Surfing in the UK | The Best Places To Learn To Surf & Go Surfing
There's more to UK surfing than Cornwall... although yes, Cornwall's a good place to start. Learn to surf in the UK with this introduction to eight of its best surfing regions
Here’s a brief and bilateral guide to some of the best surfing locations scattered around the UK. All are great places to learn to surf, and all are situated near surf schools where you'll be able to rent surfboard and wetsuit or take a few surf lessons.
Surfing in the UK: Newquay, Cornwall
Obviously, there’s Cornwall. It’s the part of the country most commonly associated with surfing and for good reason; the Duchy has more waves, more often, than anywhere else in the UK. It also has beautiful beaches, winter water temperatures that aren’t too horrifically frigid, and, in the pasty, arguably the ultimate post-surf snack. Newquay is a fine example of a Great British seaside town and is also the nation’s surfing capital, rife with surfers, surf shops, surf schools, sometimes even waves — not to mention stag and hen parties, arcades, classy drinking establishments, fornication opportunities, etc. All along Cornwall's north coast, however, and on parts of its south coast too, lie appealing options for the prospective shredder.
Surfing In the UK: North Devon
North Devon picks up only marginally less swell than Cornwall, and boasts several great surfing beaches within a fairly short stretch of coastline, between them catering for all abilities of surfer. Saunton Sands is a very gently sloping beach perfect for beginners and longboarders; next is powerful, high quality beachie Croyde Bay, where beginners should stick to the white water; round the corner you'll find Putsborough and Woolacombe, which together form one long, continuous (and slightly more user-friendly) beach, the southern end (Putsborough) enjoying slightly more shelter from adverse winds. Pro surfer Lyndon Wake’s eponymous surf school offers a great all-round experience for beginners, intermediates, and advanced surfers alike.
Surfing In The UK: The Gower, South Wales
Jutting out into the ocean almost as far as Cornwall below it, Wales would be ideally positioned to receive the full brunt of North Atlantic power were it not for the Irish, whose island to the west intercepts a large proportion of Cymru-bound swell. Fortunately the country’s south coast still cops much of what Devon and Cornwall do, although a cursory glance at a map will tell you that the swell window is significantly tighter. Most wave-riding activity is concentrated around the Gower peninsula, Llangennith probably being the best and most consistent bet for beginner surfers, though watch out for rip currents. Try the Welsh Surfing Federation Surf School, owned and operated by the national governing body.
Thanks to the ingenuity of man, North Wales now has waves too — in a “surf lagoon" situated in a fold of the Snowdonia mountains. The Surf Snowdonia wave pool, powered by Wavegarden technology, opened in the summer of 2015, and pumps out waves of various sizes every 90 seconds. The Surf Snowdonia Surf Academy is based onsite.
Surfing In The UK: Bournemouth, Dorset
The UK's south coast picks up windswell from the SE as well as the occasional SW groundswell that comes marching up the channel. There are waves along the whole of England's southern seaboard, in fact, but generally speaking west is best. Devon’s south coast is definitely worthy of your consideration, but Dorset also gets some good surf and is a little closer to London. Several surf schools are located just next to Boscombe Pier, including Surf Steps, where you can even train to become a surf instructor yourself.
Surfing In The UK: Cromer, Norfolk
Surfing in Norfolk? That flattest of counties? It is a thing. On land there’s scarcely a hillock, but the North Sea has been known to undulate on occasion. East Runton is a good beginner’s beach, and surfboard hire and surf lessons are now available in the nearby town of Cromer, where the waves can also be good. Glide Surf School, run in conjunction with Cedar House Surf Shop on the promenade, just east of Cromer Pier, is open 7 days a week from the end of April through to the end of October, and also offers stand-up paddleboard lessons. Surfboards and wetsuits can still be rented in winter, when that’ll be flippen’ roight cold wun’t it?
Unconvinced? As Mr Woodhouse, deferring to his apothecary Perry, puts it in Jane Austen’s Emma:
'You should have gone to Cromer, my dear, if you went any where -- Perry was a week at Cromer once, and he holds it to be the best of all the sea-bathing places.’
Surfing In The UK: Scarborough, Yorkshire
Moving further north along England's east coast, the sea-bathing isn’t quite so pleasant but the wave-riding is probably superior. Scarborough and the surrounding area picks up more swell than Norfolk, and the resultant waves tend to be of a higher quality. Scarborough Surf School is open year round, operating out of Cayton Bay and offering surf lessons, surf hire and various other water-based activities for flat days.
Surfing In The UK: Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Yorkshire
It’s fickle and tricky to predict and chilly as fook for most of the year, but the northeast of England — Yorkshire, Durham, Tyneside, Northumberland — is home to some of the best waves in the UK, and some of its best surfers too. Saltburn Surf School, which has been around since 1983, is the only surf school on England’s east coast approved by Surfing Great Britain, and can also offer video analysis.
Surfing In The UK: Moray Firth, Scotland
Why follow every bellend in the land to Cornwall when you could learn to surf in one of Scotland’s many delightful crannies? A surf trip to the Highlands is a uniquely fulfilling experience and a favourite among many of Europe’s top surfers -- see Aritz and Indar below -- who are repeatedly drawn back by the quality of the waves, the beauty of the scenery, and the manifold charms of the local men and womenfolk. Suds Surf School is based on Scotland’s Moray Firth coast and holds most of its lessons at Sandend, but has the advantage of being mobile, and has an additional base on the Hebridean island of Tiree during the summer.