Manly is one of the best known surfing spots in Australia and the world. Manly Beach stretches 1.3 kilometres from Fairy Bower on the southern headland to Queenscliff.
Facing directly east, it is one of the most consistent breaks in Sydney on a northeasterly or easterly swell, and one of the few city beaches that handles southerly winds well.
The breaks are divided into two regions: the beach itself and the Bower area on the southern headland. There is also an offshore bombora, the Queenscliff Bombie, off the northern headland.
In most swells the northern end of the beach around North Steyne and Queenscliff have the largest surf, with size tapering toward Manly Point.
Beginning from the south, Deadmans is the first spot in the Manly area and one of three main breaks on the Fairy Bower headland. Aptly named, Deadmans is a very dangerous wave which only started being surfed on a regular basis in the 90s and 2000s. For experienced surfers only.
The second break on the Fairy Bower headland, Winkipop is a hollow ledgy reef break. It needs 2-3 foot of swell to break on the ledge, but once it hits six feet of swell it caps further outside allowing an easier set up for the barrel section – one of the best tubes on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Running off Manly’s southern headland, the Bower is a very popular break. On a south swell, it can be very fat as waves wrap around the headland, but on an east or northeast swell, the reef can turn on punchy bowls. It works best on a mid-tide and often stops breaking at high tide during smaller swells. At low tide, a surge-rock often appears halfway down the wave. Out the back, the Bower begins with a shifting peak, then links off the suckrock and runs for 100-150 meters. It handles any size and hosted some of Sydney’s early big-wave sessions. Unless it’s huge, the Bower is always crowded.
At the southern end of Manly, the main beach is one of the most protected areas, particularly in southerly swells. A rip runs out off the rocks in the corner and a righthander often surges and peels off the rocks. There is also a playful left running into the corner of the beach. Surf lifesaving patrols generally rule out surfing this stretch of beach during most of the day but once the flags go down, it’s a popular area for longboarders. However, this part of the beach is generally not the best option for waves.
Stretching south from Carlton Street to the first stormwater pipe at Manly, South Steyne is protected by the southern headland from southerly swells and less influenced by the Queenscliff bombie’s focusing effect. As a result, it is usually smaller than other parts of the beach to the north, particularly in a south swell. It can be very good on a northeasterly swell, particularly with southeast winds. Though smaller, the shallow banks can turn on hollow, fast waves that often closeout. A popular option for intermediate surfers keen to avoid the competitive North Steyne lineup.
North Steyne Rights
While the lefthand bank at North Steyne is generally the most consistent, the peaky swells generated by the offshore bombie also offer plenty of punchy right-handers along the Steyne. On the right day you can pick the right peak, make the drop and find yourself in a sucky, sand-bottom barrel you wont forget in a hurry. Pick the wrong one or blow the takeoff and you’ll get a memorable grubbing along the sandbank. The rights at North Steyne don’t run down a bank as the left does, so even after making a wave you’re liable to get cleaned up on the paddle back out.
North Steyne Lefts
In the middle of the beach, from the North Steyne pipe down to Carlton Street to the south, North Steyne can turn on some of the best waves at Manly. A semi-permanent left-hand bank runs into a consistent rip in front of the stormwater pipe. This can really turn on in an east or northeast swell but can also work on a south swell while other areas of the beach are closing out. One of the most consistent and most crowded areas of Manly. Many longtime locals refer to the left as the “Coke bank” after it turned on epic conditions for Wayne Lynch and Larry Blair’s tube-riding shootout in the 1978 Coke Surfabout.
At the northern end of Manly, Queenscliff is the most exposed to southern swells and is often larger than the rest of the beach. The headland offers some protection from northerly winds, making it a popular option during summer. A righthander often runs into the rocks at the northern end and there are usually good peaks right down to the pipe at North Steyne. A rip runs out along the rocks and can offer an easy ride out the back during big swells. Around the headland, Freshwater beach offers more size in southerly swells.
Seven hundred metres offshore from North Steyne an underwater extension of Queenscliff headland rises into a bombora five metres below the surface. In huge swells, the football-field sized area of reef is one of Sydney’s premiere big-wave spots. It breaks from eight-to-ten feet upward and throws up shifting peaks that can run left or right. Once it picks up into the ten-to-twelve foot range, it can break top to bottom at low tide and offers some huge barrels. It holds any size and is exposed to all swells.