Catching a break can be a journey and a destination. Here’s how to chase south-of-the-highway swells like a local.

Sure, some of the best surf spots in the Hamptons are located on what are technically public beaches, but actually getting to the water on Long Island’s East End can feel tougher than scoring a resy at 4 Charles. Once you navigate past the scarce and expensive Hamptons beach parking situations and find yourself one of the chosen few on these stellar strands, you’ll begin to understand the gatekeeping. Clean beaches rolling along as far as the eye can see, licked by nice translucent barrels that crash on soft sand bottoms. These sandy stretches are often blessed with so few beachgoers that the closest person to your towel could be smoking a cigar and listening to John Phillip Sousa and you would be blissfully unaware of anything but the steady sea breeze and the crash of waves. Five minutes after you arrive, you’ll forget how you had to fight your way in.

The dream, of course, is to be a local on these beaches, to wave at the lot attendant and park without a hassle, and have your shortboard always at the ready in the event of a predicted swell. In the meantime, it’s all about the hunt. Here’s how to ace it — and not that we need to remind you, do it safely at your own risk.

The Moves

1. Check the surf forecast before you go (Surfline has daily updates). Go big and spring for a premium account to access their surf webcams.

2. Timing is everything. If possible, surf weekdays instead of crowded summer weekends. If you can’t make it on a weekday, work the dawn patrol and get out on the water before the coffee line starts forming at the Golden Pear.

3. To secure parking, arrive early, bring cash — lots of it.

4. Save for a wetsuit: Autumn and winter waves, jacked by storms, are superior to summer and you can often enjoy them all by yourself.

Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett. Photo: Alexandra Moreo.

The Spots

The big famous surf break on the East End of Long Island is Ditch Plains, out in Montauk. The surf is consistent-ish (this is the East Coast, friend), plus there is a public parking lot, but the weekend lineup of bobbing longboards in the water cuts this sweet beach off any “lesser-known” lineup.

Also out at “The End,” try your moves on the two side-by-side surf beaches to the southwest of the Montauk Lighthouse: Camp Hero Beach (along the Old Montauk Highway inside, Camp Hero State Park, 17 Edison Drive, Montauk, NY 11954)  and Turtle Cove (also called Turtles, park at the Montauk Lighthouse). You’ll find several well-trodden paths from their parking areas. Getting to both beaches requires a bit of a downhill scramble, but that thins the number of surfers out on the waves. Watch out for the riptides at both beaches — you’re close to the sharp edge of the continent, a literal ‘point break’ (albeit a Bodhi-free one) — these turbulent waters are not for insecure swimmers or new surfers.

Next door in Amagansett is Indian Wells Beach (Indian Wells Highway, Amagansett, NY 11930). The beach break here can make for sine pretty decent surf, especially when the swells hit from the south. Though parking is famously and exclusively by residential permit only, it’s only about a mile’s walk or pedal from town and train, if you can’t arrange a drop-off. A smattering of surf schools and board shops, including an outpost of Brooklyn’s Pilgrim Surf + Supply, fold in a surf-culture undercurrent to the village.

Further west in Southampton, Cooper’s Beach (sometimes called Cooper’s Neck; 268 Meadow Lane, Southampton, NY 11968) is fairly accessible  — though there’s a $50 fee for non-resident parking, when you can get a spot. Cooper’s offers services in the form of bathrooms, showers, umbrella/chair rentals, and food. Services, of course, mean a weekend crowd with lots of families, so not only are you watching the sea for the next best wave, you have to keep an eye on kids playing along the shore.

A surfer in the rocks off Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk. RJ Lerich/Shutterstock.

If you can get a ride (no non-Southampton resident parking available, alas), Gin Beach — a little east of the private Gin Lane beach club (14 Gin Lane, Southampton NY 11968) offers waves but zero services like food or bathrooms. You will, however, get views of serious mansions owned by swells, as well as some swells of the ocean variety.

About a five-minute walk west along the sand from Gin Beach, Cryder Beach [98 Cryder Ln, Southampton, NY 11968] delivers another chance to achieve surf greatness. Just definitely don’t drop in on the locals.

In Hampton Bays, once you cross the Ponquogue Bridge out to the barrier island, turn left on Dune Road to find Ponquogue Beach (276 Dune Road, Hampton Bays, NY 11946; a day pass for parking is $30 and the beach is equipped with restrooms, showers, and a snack bar). Thanks to the jetty that marks the eastern end of Ponquogue Beach (a stretch of beach nicknamed “The Bowl”), certain occasional weather conditions can dial its waves up to 11. It’s worth a look on the surf cam before you leave to see if today is that blessed day.

If you instead turn right after crossing Ponquogue Bridge, towards East Quogue, head down the first sandy lane to get to the lifeguard-less Road K Beach. The surfing at Road K is more dependable than Ponquogue on any given day — but don’t park here without a permit.

Head way down Dune, past the drawbridges and John Scott’s, and you’ll eventually hit Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton (975 Dune Road Westhampton Beach, NY 11978) which straddles both sides of the Moriches Inlet as well as the towns of Southampton and Brookhaven. Jetty breaks off the inlet make this beach a reliable favorite, and that’s not all that makes Cupsogue approachable: because it’s a county park rather than a town beach, daily parking is just $9 per vehicle. Sweet, right?

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