Top 10 surfing beaches in the UK

In a series of blogs the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the independent voice for sport and recreation, is asking for its members' 'Top 10' activities. Over the next few months we hope to share expert opinions and help you make the most of your free time – starting off with Surfing GB's Top 10 surf spots.

Surfing GB, the successor to the British Surfing Association (BSA), was formed at the end of 2010 and is building on the strengths of the BSA and working towards a brighter future for surfing in the UK.

Surfing GB aims to provide all surfers and all those who have an interest in the growing sport of surfing with support, advice and opportunity.

Now that modern wetsuits are so good, you can surf all year-round in UK waters. Here’s Alex Wade, author of The Times ‘Coaster’ column, on the Top 10 British beaches to catch a wave.


1. Longsands Bay, Tynemouth

There has long been a flourishing Geordie surf scene, with local surfers such as Gabe Davies and Sam Lamiroy bagging British titles galore and going on to achieve world renown. Its centre is the beach break of Longsands at Tynemouth.

The best swell direction is from the north east and, with a south-westerly making for offshore conditions, good surf is possible at all stages of the tide.

Lifeguards are on duty in summer and the Tynemouth Surf Co, established in 1995, is a well-stocked surf shop on Grand Parade.

Lessons and board hire can be arranged here. Tynemouth is brimful of pubs, cafes and restaurants, and there are few more scenic detours to be made taking the coast road north to Bamburgh and Lindisfarne.

For a grandstand view of the action on Longsands, not to mention a slice of Victorian grandeur, check into the Grand Hotel. See www.tynemouthsurf.co.uk and www.grandhotel-uk.com.

Skill Level: Beginners to experts.


2. Saltburn-on-Sea, North Yorkshire

Photo of Surfer in saltburn on seaA glance at Gary Rogers, the proprietor of the Saltburn Surf Shop, is enough to suggest that Saltburn-on-Sea may be more than just a handsome Victorian town. Lean, tanned and, at 51, fitter looking than many men half his age, Rogers looks as if he’s spent every day of his life in the sea. And so it proves.

Rogers often surfs two or three times a day in the fairly mellow beach break surf either side of Saltburn’s pier, while down the coast, all the way to Scarborough, there are a host of excellent reef and point breaks to keep surfers of his calibre occupied in bigger swells.

Rogers has run his shop with fellow surfer Nick Noble since 1991, and the pair is on hand throughout the year to provide advice and arrange lessons. See www.saltburnsurf.co.uk, while for accommodation the Spa Hotel overlooks the bustling beach.

Skill Level: Beginners to experts; good for intermediates.


3. Newgale, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Photo of the Coastline of newgale beachThere are few places in Britain as stunning as the Pembrokeshire coastline, which was designated a national park in 1952. This is a wild, rugged landscape of rolling jade-green hills, jagged cliffs and an abundance of beautiful beaches.

Newgale is one of the finest and, better yet, its sheer size means that crowds are rarely a problem. Here you can surf in peace though, as with any beach break, wave quality will vary depending on the state of the sandbanks, power and size of the swell and wind direction.

Equipment can be hired from the New Surf Shop, which also provides lessons, a daily surf report and a webcam.

Skill Level: Beginners to experts; intermediate to expert only in big swells.


4. Watergate Bay, Cornwall

Surf with all mod cons thanks to the chic and relaxed Hotel and Extreme Academy, Watergate Bay. A place created to be 'a ski resort on the beach', the hotel has amply fulfilled its aim with all manner of watersports offered – not least, surfing tuition. The hotel offers half-day lessons for £30 while one-to-one tuition is available for £90.

Watergate has been one of Cornwall’s premier surf spots since the sport took off in nearby Newquay in the early 1960s. At high tide, the waves may be crowded, but as the tide goes out a wide expanse of golden sand is revealed, with great waves to be had towards the northern end of the beach. The culinary fare is as good as it gets with Jamie Oliver’s ‘Fifteen’ restaurant right on the beach. See www.watergatebay.co.uk.

Skill Level: Beginners to experts.


5. Porthmeor, St Ives, Cornwall

Phot of Porthmeor beachOn its day – when a howling south-westerly turns Cornwall’s west-facing beaches into unsurfable onshore mush – Porthmeor beach in St Ives can serve up waves as fast, hollow and punchy as the superb beachbreak surf of Hossegor in south-west France. In summer, the waves are likely to be more gentle, making this is a great place for beginners and families.

Lessons can be arranged right on the beach, whose Mediterranean blue is overlooked by the Tate St Ives. The cobbled streets of St Ives are, indeed, an art-lover’s paradise, with galleries such as the Millennium, Belgrave and Wills Lane showcasing work of international calibre.

