hey, just do a forum search, this has been discussed before. The Canon Rebel is a good start. You need something with reasonable fps for shooting surfing. You can pick up some used canons and nikons as well. 20D was a good camera and reasonably quick.
I'm sure Nikon makes equivalents as well. Once you pick a system you should stick with it as you'll be buying lenses for that specific body.
I will say this, if you're gonna drop money on a housing (like $1500-2k roughly) then you might as well buy a good camera.
hey dude iv got a canon digital rebel xt (DSLR) with 3 lenses (kit, 80-200mm, and 70-300mm). The two big lenses are great for surf photos and i have taken this set up on several trips. I'd take $420 cash for the whole get up. PM me if you want it. Located in norfolk / vb area.
It was all over $1200 new but im just looking to unload some toys.
i toy around w/ photography a bit as well.
my set up is a nikon d3000 dslr w/ kit lens (18-55mm...great for close-up work) & a 55-200mm telephoto. the telephoto is pretty decent for surf photography as long as the break is fairly close to shore. for really tight pics or breaks that are farther offshore, a longer lens would be nice, something around 300-400mm.
Don't buy a camera with a fixed lens. Get a DSLR as others have mentioned. The Canon 20D is a great camera. I still shoot with this body today but have added some good glass. The lenses is where you should concentrate your spending. Find a 20D on Ebay for $350 and then buy the Canon 75-300 f/4-5.6 III for $200 and you will be ready to shoot. Then you can add lens for that body. Stepping up the the L Series glass is where you will really need to make sure you are going to stick with it before you make the investment, but the image quality if far superior with the L glass.
Go to your local camera shop. Pick up each of the low range bodies (Nikon, Canon, etc your choice of brand), and ask to see 3-4 lenses of each for each. Look at a wide angle lens 12-18mm for DSLR. Standard lens. Somewhere between 24-50mm (prime lenses). Short tele (55-200 range) and a long tele. Somewhere in the range of 70-300mm+.
Judge your decision based on the glass you use, as that's transferable between same brand bodies. Don't ask to look at cheap or really expensive glass. Go mid range as that is what you'll be using majority of the time.
Brand is irrelevant when it comes to quality. Nikon and Canon both make great cameras, and they both make great glass... pick the one you're more comfortable on.
I can agree with a lot of what's been said and I want to add to those comments. I shoot with a Pentax K100D and have had no issues whatsoever with Pentax, I like the heavier feel of the camera, but that's just me, there are upsides as well as downsides to mine as well as all the others, I wanted one that takes AA batteries so when I'm traveling I can get replacements anywhere(I have since changed that stance because I have about 8 sets and they're a pain to carry), I wanted an entry-level with anti-shake and I wanted to be able to use ANY recent Pentax lens available. I'm currently looking to upgrade to a better camera and I've been doing lots of comparing and it looks like I'm going to stick with Pentax simply because of the shutter speeds in the price bracket I'm looking into. The typical shutter speed is 1/4000 and thats what I use exclusively when I'm shooting surfers and with good results, there are some Pentax in the next level up with 1/6000 and 1/8000 speeds so that's where I'm headed. There are going to be guys telling you to pick the manufacturer they use and righfully so. In my current search, I'm looking for : high shutter speed, battery grip, lithium-ion battery and solid feel of body. I have added a link to : Digital Photography Review and you can use it to do a side-by-side comparison of every camera and make your own choice. Good luck! http://www.dpreview.com/