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Best Surf Destinations for Volunteer Work

Best volunteer surf destinations

Surfing has long been termed a lifestyle, the relentless pursuit of perfect waves often leads to intrepid journeys across the globe to destinations you wouldn’t typically visit. In most cases, these are destinations fueled by tourism and the impact you can have during your stay is often overlooked. Organizations such as Surfrider Foundation and Surfaid have long been supporting coastal conservation and humanitarian-focused initiatives in surf destinations around the globe to offset the environmental impact of modern living. International Volunteer HQ also offers volunteer opportunities in some of the best surf destinations around the globe, so pack up the surfboard, board shorts and don’t forget the work boots. If you’re new to the concept of volunteering overseas, you’ll find this Volunteering ebook handy.

Which surf destination interests you most?

South Africa surf

South Africa

Program Information: Located near central Cape Town, volunteer placements are based in the Capricorn/Vrygrond community in Muizenberg, which is approximately 30 to 40 minutes from the Cape Town city center. There is the ability to complete volunteer work in Childcare, Animal Care, Teaching, Sport Development and Surf Outreach. Naturally, if you’re going on a surf trip, taking part on the Surf Outreach project would have big appeal for passing on your knowledge. You will be able to facilitate local children in learning how to surf, while teaching them valuable life skills. The children are aged between 9 and 15 years old, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds where poverty and violence is not uncommon. You’re there to provide a positive influence to these children and help build their self-confidence by providing them with an opportunity to spend their free time in a healthy and productive way. Learn more about volunteering in South Africa.

Best Nearby Break: Depending on your level of surfing, the South African coastlines provide endless options for beginners through to advanced. Scarborough Beach is popular for its consistency and low crowd numbers. Located about one hour’s drive away from the city, the coastline is made for exploration.

Best Time To Travel: The best surfing months are June to August when the Winter swells are consistent. Don’t forget to pack the booties and hood!

What To Bring: Depending on the volunteer project you select, casual clothes are fine and you will only need additional resources if you choose to bring donations and equipment for your project.

Food and Accommodation: During your volunteer week, you will receive three meals per day comprised of traditional western cuisine and local delicacies (think meat). Accommodation is shared rooms with single and bunk beds, and all your typical hostel amenities.

New Zealand surf

New Zealand

Program Information: Being based in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, on the program you have the opportunity to work on the Coast and Waterway Conservation project. This project aim to minimize coastal rubbish to keep New Zealand’s coastlines beautiful and work to restore the health of native forests, with the unique opportunity to learn about Maori culture during your volunteer period. With the central city accommodation, this can either be the perfect start or end to a surf trip throughout the country. Take a look at what our New Zealand volunteer program has to offer.

Best Nearby Breaks: Given New Zealand’s small island formation, you’re never too far away from a surf beach. Most notably is Raglan (2 hours from Auckland) and Ahipara (4 hours away). If you’re not too keen on the long distance driving, the swell magnet beach, Piha is 50 minutes away.

Best Time To Travel: If you’re looking for consistent swells and don’t mind the cold, June through to August is typically the best time. If you prefer warmer times, the summer months of December and February provide ample surf days on both sides of the coast.

What To Bring: Due to the nature of the project, it pays to bring clothes you don’t mind getting roughed up a bit. New Zealand has a cooler climate so warm clothes are also a must.

Food And Accommodation: With breakfast and lunch provided during the week, for dinner you’re welcome to explore Auckland’s many restaurants and eateries to satisfy your palate. Accommodated in a dormitory style hostel in central Auckland, you have easy access to the bright lights of the city.

Bali surf


Program Information: The Bali volunteer program is located in the island’s cultural center, Ubud. Some great project options include Environmental Education and Construction and Renovation. Whilst on the Environmental Education project, you can work with local school children and community groups on environmental campaigns to enhance the landscape, whilst also educating on your chosen area of environmental expertise. The Construction project focuses on developing local community centers and schools, giving you the opportunity to lay bricks, help out with carpentry, painting, laying tiles and landscaping/gardening.

Best Nearby Breaks: Bali’s coastline is scattered with premier surf breaks and hidden gems. If you want to visit the world famous Uluwatu, you will need to travel around 2 hours via private transport.

Best Time To Travel: The surf in Bali provides waves year round, with May through to September being the best time, bringing offshore trade winds and dry season.

What To Bring: Dependent on the work you wish to take part on during your time in Bali - classroom resources are a must if you want to present your own ideas, otherwise suitable activewear does the trick.

