Cornwall is at the epicentre of the UK surf scene. It all started here in the 1960s when the first fibreglass surf boards were introduced to the Newquay beaches. Since then surfing has gradually spread out to every corner of the UK with an estimated 250,000 'surfers' nationwide.

If you look at a map of western Europe it shouldn't take long to figure out why Cornwall is such an excellent surfing destination. A long narrow strip of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean with coves and beaches facing every which way! Unfettered, long range Atlantic swells batter the Cornish coast all through the year, with only the briefest respite during the summer months.
Being one of the UK's most popular travel destinations also means there are plentiful Cornwall cottages to rent near all the best surf spots

For convenience Cornwall tends to get divided up into 3 regions; North Cornwall, West Cornwal and the South Coast

Surfing in the West of Cornwall

What I'm calling West Cornwall starts with 'Surf City' - Newquay. Whilst the place is a complete nightmare in the Summer it does have some damn fine waves, not least the much hyped Fistral Beach.

Fistral is actually one of the best beachbreaks in Cornwall, picking up plenty of swell and holding more size than many other beaches. The waves here are powerful and can get hollow, particularly at the northern end. Towards the south end there is some shelter from prevailing SW winds.
To top it off there is the Cribber - Newquay's big wave spot - situated just off the headland. A bit on the fat side it has been surfed at around 20ft

The other Newquay spots all have their various merits. Towan is good on big SW days and is the most sheltered spot in the town. Tolcarne a little further up is a super punchy wedge that gets mobbed with bodyboarders when it's on.

Just north of Newquay is another big name beach - Watergate Bay. Just as famous now because of celeb chef Jamie Oliver's cafe there now. The beach itself is about 3 miles long and picks up plenty of swell so you should be able to find a wave to yourself most of the time.

Heading out of Newquay is Crantock, a good spot in a SW wind and a good escape from the Newquay crowds.

Perranporth is the next big beach after Newquay. Stretching up to Penhale there is more beach here than you can shake a stick at! On the good days that means it should spread the crowd out a bit. There are a couple of stand out breaks at either end of the beach - a left off Droskyn Point and a right off Penhale Point.

Heading west from Perranporth you enter the 'Badlands' , perhaps the most localised part of Cornwall.
St Agnes (Trevaunance) is a punchy beachbreak that works well in SW winds but doesn't hold a crowd too well and tends to favour mid tide.

The next spot west is perhaps the most notorious local in Cornwall! Chapel Porth is fast, hollow and powerful - mind your manners and you'll be fine. The beach here links up with Porthtowan at low tide were you can score some equally good waves. Porthtowan punches way above its weight and is often dredgingly hollow and thick with it.

Hayle is renown for it's '3 miles of golden sand', it is also home to some fairly nice waves too! The shelter increases from north to south so in smaller swells Godrevy is the place to be. Not without power (especially at low tide) Godrevy tends to produce long walling waves and shifty peaks - so good waves will come to those who wait.

Next stop is St Ives, another town you may be mistaken in thinking is sponsored by Quicksilver! Whilst the town does have beaches facing in all directions you are most likely going to be surfing Porthmeor (The Meor). On its day Porthmeor can deliver a top to bottom, sand dredging beast of a wave, however, these are few and far between and in fact the Meor is one of the most frustrating spots around. It is often a back off / close out and doesn't pick up that much swell. One of it's main redeeming features is almost off shore on a SW wind.

The most westerly spot in Cornwall is Sennen and Gwenvor at the northern end. If there aren't waves here then there aren't waves anywhere. Both spots can be epic but the banks are often messed up with Sennen backing off and Gwenver becoming a churning close out.

Cornwall South Coast Surf Guide

The south coast tends to be less consistent than the north coast, but when it's on the waves here can put the rest to shame! The waves on this stretch of coast are a lot punchier than the rumbling power that is found on the north coast

Porthcurno just around the corner from Land's End is one of the most scenic beaches you could imagine. A granite amphitheatre with white sand and turquoise water. It seems almost too much that the waves here are equally photogenic - unfortunately that's often about as far as it goes! Despite photos of heaving, top to bottom barrels PK is 90% closeout.

Further round the coast and past Penzance is Perranuthnoe. It takes a reasonable south coast swell to get Perranuthnoe working and it is fairly fickle. It is always smaller and often mellower than Praa Sands around the corner. It can sometimes be a little tricky getting out of the water here at high tide thanks to the sea defences.

Praa Sands is one of the gems of the south coast. Fast, hollow, powerful and ....
...absolutely mobbed whenever there's a south swell and NW wind! Even with a modest pack here it can be hard to find the right wave. It tends to get best towards high tide in front of the cafe when there can be a hollow shorey. Low tide is fine if you don't mind getting a few shallow dredging set waves on the head

At the base of the Lizard Peninsula is Cornwall's most infamous wave - Porthleven. Breaking over an uneven, barnacle encrusted reef Levy is no place for the inexperienced surfer. Fast, jacking take offs and a hollow bowling right which can suck dry at low tide. If you are lucky you'll get to surf here with a few other people, most of the time though, when the conditions are right you'll have the pack from hell - locals, pros and photographers everywhere.
Still, it is a ****** good wave!

Surf guide to the North Cornish coast

The coast from the Devon Border down to Padstow largely consists of high cliffs and outlandish rock formations. However, tucked away amongst this dramatic coast are a few gems.

Starting in the East are the Bude beaches. Long, sandy affairs that pick up plenty of swell but are easily affected by the wind. The best known of these beaches is Widemouth Bay to the south - a massive stretch of sand with a few surfable reefs at either end. Widemouth is consistent, picking up plenty of swell but can get really busy in the summer when it is a favourite for local surf schools.

A lesser known spot up this way is Milook, one of the best reef breaks in the UK. A powerful left hander breaking at the bottom of cliffs Milook is a spot for experts only. It gets really busy with surfers from all around when it's on and finding it is another matter.

Further west is the much hyped Trebarwith Strand - often described as a glorified close out. But then again so is Puerto Escondido! Anyway, on it's day it can be epic but its a pretty fickle spot.

Next comes Polzeath, every surfer from Chelsea's favourite spot. Polzeath is a very gently sloping beach which makes it ideal for beginners and longboarders. However, the lack of power can be a little fustrating for the more experienced surfer.

Over the estuary to Padstow and beyond is the other Spot M. Although it isn't, the 'M' should stand for mutant as this is one ugly shoredump favoured by bodyboarders!

Trevone and Harlyn are good sheltered spots to check on big swells and SW winds.
Constantine is the opposite, picking up any swell going and taking the full brunt of the wind. The attractively namedBooby's at the N end of the beach is a semi-decent right reef break.

Talk the talk
Before you go you might want to brush up your surfing terminology so you can tell a kook from a close out and not be called a gremmie!


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    About me

    I like taking photos! Especially of the beaches and cliffs that grace the Cornish coast. These articles are written to compliment these photos. Hopefully they will convey the beauty of the scenery in this part of the world


    February 2013