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The History of Surfing in Newquay, Cornwall

Surfing In Newquay, Fistral Beach & The Modern Day Surf School

From past to present we take a look at the origins of surfing in Newquay. We ask why Fistral beach is dubbed the 'Home of British Surfing', find answers to how surfing in the UK is tied with the growth of tourism in Cornwall. and why now in the 21st century surfing is big business.    

Contents

  • Cornwall and the tourist industry
  • Surfing in the United Kingdom
  • Fistral Beach – The legendary Newquay surfing destination
  • Surf schools ensure the future of Newquay’s surfing culture
     

 

The History of Surfing in Newquay, Cornwall


Surfing and Newquay are synonymous - Whenever someone mentions Newquay, surfing is often touched upon and most British citizens will know that this is the place to go if you want to ride the waves in the UK. For countless years this Cornish town has been the home of British surfing, but why is this so? What makes Newquay such a popular destination for surfers? Why do people flock in their thousands to this small seaside town and embrace the western sea air and waves? The history of surfing in Newquay is a long and celebrated affair and it starts with the county of Cornwall becoming a true tourist destination.

 

Cornwall and the Tourist Industry


The history of surfing in Newquay is intertwined with the history of Cornwall - This county sits on the south-western point of England and has coastlines touching both the English Channel and the Celtic Sea. Historically, Cornwall had several thriving industries, the two most prominent of which were mining and fishing - These two industries were the life and soul of the county and most of its inhabitants would be employed in relating jobs.

As the years progressed and alternative forms of fuel were established, the mining industry in Cornwall fell into decline and all that stands now of this once proud era are a few scattered mine buildings on the cliffs. The fishing industry followed suit and British businesses could not match the prices of foreign imports. This major decline in two of Cornwall's important industries meant that tourism became increasingly popular and was pushed as the way forward - The County was developed and creations such as an extensive railway network meant that holidaymakers could travel from afar to see what this county had to offer. 



What makes Cornwall such an attractive destination?



Cornwall has been one of the premier tourist destination in the UK for decades – Whilst big cities such as London and Edinburgh are packed full of historical buildings and iconic landmarks, Cornwall offers something completely different – A different way of life that is often forgotten in today’s modern world. Cornwall has a laid back attitude towards life, things move slower in this sleepy county – People worry less and are not stressed by the rush of high-powered business.

Furthermore, Cornwall offers some of the UK’s finest beaches and coastal villages. The whole county is full of charming fishing villages that hug the dramatic coastline. On the northern coast you can find such villages as St. Ives, Padstow, Port Isaac and of course Newquay, whilst on the southern coast lies Falmouth, Fowey, Penzance and Torquay. These villages often have fantastic beaches, friendly and helpful locals, a myriad of cafes, restaurants and bars, and are truly picturesque places to visit. You can escape to a different world in Cornwall and truly relax.

vintage postcard map of cornwall



How has the Cornish Tourist boom affected Newquay?



In the 1800’s, Newquay had just 1,300 inhabitants as recorded in the first national census. It was a small fishing and mining village and included a few houses and a harbour. Once the railways were built in Cornwall and the tourist industry started to boom, so did Newquay. The village expanded rapidly and saw the construction of several large hotels that brought in flocks of visitors. From the 1930’s onwards, Newquay continued to develop and increase in size and it turned into a major tourist hub on the Cornish coast – It now has a population of approximately 20,000 and has come a long way from its humble beginnings.  
 



Has this, in turn, affected the popularity of surfing?



Indeed! As Cornwall grew in popularity, so did Newquay – As mentioned above, the once quiet industrial village has now turned into a thriving tourist destination that people flock to from all over the UK and the world. The advent of the Cornwall Newquay Airport has also improved connections to the County and means that the famous surfing beaches of Newquay are accessible to a wider range of people.

As tourism grew in Newquay, so did the availability of fun activities such as surfing. But why is surfing so popular in the UK? How has it emerged as a popular sport? To understand this we should look at the history of surfing in the UK, to see what our infatuation is with this extreme activity.  

 

Image source: Daily Mail

Image source: Daily Mail

Surfing in the United Kingdom

Image source: The guardian

Image source: The guardian

Why did surfing become popular in the United Kingdom? Where did it all begin? How did this water sport evolve into what it is today and pave the way for the development of the surfing industry in Newquay and popular beaches such as the epic Fistral Beach? It all started in 1929, and incidentally on a beach in Newquay!