With an array of fine restaurants, too, St Ives has oodles on offer by way of après surf entertainment. There’s just one thing: parking is at a premium. Arrive early – or be prepared to walk.

Skill Level: Intermediate and above in pumping winter swells; otherwise good for beginners.


6. Saunton Sands, Devon

Gentle, rolling waves and a seemingly endless expanse of gently shelving beach make Saunton Sands in North Devon perfect for beginners. It’s also the scene of quality longboarding – here you’ll see a stylish local crew ‘hanging ten’ and ‘walking the board’.

Around the corner at Croyde Bay, though, the surf is more challenging. Here the shortboard ‘slash and tear’ fraternity are strongly in evidence, and if you’re not at their level you’d be better off enjoying your own waves at Saunton – the beach is so vast that just a short walk will secure an uncrowded peak.

If you stay at the Saunton Sands Hotel you can walk from your room to the surf in your wetsuit, while former British champion surfer Sarah Whiteley is a good bet for lessons.

Skill Level: Excellent for beginners; all levels.


7. Porthleven, Cornwall

Porthleven has legendary status in British surfing. Once a major boat-building centre, it remains a busy working port, with fish caught daily and sold either locally or in nearby Newlyn. But surfers come here for the reef just beyond the harbour walls.

In the right conditions, Porthleven’s right-hander can provide tubular paradise. The nearby sea wall, on Loe Bar Road, stands some thirty feet high, and yet winter storms regularly generate waves that crash over its top.

It’s this elemental power that makes Porthleven so compelling – and popular.

Having been on the surfing map for decades the jungle drums mean that if it’s good, it’ll be very crowded. Mind you, there is a theory doing the rounds that so many surfers eschew Porthleven these days, expecting it to be packed, that it’s often surprisingly empty. But don’t bank on it – and only paddle out here if you know what you’re doing.

Skill Level: Good intermediates and above only.


8. Thurso East, Scotland

surfing in thurso eastThe rugged Caithness town of Thurso boasts one of Europe’s best waves in the long, walling right-hander known as Thurso East.

No wonder that O’Neill holds the Highland Open, its hardcore cold water signature surf event, here every spring.

The event has never failed to astound visiting professional surfers from the clichéd surf idylls of Hawaii, California and South Africa, for as one of them, Hawaiian big wave pro surfer Love Hodel, said simply: “That wave is pretty damn perfect”.

Surfing perfection abounds in this part of the world, with a number of world class reefs and points to the east and west of Thurso.

Even Thurso East’s unfavourably named sister break – the Shit Pipe – is a gem, while a few miles away Brims Ness – Nordic for ‘surf point’ – will have good surf even when there doesn’t appear to be any swell. But be warned: Thurso is best surfed by those who know what they’re doing.

Skill Level: Good intermediates and above only.


9. Boscombe, Bournemouth, Dorset

Boscombe_beach_photoUntil recently Boscombe, in Bournemouth, was one of those seaside locales that had seen better days. Its surfing community had to coexist with druggies and drop-outs in an area that had ‘down at heel’ written all over it. But that was then.

Boscombe is now the proud home of Europe’s first artificial surf reef thanks to a multi-million pound investment by Bournemouth Borough Council. The reef, the size of a football pitch, is made up of 55 giant sandbags and entails a 220m paddle out. It should be tackled by proficient surfers only but beginners are also catered for thanks to Bournemouth Surf School, whose lessons start at £25.

Head west for Broadbench, a world class reef break at scenic Kimmeridge Bay – and also the subject of a battle for access thanks to restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Defence, which operates a firing range nearby.

Skill Level: Intermediates and above on the reef; otherwise good for beginners.


10. St Ouen’s Bay, Jersey

At just nine miles by five, Jersey is so small that the idea of the secret spot – the cherished surf break known only to a chosen few – is an oxymoron.

But if you’re unlikely to surf in total solitude, west-facing St Ouen’s Bay is sufficiently expansive to provide room for everyone.

Its backdrop, of a landscape denuded by the prevailing westerly winds of all but a few straggles of gorse, is wholly unscarred by development and this sums up the appeal of St Ouen’s, a place where sea and land meet in extremis.

Roughly in the centre of the bay is The Watersplash, a popular surfers’ bar. The Jersey Surfboard Club has been around in one form or another for nearly 100 years and is the best point of contact for those interested in Channel Island waves.

Skill Level: Beginners to experts.


Liked this? Read our top 10 wild swimming locations in the UK.

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To find out more about surfing visit Surfing GB's website

Many thanks to Jesse and Gabe Davies at Thurso East – picture by Lewis Arnold.

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