Food And Accommodation: Balinese-style dishes are staple in the volunteer house. Expect rice and vegetables as the core of your meals. There are also local restaurants nearby, where you’re welcome to test your taste buds. Whilst on the program, you will be accommodated in a volunteer house in the village of Penestanan Kaja, making for a truly authentic Balinese experience.

Sri Lanka surf

Sri Lanka

Program Information: Based in and around the sacred city of Kandy, on the Sri Lanka program you have the opportunity to work on Temple Renovation, Wild Elephant Conservation and Rural Community Development. A popular option for groups traveling together is the Temple Renovation project, where you have the opportunity to learn about manual Sri Lankan construction methods, without the aid of modern machinery. You will gain a greater appreciation for the Sri Lankan culture through interacting with villagers and children, to whom the temples hold great significance.

Best Nearby Breaks: The trip to the south-west or east coast of Sri Lanka is a weekend surf mission worthy of the travel. Roughly a 4-hour trip by private transport, the coastlines provide ample variety, including friendly beach breaks and reeling point breaks.

Best Time To Travel: The best time for surf varies from coast to coast, with the south coast in peak season from October to April and the East coast from May to September. Providing year-round options.

What To Bring: Depending on the project you select, the Sri Lankan landscape offers up a range of elements, so it pays to pack adequate bush attire, as well as active wear if you’re on a labour based project.

Food And Accommodation: Whilst on the program, you will be served three meals a day, which includes a mix of western foods and traditional curries, vegetables and salads. You will be accommodated in a volunteer house with dormitory style living. Private rooms are also available upon registration.

Portugal surf


Program Information: Located in the capital city, Lisbon, volunteer placements are scattered throughout the city and wider community. Popular projects include Construction and Renovation and Environmental Scuba Diving. On the Environmental Scuba Diving project, you have the opportunity to help with underwater clean-up efforts focused on the protection of the marine ecosystem on the coast of Portugal in Cascais. Tasks can include cleaning rubbish on the seafloor and logging information on items collected, learning more about the marine ecosystem and how to protect it, observing and identifying fish, collecting data on fish numbers, and more. Learn more about volunteering in Portugal.

Best Nearby Breaks: A surf trip up the coast to Supertubos, Peniche would be compulsory for anyone looking for world renowned surf. Roughly 1 hour’s drive away, you may even be lucky enough to catch the action when the WSL is in town. Closer to Lisbon you have the surf town of Cascais (30 minutes), which has a plethora of quality options.

Best Time To Travel: Traveling to Portugal in Fall (autumn) is the best time for surf as the water remains warm, weather settled and the swell well groomed.

What To Bring: If you visit during the peak season, the temperatures will be warm to mild. Depending on your project choice, you will need to be prepared for all conditions and warm clothes are a must.

Food And Accommodation: Portuguese food is an experience in itself and while volunteering,you will receive three meals per day consisting of staples such as, fish and chicken, as well as rice, pasta, salad, vegetables, potatoes and salad. You will be housed in a dormitory-style hostel in the surf town of Cascais or in the city center, depending on the time of year you choose to volunteer.

Guatemala surf


Program Information: The Guatemala volunteer program is located in the colonial city of Antigua and surrounding towns and villages. Popular programs include Animal Care, Eco-Agriculture Conservation and Construction and Renovation. The Guatemala Eco-Agriculture Conservation project is based in a coffee farming community located at the base of the Guatemalan highlands, just outside of Antigua. You can expect to work in the nursery, coffee picking, weeding, planting shade trees, and even roasting packaging of the final product for local and international sales.

Best Nearby Breaks: Depending on how far you want to venture on your surf trip Champerico (4 hours), El Paredon (2 hours) and Iztapa (1 hour 30 minutes) are all quality beach breaks that offer up right and left hand options for intermediate to advanced surfers.

Best Time To Travel: With year round warm waters, Guatemala’s peak season for surf is July through August, although either side of these months can still garner great conditions.

What To Bring: Don’t forget the insect repellent! With warm year round temperatures and being located in the high and low lands, travelers require a mix of warm and cool weather attire.

Food And Accommodation: During your time on the program you will be served breakfast and dinner, which traditionally consists of meat, beans and rice. For lunch, you’re free to select from restaurants surrounding your placement. You can either be accommodated alongside other volunteers in a homestay with a local family, or in a dormitory-style volunteer house. Both are awesome ways to immerse yourself in the local culture.

IVHQ also has programs in destinations that featured in Stab Magazine’s 20 places to surf before 2020. So grab out the world map and start planning your volunteer surf trip around the globe.

How to get started

Pick a destination + project and apply for free
Meet your personal volunteer travel expert
Pay the Registration Fee to secure your place and upgrade your MyIVHQ account
Get ready to volunteer abroad, we’ll support you every step of the way!