1929 – Australian inspiration

This original British surfing story is simply fantastic – Picture the scene – The year is 1929 and the beaches of Newquay and Cornwall are waiting to be explored – The coastal towns are thriving, and the UK is going through a period of progression. Lewis Rosenberg and his friends have travelled from London to soak up the sea air and try out their new creation – A wooden bodyboard. This group of adventurous friends had watched newsreels showing their Australian cousins surfing and were transfixed with the idea. Without a care in the world, they practised the art and taught themselves how to surf – This was a turning point for the sport and many people saw Lewis and his group frolicking in the water and were captivated by the idea. Unfortunately, War broke out in Europe and surfing didn’t resurface until the swinging sixties. 



1960’s – Beach Boys and Beach culture

The 60’s was a true time of change for the world. Liberal ideas were surfacing, the great wars had ended and the cold war was subsiding too. People were travelling and experiencing new cultures and ideologies. In 1962, it was the Australians once again that brought surfing back to the UK and boosted its popularity in Newquay and Cornwall. Groups of surfers would travel to the UK to try out the waves of the Atlantic sea and brought with them their modern, brightly painted fibreglass boards. The British population were once again captivated by surfing and with such groups as the Beach Boys promoting the surfers lifestyle, more and more people took to the waves.

image source: Mail online

image source: Mail online

 

1990’s – The surfing boom

During the 90’s, surfing culture was at its zenith. The whole world was captivated with this sport and an industry was built up around it including clothing lines and accessories. Clothing labels such as Quicksilver and Fat Willy’s brought us a range of delightful surfing apparel and seaside towns were full of people dressed in brightly coloured surf gear. Furthermore, surfing competitions were springing up all over the world and it was being transformed from a simple recreational activity, into a serious form of competitive sport. As a result, Newquay and other Cornish resorts became a surfer’s playground.

 

Today – The surfing industry

In modern times, Newquay still retains its identity as the go-to place for surfing in the UK and the industry and sport continue to thrive. From its early beginnings in the 1920’s and 1960’s as a recreational sport, surfing in the UK has transformed into a full industry that includes competitions, dedicated clothing and accessory suppliers, and also a wave of Surfing schools that teach people the art. Newquay itself has a range of different surfing schools that offer personal or group lessons that aim to get people involved in the sport and take to the waves – Modern surfing in Cornwall has never been as accessible.

As we can see, the history of surfing in Newquay has played a major role in the development and popularity of surfing in the UK. The idyllic beaches, fantastic waves and culture that has exuded from this small coastal village has helped transform surfing into a hugely popular activity. One beach in particular that has long held a legendary status in the world of surfing is Fistral Beach – This stretch of sand in Newquay is renowned for the quality surfing opportunities you can find here…
 

 

Image source: The Headland Hotel

Image source: The Headland Hotel


Fistral Beach – The legendary Newquay surfing destination



When considering the history of surfing in Newquay, you cannot hope to understand why the sport is so popular without giving mention to Fistral Beach – Whilst many of you may not have heard of this stretch of sand on the shores of Newquay; any die hard surfer will simply shiver with delight at the mention of this legendary location. So why is Fistral such a fantastic place for surfing? Why do surfers jump at the chance to travel to the shores of Cornwall?



Fistral Beach – A history lesson

Newquay is located on the northern shore of Cornwall in-between St. Ives and Port Isaac and has a large inlet of water that flows inland on its western edge. Fistral Beach is enclosed to the west by an outcrop of land that frames this channel and forms a small bay. The beach itself is practically linear and stretches for just 600m from edge to edge. The ground steadily inclines towards the grassy banks and the sand is fine, fresh and a beautiful golden colour.

In ages past, the beach remained fairly quiet and it was not until the 1960’s that its popularity increased and people saw its potential as a surfing haven. Locals would come here to enjoy the sea air and relax on the beach and tourists would also play in the water, walk their dogs and enjoy the scenery.   

Fistral Beach – The place to be for die-hard surfers

The makeup and positioning of Fistral Beach are actually perfect for surfing – Several factors combine together to create the fantastically consistent waves that lend themselves to this sport. Firstly, the beach faces to the west which exposes it to the Atlantic current and swells – This, in turn, helps generate consistent high waves that are perfect for surfing. Secondly, a feature called the Cribbar (a natural reef located at the northern end of the beach) means that the waves break early when the swell is still at its pinnacle – This improves the quality and longevity of the waves. Finally, the two promontory headlands that frame the beach (Towan head and Pentire Point) help to funnel the waves and increase their strength and speed.



As you can see, the surfing conditions at Fistral are perfect! It is easy to see why thousands of people come here to take advantage of this fact. Additionally, the hugely popular Boardmasters Festival is annually held here that draws a large crowd of surfing fans to enjoy competitions, surfing culture and popular live music.

