructor who will have you afloat in minutes and there are frequent rest stops during the outing so it isn’t too strenuous.

If canoeing and paddle boarding are too tame for your adventurous spirit, then head to Cairns where you can join a tour which will take you white water rafting on the Tully River. Some traveling is involved as the rapids are two hours outside of Cairns, but it’s well worth the trip for the incredible adrenaline buzz you get while hurtling down the river in an inflatable dinghy. White water rafting is an extreme sport so not for everyone, and you’ll need to be fit and healthy to participate.

Not quite as thrilling, but just as much fun are jet skis. There are several places on Wharf Street in Port Douglas where you can hire jet skis for half an hour to an hour and go off to enjoy a whizz around over the Coral Sea on your own. It’s also possible to join jet ski tours which go out to the Great Barrier Reef or Snapper Island for turtle spotting.

When surfing is off the agenda because there are marine stingers,  sail out from Port Douglas to the reefs around Low Isles Island on a glass-bottom boat, and you’ll still be able to see what’s beneath the water. Many boat tours going out to the reefs and beyond provide passengers with stinger suits so they can still enjoy some snorkeling whatever the season.

Related Questions

When do the Trade winds blow in Port Douglas? 
The strongest south-easterly winds reach the Queensland coastline and Port Douglas between April and September.

Can I hire kitesurfing equipment in Port Douglas? 
Yes, it’s possible to hire kitesurfing equipment from Windswell Kitesurfing Australia on Barrier Street in Port Douglas. They also offer complete kitesurfing packages for learners and tours.

Do I need to buy a stinger suit or can I rent one? 
Stinger suits are available for rent i
n Port Douglas from stores offering surf and snorkeling equipment for sale and hire.

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