[Original article written by Jordon Beckler]
Wilmington is a surf-oriented college town in southern NC, approximately 6-7 hours from Atlanta. It is home of the University of North Carolina Wilimington. Folks from all over the east coast, especially from the colder mid-atlantic states choose UNCW for the lively party atmosphere and consistent surf. Not to mention a few hour ride to the surfing mecca of the Outer Banks, the undeniable home of the best surfing on the east coast south of the frigid New England waters.
While Wilimington itself is not a beach town, it is the gateway to the barrier islands (N to S) of Wrightsville Beach, Masonboro Island, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach. All of these beaches have a different feel both culturally and surf wise.
The place is a very affluent beach town, lined with beautiful homes, fine restaurants, a strip of bars, and beautiful people. It is the beach of choice for both surfers and regular beachgoers, and is therefore full of much eyecandy. There are two piers on the island: the North pier (Johnny Mercer pier) is concrete and offers decent surf.
However, the other pier offers better surf, especially for longboarding, and is in closer proximity to C-street, which has excellent sandbars and much more walled up waves for a pretty aggressive crowd. But don’t worry, the locals are friendly and if they are rude, just remind them that no one in Wrightsville is actually a local.
The real secret of Wilmington is Masonboro island. Mase is a few hundred yards across the inlet on the south side of Wrightsville. Being a nature preserve, the only access to Mase is by boat (water taxi: ~$20-$25 per person, round trip, or hitch a ride from a friendly boater; they will usually help you out) or by paddling across the inlet a.k.a the tiger shark breeding ground. The paddle is quite exhausting and depending on the tides can be downright dangerous for weaker paddlers who frequently are pulled out to sea and need coast guard rescue. The waves on Mase refract off the pier and create one of the best breaks on the east coast during Nor’easters. The waves break California-style, with a long depth gradient and a lack of “a ditch”. This is quite unique for the east coast and is quite desirable for surfers of all skill levels.
The real beauty of Mase, however, is the environment. There are no structures for about a dozen miles, but tall sand dunes create safe-havens from the wind and sometimes, the sun. Camping and fires are allowed, and choosing your campsite from all of the valleys of the sand dunes is one of the funnest parts of Mase. It always reminds me of the scene in Endless Summer when they cross the sand dunes and fall upon an oasis of waves in the desert. Not to mention the surf is usually firing!
You are guaranteed an amazing experience for a couple-day camping session. Just be prepared, as sun relief is minimal and dehydration and sunburns are almost guaranteed quite possible. It is worth it to take the water taxi over on a Friday, and have them pick you up early on Sunday afternoon. Just be careful of oyster beds on the intercoastal side of the island where the boats land, as I followed up a Mase session with a trip to the hospital for foot surgery one time!
Carolina Beach is a 25 minute drive from Wilmington and is well worth it. Although the atmosphere is lacking relative to Wrightsville, you will usually not get bothered from camping on the beach. During the off-season, you can find an abandoned house and park there, and camp behind the house. Just leave a note on the car in case the homeowners return and explain you are a broke college student and for them to have mercy on you.
The waves in CB can be quite powerful and hollow, especially near the drainage pipe. There isn’t much else to say about CB. One more thing. There are pay-campsites a short drive from the beach with nice facilities and reasonable prices. It is probably the best camping option in and around Wilmington if you want to be ready for dawn patrols and can’t arrange a trip out to Mase.
Kure Beach is similar to Carolina, and it actually the same island. Kure has a little more to offer in terms of culture, and also a pier. During sideshore drift days, put in on the south end of Kure and you can expect to drift all the way down to Carolina Beach and hit some amazing sand bars on the way. Kure also is home to Fort Fisher military base, where there is a genuine point break! Although rumor has it “the cove” used to break much more frequently than it does anymore, I’ve seen some great peeling lefts a few hundred meters long.
The many options of Wilmington make it an awesome choice for surf travel from Atlanta. It faces south so although the swell-window is limited, on the right S swell it can be much better than any other option within a reasonable drive from Atlanta. Check it out, and don’t forget to invite me!