Fistral Beach – Competition Central

Aside from the amazing surfing conditions, Fistral Beach is also a premier location for national and international surfing competitions. It is recognised worldwide as a standout beach and the following competitions have been held here previously:

- BSA’s Gold Rush Big Wave Competition
- Boardmasters competitions
- Quicksilver Skins
- UK Pro Surf Tour
- BUSA Championships

 

 

Furthermore, several surfing associations including the BSA (British Surfing Association), NSLSC (Newquay Surf Life Saving Club) and the NBC (Newquay Boardrider Club) are based at Fistral – You cannot escape the sport!

Simply put, Fistral Beach is synonymous with surfing and it has truly put Newquay on the map. Many surfing fans will make the pilgrimage to Newquay to see the legendary Fistral Beach and immerse themselves in the surfing lifestyle, culture and opportunities that can be found here.

 


Surf schools ensure the future of Newquay’s surfing culture



From the previous paragraphs, we can see that surfing has gone from strength to strength in Newquay – it started as the adventures of a small group of friends in 1929 inspired by Australian film reels, and developed into a mainstream activity pushed by surfing culture in the 60’s and 90’s. Fistral beach has undoubtedly helped improve the popularity of surfing in Cornwall, but what does the future hold for the sport? Surfing continues to be an immensely popular activity in Cornwall and Newquay and this is helped by the variety of tournaments and surfing related festivals that continue to be held here. Furthermore, the advent of surfing schools will also help ensure the future of the surfing industry in Newquay.




 

Bringing surfing to the public – Surf Schools

In the last decade, surf schools have become increasingly popular, especially in Cornwall and Newquay. A surf school is effectively an organisation that primarily teaches individuals or groups of people how to surf. A surf school might include a plethora or surfing equipment such as boards and wetsuits and also have professionally trained instructors that can provide in-depth lessons. Individuals or groups of people can sign up for surfing lessons with these schools and learn all aspects of the sport from the basics such as how the board works and is made, up to complex tricks and manoeuvres once their confidence and ability have improved.
 

For the general public, surfing schools present a whole new world of opportunity – If you are interested in the sport but lack in confidence to try it yourself, a surfing school can provide a structured and safe way to learn at your own pace. You can undertake regular lessons and quickly learn how to stand on the board, perfect your balance and in no time you will be riding the waves. Additionally, surfing schools often offer other outdoor activities such as paddle boarding, Coasteering and bodyboarding which provide exciting complimenting activities alongside surfing lessons.

In years past, surfing would be limited to those who already had experience or that had learned the sport from other enthusiasts. The advent of surf schools mean that literally, anyone can now participate in the sport – It has become more accessible and less elitist. Families and holidaymakers can travel to Cornish resorts such as Newquay and have a go at surfing – It creates new opportunities and offers something different to the standard tourist attractions and activities. 

Due to this change in culture and the increased accessibility to surfing, Newquay remains the premier destination for surfing in the UK and still retains its legendary status throughout the world. Things only look to improve and we are set to see a new generation take to the waves, explore the thriving seaside town of Newquay and continue to make the surfing industry prosperous in Cornwall.

 


Continual investment and development
 


As the popularity of surf schools increases, more investment and development is being poured into these business ventures. The next 5-10 years sets to cement surfing as a mainstay of the Newquay tourist industry; if things continue to progress as they are, the town can only stand to prosper. The wider implications of this industry should help the prosperity of the town itself – More business and investment should help other industries such as the hospitality industry and those making a living running bars and restaurants.

 


Surfing in Newquay – The heart and soul of this Cornish town



It is clear from the points discussed and the information presented, that Newquay was destined to be a premier surfing location. A myriad of different factors has combined together to create the perfect destination to enjoy this fabulous sport.

Firstly, international influences have inspired generations of Brits to take to the waves – Australian and American surfers have shown us the way forward and instilled our hearts with a desire to surf. Secondly, the decline in both the fishing and mining industries in Cornwall saw the tourist industry boom and thus brought a whole new range of potential surfers to destinations such as Newquay. Thirdly, popular culture in the 60’s and 90’s saw the world go crazy for surfing which furthered the appeal of coastal resorts in Cornwall and brought a new wave on enthusiastic would-be surfers to our shores. Moreover, the near perfect conditions of Fistral Beach mean that Newquay serves as a truly epic surfing destination that attracts attention worldwide.

The history of surfing in Newquay has been long and celebrated. There is no other British coastal resort that can boast the same degree of success and acclaim as this once quiet fishing village on the northern coastline of Cornwall. It is wonderful to think that this whole way of life and the heart of the Newquay surfing industry has been inspired by a group of friends creating wooden surfboards – Simple actions can often lead to truly monumental changes in history and the future of a town.