8 Gnarliest Surf Spots in Great Britain

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Vicky Philpott

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Written by: Zoe Blogg

When people think of surfing most picture long golden beaches and clear blue seas in places such as California, Hawaii and Australia. Yet Britain has some of the gnarliest surf spots in Europe, thanks to their challenging breaks and quaint little seaside towns that accompany them.

As Ben Howard suggests in his song Old Pine, hot sand on toes and cold sand in sleeping bags are some of the best memories you’ll ever have. So take a look at the top surf spots in Great Britain below, pack your bags and hit the road on your very own surf-inspired summer road trip.

1. Fistral Beach, Newquay

Fistral Beach in Newquay

  • Skill level: Rookie-Pro
  • Nearby surf schools: Reef surfing school | Extreme surf academy | Quicksilver surf school.
  • Accommodation: Reef Surf Lodge | Base Surf Lodge

With consistent waves for all abilities and plenty of facilities it’s not hard to understand why Fistral beach is such a popular summer surf destination.

If you’re a bit of an expert, wait until low tide and head on down to the area just outside the front of the international surf centre where big barrel waves are common. However this area does get really crowded – if you want to make the most of your time or you’re just starting out, walk a little way down the beach where you’re bound to find a quieter spot to practice.

If you’re lucky enough to visit in August join in the party at the Boardmasters Festival, or chill out and watch the surf competitions on the beach.

When you finally pull yourself away from the thrill of the sea, Newquay town is well worth a visit. With plenty of independent surf shops and lots of bars and cafes, it’s not to be missed.

2. Croyde Bay, Devon

Croyde Bay Devon

  • Skill level: Intermediate
  • Nearby surf schools: Surfing Croyde Bay | Surf South West
  • Accommodation: Baggy Lodge | Surfer’s Paradise Campsite

Croyde Bay is another well-loved surf spot and holiday destination. At mid-tide you get the chance to surf some mellow waves; yet at low tide the waves come in fast making it better suited to surfers with more experience. While beginners can get some action in, it’s better to wander south to the bigger beach, Saunton Sands, where there’ll be more space to practice.

Croyde is a lovely village to explore when you’re not surfing. Take time to browse through the decent selection of surf shops, walk up to Baggy Point and take in the view or chill out at The Thatch with a pint of local cider and tasty nachos.

3. Sennen Cove, Cornwall

Sennen Cove Cornwall

  • Skill level: Intermediate
  • Nearby surf schools: Smart surf school | Sennen surfing centre
  • Accommodation: Old Success Inn | Whitesand Lodge

Sennen Cove holds an EU award for water quality. With clear blue seas and white sand to match it’s a little surfer’s paradise. The cove boasts consistent good size waves that produce great barrels at mid tide, ideal for those at an intermediate level who want to get some practice in. Sennen Cove is also home to Bilbo, the UK’s only canine lifeguard – be sure to say hello!

The surrounding village is small but there are plenty of pubs and cafes to keep you entertained, making it a perfect weekend getaway.

4. Saltburn by the Sea, North Yorkshire

Saltburn by the Sea in North Yorkshire

  • Skill level: Rookie
  • Nearby surf schools: Saltburn surf school | Flow surf
  • Accommodation: Runswick Bay Caravan and Camping Park

Saltburn is the hub of the north-east surfing scene. It’s quieter than beaches such as Fistral and Croyde and has a lifeguard in the summer months, making it suitable for those just starting out. Appropriate waves for newbies can be found either side of the pier.

When you need a break from the wear and tear of the sea, you can take a stroll around the Victorian town with an ice cream in hand and then pop into The Ship pub for some satisfyingly filling pub grub.

5. Pease Bay, Scotland

Pease Bay in Scotland

  • Skill level: Rookie-Intermediate
  • Nearby surf schools: Momentum surf shop | St Vedas Hotel
  • Accommodation: Pease Bay Caravan Park

The Scottish surf scene is up and coming. This said, Pease Bay is ideal for beginners as it has beach break all the way along the coast and many surf schools; it also has a challenging reef for those with a little bit more experience.

Alternatively you could take a bike-ride through the nature reserve, try your hand at fishing or have a quick game of golf. If none of this appeal to you then a trip to Edinburgh could be the answer, with more pubs, clubs and shops than you could ask for.

6. Thurso, East Scotland

Thurso in East Scotland

  • Skill level: Pro
  • Nearby surf schools: Thurso surf
  • Accommodation: The Townhouse Thurso | Sandra’s Backpacker’s Hostel

Experienced surfers only please! Thurso is known to be home to some of the best waves in the UK, or even Europe for that matter. Getting there is quite a trek but it is well worth the wait. Watch out for the rocky reef which is often dangerously close for comfort and you will be sure to have a swell time. Thurso has quite a reputation for big swells, which often means it is busy at times, so be respectful to the locals and wait your turn.

Thurso holds the world record for being the coldest place ever to hold the ASP world qualifying series. So be sure to bring your wetsuit, thick fluffy towels and giant mugs to fill with hot chocolate when you eventually venture out of the water.

7. Llangennith, Gower, Wales

Llangennith, Gower, Wales

  • Skill level: Rookie
  • Nearby surf schools: Gower surfing development GSD
  • Accommodation: Hardingsdown Bunkhouse | 4ftoffshore

This three-mile stretch of beach is probably one of the most popular destinations in Wales. If you’re willing to walk a little way down the shoreline you’ll more than likely find a quieter area to get some sessions in. Llangennith is well known for its long and tiring paddle to get back out, often resulting in the need for a rest before attempting to catch a wave. Saying this the rewards are well worth the effort, with long powerful rides back to shore.

When you are all surfed out the local pub, King’s Head is close by to relax and refuel.

8. Hells Mouth, Gwynedd, Wales

Hells Mouth, Gwynedd, Wales

  • Skill level: Intermediate – Pro
  • Nearby surf schools: West Coast Surf Shop
  • Accommodation: Tranrallt | Bryn Bach Caravan and Campsite

Hells Mouth is known as the capital of surf in Wales, it gets busy but with a four mile stretch of beach, you are guaranteed to find a space to catch some waves – watch out for the northern reef either side of the high tide as it can get over crowded.

Due to the lack of lifeguards this destination is more suited to strong swimmers at an intermediate surf level.

Although there are a few facilities dotted around, it is best to explore the nearby town of Abersoch, where you will find everything you need in the way of accommodation, food and shopping.

Top tips

  • Plan your surf trip in autumn or winter as there will be fewer crowds so more space for you and the swells are actually bigger at this time!
  • Boost your karma levels by being aware of Surfers Against Sewage.
  • First time surfing? The best thing to do is hirer a qualified instructor as to avoid picking up any bad habits early on.

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