Ah, Cornwall. This land of rugged cliffs and salt-spattered fishing towns has long been one of England’s top holidaying spots. Thousands flock in to munch on crusty pasties and soak up the sun during the summer. Others come for bracing walks on the South West Coast Path or cosy cottage escapes during the colder months of the year.
But there’s another breed of traveller who feels right at home in this land at the very end of Old Blighty: The surfer.
Yep, Cornwall is the UK’s surf mecca. From mellow Praa Sands in the sunny south to the lashing swells of Fistral up north, it’s riddled with world-class spots. Cue this guide. It will cruise the coast to reveal just a few of the reasons why the county should be up there with Hossegor and Peniche among Europe’s top wave destinations. Ready? Let’s go…
If Duke Kahanamoku had managed to make it to Newquay, we daresay he might just have stayed. Big words, but this is a big town when it comes to surfing…
As if it’s been designed especially with surfers in mind, Newquay is split between an area known as The Bay – where the waves are quieter and more sheltered – and Fistral Beach, which gets pounded by some of the gnarliest autumn beach break this side of Biarritz. There are some seriously quality waves, too – hollow, fast, uber-reliable.
If you’ve not yet surfed in Cornwall, come here first.
Cornwall was officially dubbed a sub-tropical region in a 2016 paper by the University of Exeter. Those of us who had surfed the summer months down in Sennen Cove, between the cabbage palms and the white sands, were like, “yep, obviously…”.
Let’s not get carried away: Cornish highs and humidity aren’t gonna’ top Bali or the Maldives. There have been moments when the brave have surfed in just a rash vest, but most of the time Cornwall demands 2mm neoprene and up.
Hey, that’s still a whole load thinner than in most UK surf spots!
Variety of breaks
There’s a whopping 400 miles of coastline in Cornwall. Let that sink in for a moment – 400 miles! That’s longer than the Netherlands. It’s longer than Belgium. With a country’s worth of shoreline, it should come as no surprise that there’s a country’s worth of breaks on offer, with a variety that’s sure to excite any wax-touting boardie on their way to the water…
Take Cribbar. It’s an XXL wave that demands a gun board and some serious guts. Compare that to Towan Beach, where cruisy peaks roll in for the Newquay surf schools. And that’s not even mentioning the wealth of secret spots along the north coast. But shh! We can’t reveal those.
Localism is the dark side of surfing, there’s no doubt about that. While no one likes to be snaked or lose their dream drop in because somebody in the line-up hasn’t quizzed up on their etiquette, we don’t think there’s ever a time when waves can trump humanity.
And so it is down in many of Cornwall’s top spots. Newquay in the summer has to be up there with the most welcoming surf towns for total beginners. Head to Towan Beach and you’ll be in the company of loads of learners. You won’t have to worry about being shouted at, hounded out, or whether the paint finish on your car will be intact by evening!
We’re not saying localism doesn’t exist in Cornwall. It does. It’s just that this bucolic county seems to be a touch more chilled in its mainstream surf spots than elsewhere. You’re more likely to get a West Country smile and a chat about the weather than a spiky look and a grimace.
The things you can do when it’s flat
The consistency of the Cornish surf is pretty impressive. Dominant westerly swells off the Atlantic create regular sets from Sennen to Bude, and they don’t stop in the summer like in other parts of the UK, either.
But this is no never-flat-land. There’s the occasional day when even we have to admit the breaks are a bit too much of an ankle burner to warrant getting wet. But don’t despair. Cornwall is packed with treasures and things to do when the waves are but a trickle…
You could mosey down to Padstow harbour to sample chic seafood eateries or devour Cornish pasties by the creaking fishing boats. You could lace up the walking boots and trapse the South West Coast Path (not all 630 miles of it, mind). Or, you could explore the lovely south shore, where the amazing Eden Project buts up to the charming sea town of Looe. It’s endless!
Two coastlines: North and south
Check Cornwall on the map. It’s like the long, wiggling leg of England. There are two distinct sections of coast. The most famous for surfers is the north coast, which includes the legendary spots of Bude and Newquay, mainly because it gets the full hit of the NW Atlantic swell system. That brings big waves and great consistency.
Sometimes, when the stars align right, the south coast can also go off. There usually needs to be a touch of north direction in the swell, and it’s typically winter surfing. But it offers some sweet alternative breaks, especially in the wide arc of golden powder that is Praa Sands. Head there to be rewarded by one of the county’s most stunning beaches, along with potential A-frame rides that are perfect for long boarders and beginners.
Cornwall isn’t considered one of the staycation hubs of the UK for nothing. It’s got all sorts of places to stay, for all budgets and all styles of traveller. Surfers are well catered for, no matter if they’re after glamping yurts on the hills above Gwithian Beach or a sea-view cottage down between the shanty taverns of Sennen Cove – wood fire included, of course.
Newquay alone boasts more hostels and surf camps than you can shake your shortboard at. Lots of them do enticing deals on accommodation and surf lessons, making it a cinch to string together that perfect Cornish wave escape.
These are just some of the reasons why Cornwall is the best surf destination in the UK as a whole. There are oodles, oodles more, so get in touch for extra info on how to hit the waves in this South West wave mecca.
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Cornish Wave 40 Fore Street Newquay Cornwall TR7 1LP