For the Florida surfer, Sebastian Inlet is mecca. Historic not just for the names that have and still own the break, the inlet is part of the east coast’s greater surfing epicenter and one of its best beach breaks. Situated at the southern end of Brevard County, home to one of the biggest concentration of board builders, surf shops, and media personnel in the industry (Eastern Surf Magazine is based out of Indialantic), Sebastian Inlet is a near pristine oases set amongst Florida’s otherwise over-developed coastline—and a must visit for any salty pilgrim.
With the inlet slicing through A1A, the surf zone is largely to the north of the narrow outflow that dumps the Indian River into the Atlantic. The line of demarcation: an 800-foot-long southern curving jetty on the north end protects Central Florida’s premier beach break. Encompassing this surfers’ paradise is Sebastian Inlet State Park, a 755-acres chunk of land that incorporates the Indian River Lagoon to the west and more than three miles of beaches along the Atlantic to the east.
Stretching from Spanish House to the north to McLarty Treasure Museum to the south (south of the inlet on Orchid Island), there are a handful of named breaks at the park but none are as well known, or photographed more, as First Peak. When the south/southeast swell is coming, First Peak—in its heyday—produced a wedge that can contend for the best wave in Florida. On north/northeast swells, First Peak makes for a goofy-footers’ dream with some pretty outstanding lefts breaking down the line. Its consistency, relatively short/fast ride, and crowded conditions (which are continuous and contentious) has made Sebastian a proving ground for some of Florida’s biggest names in surfing. From the Lopez brothers who would scoot over from Pinellas County for surf trips, to Kelly Salter, and the Hobgoods, among many others, the inlet has earned hallowed ground status for surfers statewide.
And while the state park is a dynamic surf spot, it also protects a diverse and flourishing ecosystem. The Indian River Lagoon is one the largest and most bio-diverse estuarine ecosystems in Florida with more than 3,000 plant and animal species inhabiting the watery domain. Wildlife is active, which can have drawbacks. When the mullet run, Sebastian Inlet is downright sharky. This is not an understatement (remember that viral photo of a bobcat pulling a shark out of the water…that was Sebastian Inlet). And with the inlet dumping a deluge of brackish, murky water—especially after a solid rain—things can get a little hairy. When the moons sync-up and the snook, tarpon, and shark converge, the inlet erupts—frenzies are common, the jetty is an active fishermen’s haunt, and bites happen. Its all part of the park’s charm, the ounce of flesh paid for the waves.
Half the fun behind the Sebastian excursion is the trip itself. Home to a full facility campsite (complete with restrooms, Wi-Fi, and 51 RV spots with full electric and water hook-ups), and a “primitive” campsite (walk/carry-in spots away from the parking lot—the best way to do Sebastian), there is nothing like waking up to the sound of crashing waves and a crisp sea breeze. And if you do forget the cooler back home, a fully stocked concession/restaurant/gift shop is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and serves a pretty mean burger.
If the surf is flat, the park still offers plenty to do. From kayaking the lagoon, to some pretty great snorkel and dive spots, there are plenty of opportunities to observe the park’s wildlife. For a little culture, two museums within the park tell two very unique aspects of the region’s history: fishing and treasure. The Sebastian Fishing Museum is devoted to Sebastian’s maritime heritage, preserving the history of the regions’ roots with fishing artifacts, photos, and the stories of some of Sebastian’s pioneering fishing families. The McLarty Treasure Museum helps tell the story of how the “Treasure Coast” got its name. Situated on the “Survivors’ and Salvagers’ Camp” from the wrecked 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet, the museum features artifacts, educational and informative displays, and an observation deck that offers some pretty great views of the park (and a great place to scope the surf).
Permit fishermen on the south end of the Sebastian Inlet.
“Early Morning Salt Spray is Swept Over the Dunes” by Richard Vogel
If all else fails, grab the pole and go fishing. Sebastian Inlet is one of the premier fishing spots in all of Central Florida. Compact and shallow, fish pack into the channel waiting for bait to get pushed in. Snook and redfish are plentiful here during the warmer months, especially up against the jetties and rocks; when its cooler, flounder, Spanish mackerel, and bluefish can be caught. With plenty of rock and structure at the jetty, a stocked tackle box is key—you’re going to lose tackle, the trick is to outlast your supply. If your surf pilgrimage includes camping, night fishing is the best bet—no need to miss out on waves when the fish are biting by the moonlight.
Top five photos by Courtland Roberts/iStock
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