A surfing vacation obviously involves catching waves, but how do you narrow down all those potential travel spots to just one? A great surfing vacation can be different for every surfer. What makes it "great" is unique to every surfer and requires a balancing act between wave choice, cost, and travel partners. I have narrowed down these traveling surfers to three general groups.
This type of surfer is usually experienced and is traveling solo or with other experienced surfers looking for one thing only, serious waves. The hardcore surfing vacation may involve traveling to more remote locations that are not easy to get to. They may also not offer as much to someone that is not there for barring waves, like your non surfing spouse. Some examples would have been the Sumatra or the Maldives. It also could be somewhere easier to travel to, like Pipeline in Hawaii. The Hawaiian experience can offer something for just about everyone, but you can also catch some serious waves in winter.
This is the family vacation that involves one or more family members who want to surf. This always involves a balancing act between the desires of the surfer and the desires of the family. This is definitely the category I fall into. When I travel I just want to get some waves most of the days I'm there, but I'm not expecting epic surf. Even if you are a very experienced surfer, do you want to drag small children (who can not swim yet) and spouse on a small boat to a remote reef? Probably not. Some possible family surf vacations are Waikiki, some resorts in Costa Rica and Mexico, San Diego or Orange County in California, and Surfers Paradise in Australia. Many surfers in this group are former hardcore surf vacationers.
The emphasis on this surfing vacation is learning to surf. This could be any vacation near a beginner spot like Cowell's in Santa Cruz or Old Man's in San Onofre, both decent family vacation spots as well. Or you could go for the surf camp where you stay and take lessons near a beginners spot everyday. This is recommended for anyone who wants to learn to surf fairly quickly. Overseas slow rolling waves like some places in Costa Rica offer the most potential for learning under less crowded conditions, but will probably take more time and money to get to. Of course any surfing vacation may fall between these broad categories, and you could split your time between areas. Such "hybrid vacations" usually involve other interests like scuba diving, hiking, or sometimes a museum or two.
The best thing to do is start a list of vacation spots. Consider what else you or your travel partners want to do and list them. Consider the average surf conditions, weather, and crowds for the dates and places of your potential vacation spots. Write down all the pros and cons for each area with that in mind. Now consider the cost of each vacation. Fairly quickly that list will be reduced and your decision should become more clear. Good luck and hope you catch great waves!