Surf Options For Cairns and the Surrounding Areas

By Josh •  Updated: 08/09/23 •  8 min read

Surfing is a pretty popular water sport in Australia. But many seaside towns and waterfront cities of this island continent may not accommodate surfing.

Cairns of northern Queensland, Australia is also such a waterfront city that leaves vacationers wondering, can you surf in Cairns?

While it can be possible it is not reliable unless you are desperate, most surfing will be around the Cairns area at places like Ellis Beach, Rocky Point, Kewarra Beach, and Etty Bay. Additionally, you can travel out to the reefs to get excellent waves but there are significant travel times.

Surfing far north Queensland is not impossible but it can be challenging. But yes, an experienced and keen surfer can surf in Cairns. An amateur will have a hard time riding the low and unpredictable waves of Cairns.

If you want to go surfing near Cairns, you need to know more about the sea beaches of north Queensland.

In this article, you will find out just that. Let’s explore the waves of sea beaches around Cairns to find out where you can surf. 

Colorful vibrant Sunset Sea water ocean wave in barrel shape for surfing
Colorful vibrant Sunset Sea water ocean wave in barrel shape for surfing

Can you Surf in Cairns? 

If you are a beginner at surfing, chances are you will not find any suitable surfing spots in Cairns.

Moreover, you will not find a sandy beach in the city. You will need to venture out to the nearby seaside villages to find sandy beaches. 

The Cairns beaches are great for swimming and a relaxing day by the sea. But finding a decent surfing spot will be hard here due to the lack of waves.

The Great Barrier Reef absorbs waves and obstructs swells from reaching the coast.

Experienced surfers who have an adventurous streak can try surfing the reefs. But it will take a while for you to find decent waves.

Cairn sea beaches are great for swimming and even kite surfing but not surfing. 

Despite the lack of rideable waves, surfers are still on the lookout for surfing spots in Cairns and northern Queensland.

Surfers often visit Ellis beach and Kewarra beach near the Cairns area. Hence, although there is no surfing spot in Cairns, you can try surfing far north Queensland. 

5 Surfing Spots in Cairns and Surrounding Areas

Surfing in northern Queensland is a bit of a challenge compared to the sunny beaches of the Sunshine Coast and Southern Gold Coast.

But that does not stop die-hard surfers from testing the waters. Here are some beaches near the Cairns area that you can check out for surfing. 

Ellis Beach 

Locals love Ellis Beach for its calm and quiet atmosphere. It is located only 28 kilometers north of Cairns.

Only a half-an-hour drive from Cairns, this beach has a lot to offer to patient surfers. 

It’s a beautiful spot, often uncrowded and on the southern end you’ll find a right hand break. It doesn’t break often, however if you are desperate for a ride you can get one.

Cairns Life

You will find mid to low tides in Ellis Beach and surf breaks once in a while. The surf break of the wave on average is one to three feet high.

The surf breaks are small and thus you should use minimal or larger boards while surfing.

Although most beaches of far north Queensland are not surfing learner-friendly, Ellis beach is. On a good day, you will find local surfers who can give you pointers and also show you the best spots for surfing. 

While you are surfing on Ellis beach, beware of rocks and sharks. But don’t be alarmed because there is a Surf Life Saving Club House (SLS) here.

With the lifeguard patrolling the beach from 9 AM to 5 PM, you should be safe from any dangers. 

Rocky Point

If you want to surf far northern Queensland while visiting, you can check out Rocky Point. It is located 7 kilometers north of Port Douglas.

If you take the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns, it will take an hour’s drive for you to reach the spot. 

Rocky Point has a long peeling right hand, that breaks slowly and can range from 1 – 4 foot. Both spots can give a good ride, but just be wary of the conditions and more importantly what lurks in the water.

The swell of the sea ranges from 1 meter to 1.5 meters. The sea starts breaking from 3 feet in height and can go as high as 6 feet.

But surf brakes are rare in Rocky Point. To properly surf in Rocky Point, you will have to wait for tropical cyclones.

For example, this year due to the mini-cyclone Kimi, die-hard surfers could ride the waves of Rocky Point.

Hence enjoying surfing at this beach in northern Queensland, depends on the atmosphere.

The tropical northern region of Queensland is home to crocodiles. So, along with sharks, keep a lookout for crocodiles.

But there is no reason to be alarmed as there hasn’t been any recent news of a shark or crocodile attack in Rocky Point.

Kewarra Beach 

Only a 23-minute drive from Cairns, Kewarra beach is a great choice for keen surfers. They can relax on the sandy beach while waiting for the right wave to arrive. 

One of the best times to surf in Kewarra beach is when the southeastern wind livens up the calm waves at mid-tide.

Plus, like many other far northern Queensland beaches, Kewarra beach also sees some traction in the number of surfers during tropical cyclones. 

Kewarra beach is not visited by local surfers only during cyclones, but all year round. You will also find stand-up paddleboarders riding the rolling waves of this beach.

These paddle-boarders are frequent visitors of the Kewarra beach despite the lack of big waves. 

There are also several lifesaving and surfing clubhouses along with SLS near Kewarra beach.

So, although there is a crocodile hazard here during the wet season, surfing is more or less safe.  

Etty Bay

Etty Bay is an hour and a half drive from Cairns. But this hidden treasure of the locals is worth the 90-kilometer drive.

From fishing, swimming, and surfing, you can enjoy all these activities and more in Etty Bay. 

Amongst the ordinary surfing spots of the far north, Etty Bay stands out. It is visited by a regular stream of local surfers. The bay is a popular recreational sport for swimmers and surfers alike.

The mid tides of Etty Bay rarely see surf breaks. But the southeastern wind sometimes livens the rolling waves.

Also during any tropical cyclone, surfers enjoy riding the rolling waves of Etty Bay. During such times the size of the swells ranges from 2 meters to 6 feet or more.

Yorkeys Knob

You can visit Yorkeys Knob for surfing while you are in Cairns. It is only a 22-minute drive from Cairns. You can go stand-up paddleboarding, and surf the waves and the winds on this beach. 

The low tides of Yorkeys Knob beach do not stop it from being super surf-friendly.

Although the waves are usually half a meter high, it’s perfect for the far north Queensland that does not see much surf action. 

Moreover, Yorkeys Knob beach features various water sporting events such as kitesurfing, jet-skiing, fishing, boating, and more.

The beach is also popular for offering a family-friendly environment.

Kitesurfing in Cairns and Surrounding Areas

The lack of waves in north Queensland may have hindered some serious surfing. But the low waves of Cairns and other sea beaches of north Queensland increased the popularity of kitesurfing. 

If you want to glide over clear blue waters and feel the wind on your face, head over to Yorkeys Knob beach.

Ask any local and they will also tell you that the best spot for kitesurfing near Cairns is Yorkeys Knob beach.

Other than Yorkeys Knob beach, Port Douglas and Palm Coves also offer great spots for kiteboarding and kitesurfing.

You should visit Cairns and surrounding beaches between April to November for the best kitesurfing experience.

Final Verdict: Can You Surf in Cairns?

As you can see, Cairns itself may not be the best place to visit for surfers. But many expected might actually be looking for the serenity and unpredictability of the Cairns sea beaches.

So, if that’s the case for you, then go right ahead.

If not directly in Cairns though there are a great many other options available in the local area to get your surfing in without issue, choosing from the list above is going to give you the right place for your needs.


Josh is a loving dad and husband, writer, business owner, and someone who loves to explore the world. He last travelled to Australia to visit Sydney, Brisbane, and Cairns and am looking to head back soon to see more! He is a huge fan of hiking, drawing, and so much more!

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