'Everybody's gone surfing' in Brevard: Cocoa Beach named 'No. 1 surf destination in the USA'

Maybe the Beach Boys had it wrong the entire time.

It was never about Waimea Bay or Redondo Beach or the Ventura County line.

Apparently, "everybody's gone surfing" in Cocoa Beach, which recently was named as the "No. 1 surf destination in the USA" by analysts at the international travel blog ParkSleepFly, where factors such as Google searches, Instagram tags, coastline length and average sea temperatures are all part of the equation.

"As a surfer, I'm shocked ... in a good way," said Cocoa Beach Mayor Ben Malik, soaking up more "good vibrations" from a town that is home to not only the greatest surfer of all-time, Kelly Slater, but also the world's largest surf shop, Ron Jon.

More Brevard County surfing:

Scenes from Sunday at the Cocoa Beach Ron Jon Surf Shop Beach 'N Boards Fest at Shepard Park.
Scenes from Sunday at the Cocoa Beach Ron Jon Surf Shop Beach 'N Boards Fest at Shepard Park.

Malik, 57, moved to the area at 15 and still lives a block from where he first learned to surf.

"It's by no means a death-defying wave," he said, laughing. "But, it's consistently marginal, sometimes head high, so it's perfect to learn on. It certainly produces a lot of talent."

Cocoa Beach, with a recorded 5,800 monthly Google searches and more than 3,000 surfing-related Instagram hashtags, beat out Waikiki, Oahu (with its record 122 surf breaks) and Huntington Beach, Calif., as the most popular.

It's not known if some of those searches are related to tourists who come for a cruise and learn to surf while in the area, or those who are just curious to see where Slater grew up and the now-famous bronze statue that honors the 11-time world champion.

"Kelly helped put us on the map," Malik said, "and coupled with the rocket launches and everything else going on ... hey, we'll take it."

Melody DeCarlo started surfing in Cocoa Beach 50 years ago. Now 70, the former Natural Art team member, whose official two-piece windbreaker hangs in the newly remodeled Florida Surf Museum in Cocoa Beach, still rides the waves in peak conditions.

"I consider Cocoa Beach as one big beach area, from the jetties (Jetty Park) to Sebastian Inlet," DeCarlo said. "There are so many places to surf, if you're a longboarder, an older surfer, a beginner — it all comes into consideration."

She was surprised, however, at Cocoa Beach's ranking, since East Coast hot spots such as Sebastian Inlet, Ponce Inlet, New Smyrna Beach and the Poles at Jacksonville Beach are among the prime spots for established surfers.

Just two weeks ago, DeCarlo hosted the 12th edition of the "Women of the Waves," in which some 35 women trekked to Cocoa Beach just prior to Hurricane Ian's arrival and dressed in '60's swimsuits and flower power attire to surf and rekindle some great memories back when "bushy, bushy blond hairdos" were in vogue.

"Back in the day, being on that Natural Art team, was the greatest thing for me," DeCarlo said.

Todd Holland has surfed at Cocoa Beach for 45 years

Veteran professional surfer Todd Holland is synonymous with Cocoa Beach, having surfed in the area for some 45 years and having graduated from tradition-rich Cocoa Beach High, where a "who's who" of East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame members launched their careers.

Just three days after graduating from high school, Holland signed a three-year pro contract.

"I gave myself three years to make it onto the (world) tour," he said, with the option of going to college. "My first year I was 27th (only the top 30 qualified at that time)."

He spent 10 years on the world circuit, finishing as high as eighth.

These days, he and his wife, Lauren, operate the year-round School of Surf, where they teach visitors and locals of all ages, including 10 weeks of summer camps for some 160 kids.

"I love the vibe of Cocoa Beach," Holland said. "Just the whole town. It's really opened up our business, and we work with other (surf shops in the area) when we send them our clients and help their business, too."

ParkSleepFly's analysis

The ParkSleepFly analysis claims there are 78 surf breaks for the nearly 12 miles of coastline within the Cocoa Beach area.

"One at every street," said Florida Surf Museum Executive Director John Hughes. "It's cool they highlighted Cocoa Beach as the surf center because it really is, even though Florida is not known for having excellent surf. But it's the ideal place where an average surfer can surf, and we have times when the surf can get even better.

"There are tons of rentals, and they're easy to find; accommodations are reasonable; 200 surf schools, it seems like sometimes; and the parking to the beach access is plentiful, maybe the best on the East Coast. I mean, there are some spots in California, you can't access the beach (from the highway)."

After the top three, the list of top surfing destinations in the U.S. are: Montauk, N.Y.; Folly Beach, S.C.; San Clemente, Calif; La Jolla (San Diego), Calif.; Virginia Beach, Va.; Half Moon Bay, Wash.; and Santa Cruz Harbor in Orange County, Calif.

ParkSleepFly also has released a world's top surfing destinations list, in which the top three are: Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca, Mexico; Noosa in Queensland, Australia (Instagram's most popular with 16,036 tagged posts); and Tofino on Vancouver Island, Canada.  Also, Bali, Indonesia, has been the world's "most searched for surfing spots" with more than 10,000 monthly searches over the past year.

But when it comes to Cocoa Beach, there are plenty of reasons to soak up the sun — even in December, where the ParkSleepFly analysis lists the Brevard County shoreline as the No. 1 spot in the world to catch waves, a nod perhaps to the world-famous Surfin' Santas event on Christmas Eve morning.

"Cocoa Beach is awesome," Holland said. "There are only like, what, 14,000 full-time residents here? It still has that small-town vibe, and there's enough tourism for locals to live on with the Space Center, the cruise ships, and being the closest beach to Orlando. I go out (surfing) whenever I want. I'm either fishing, surfing or working, you know?"

Now, if only the Beach Boys can find what rhymes with Cocoa Beach. After all, they did it with Kokomo.

Top 10 surfing sports, according to ParkSleepFly.com

1. Cocoa Beach, Florida

2. Waikiki, Oahu, Hawaii

3. Huntington Beach, California

4. Montauk, New York

5. Folly Beach, South Carolina

6. San Clemente, California

7. La Jolla, San Diego, California

8. Virginia Beach, Virginia

9. Half-Moon Bay, Washington

10. Santa Cruz Harbour, California

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Cocoa Beach, Florida, surfing ranked top in ParkSleepFly.com list