Guide to Surfing in Cornwall

Cornwall is famous for its legendary surf with thousands of people flocking to the county each year in search of the perfect wave. If you love surfing then chances are you’ll be heading to Cornwall at some point, so we’ve put together this handy guide to help you experience the best that Cornwall has to offer.

Where to surf

Someone surfing on a waveImage by Hugh Lunnon is licensed under CC 2.0

Cornwall has numerous bays, beaches and harbours which are great for surfing, but to make sure you catch the best waves this year we would suggest heading to one of the following areas.

Fistral Beach: Backed by sand dunes and high cliffs ,Fistral Beach is known worldwide as the UK’s best surf spot. Home to some of the best waves in Europe, Fistral Beach not only attracts hundreds of surfers each year but thousands of spectators too, as they line the shore hoping to catch the surfers in action. The beach has two headlands either side, which help funnel in powerful waves that often reach heights of eight feet making this the perfect spot for surf competitions.

Praa Sands: With over a mile of white sands to explore, Praa Sands is another great Cornish surfing beach. The area produces some surprisingly big waves and as the surf is fairly consistent, there is always a surfer or two in the area. The waves here can become heavy, especially at high tide, so we wouldn’t suggest this beach for beginners unless you’re with a surf school or a professional instructor.

Porthtowan: Located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty the beach at Porthtowan is one of the most attractive in Cornwall. The beach is backed by high cliffs, which not only look impressive but provide some protection from the winds at high tide. When the surf is good you’ll find powerful, hollow waves and some decent barrels, but again the beach is not recommended to beginners during high tide as the area becomes narrow and a little rocky.

Watergate Bay: Popular with both families and surfers Watergate Bay offers a wide expanse of golden sand sheltered under high cliffs. The bay regularly picks up swells from the Atlantic and the surf is pretty constant, meaning you can surf here at any time of year. The beach is very well equipped for surfers, and along with the impressive waves visitors will also find a surf shop, surf school, bar and terrific hotel.

Want to do something a little more dry? Why not take a trip to some of our favourite gardens in Cornwall.

When to surf

Someone surfing on a small waveImage by Brian Marks is licensed under CC 2.0

Locals in Cornwall can surf all year round with the area providing impressive waves at any time of year. If you’re not local to Cornwall, and you plan on visiting just to surf, then we would advise planning your holiday during either summer or winter.

Summer: The waves are a bit smaller in the summer than they are in the winter, but the beautiful weather and warm seas more than make up for it. If you’re hoping to spend a lot of time on the water, then visit during May and June before the school holidays begin and the beaches become overcrowded.

Winter: For winter surfing we would suggest visiting Cornwall between September and November, although if you prefer warmer water then it’s best not to surf after October. Experienced surfers will often head to Cornwall during the winter season as there are continuous swells, large waves and a better chance of catching off shore waves.

Surf lessons

People walking with their surfboards on a sandy beachImage by Ian Griffiths is licensed under CC 2.0

Surf lessons are not just for beginners, in fact there are a number of Cornish surf schools that offer coaching for advanced students. If you’re an experienced surfer who’s looking to hone their skills this year, then be sure to visit one of the following surf schools for expert advice and guidance.

St Ives Surf School: The advanced coaching team at the St Ives Surf School is managed by one of Europe’s best competitive surfers, Jayce Robinson. The St Ives Surf School help surfers reach their full potential by combining the expert knowledge and experience of their coaches with video analysis and fitness training. 

Gwithian Academy of Surf: At the Gwithian Academy of Surf they use award winning software to provide video analysis of your existing skills before working with you to take your skills to the next level. The team creates you a webpage on the site that documents your footage and the tips you've been given, so you can access your footage at any time.

Fistral Beach Surf School: The Fistral Beach Surf School is located on Cornwall’s best surfing beach, and offers both intermediate and advanced surf lessons. The intermediate classes focus on advanced theory, which helps you with timing and perfecting manoeuvres on the wave. The advanced classes use video analysis and coaching to help people who want to improve their technique or even start competing.

Surf competitions

Someone lying down on their board and surfingImage by Ashley Shelley is licensed under CC 2.0

With numerous surf competitions going on throughout the year, Cornwall is the ideal place for both professional and amateur surfers to show off their skills. If you’re looking to attend a surf competition in Cornwall then the following events come highly recommended.

Boardmasters: Held annually on Watergate Bay and Fistral Beach, this is Europe’s biggest surfing competition. Boardmasters attracts thousands of people to Cornwall each year. Boardmasters has seven different surf competition categories including a whipper snapper competition for under 12’s, and men’s and women’s open competitions.

English National Surfing Championships: Held on Watergate Bay in early May, the English National Surfing Championship is the UK’s longest running surfing competition. This national event attracts some of Europe’s biggest surfers, and with competition running high, spectators can expect to see some pretty spectacular manoeuvres. This Championship has 14 different categories including masters, longboard, juniors and veterans.

Surfing is just one of the many fantastic water sports available in Cornwall, for something a little different we would suggest kayaking or even stand up paddle boarding. These water sports are great for individuals but even better when done as part of a family group. For more information on the water sports available in Cornwall take a look at our guide “Family friendly water sports in Cornwall”.

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