Surfing in Newquay

Written by Lucy from

Newquay was my first taste of surfing as a child. I still remember my arms aching as I carried the long foam boards to the shoreline with my sister, the brisk summer ocean despite it being the height of British summertime and being bundled up in a cozy beach towel enjoying well earnt fish and chips afterwards. These treasured family memories led me back to Cornwall’s shores last year, eager to retrace my childhood steps.

Returning as an adult, I had a different set of expectations for my trip. My goal as an aspiring surfer all those years ago was simply to stand up on my board. However this time I was keen to explore new spots and unravel the essence that crowns Newquay as the surfing capital of the UK. Certainly there are plenty of other spots in the UK which have become popular for catching waves, but after spending some time here, I think I have it figured out.

Surfing is a great sport, also for girls!

Newquay boasts consistently good waves. Unlike other spots in the UK which usually come with a caveat of specific conditions for them to be good, Newquay benefits from its geographical advantages. In all my subsequent visits, there were only two occasions when the waves were too big to venture out on my board.

The town offers a variety of beaches and bays. On days when crosswinds prove too strong, a simple trip around the corner leads you to a more sheltered spot. This diverse collection of bays facing different directions ensures a range of surfing opportunities; there’s always at least one bay with ideal waves for the day.

Principal among these is Fistral. Being the longest beach, it offers a range of different breaks all in one place, making it an ideal spot for both beginners and experienced surfers alike. The neighboring bays of Tolcarne and Towan are considerably smaller. Fistral’s expansive stretch of sand and abundant waves ensures that even during busy periods, surfers can find ample space for themselves.

This excellent collection of breaks has built up a vibrant surf community around it. Newquay is geared around surfing, there’s places to stay, a myriad of great surf schools and plenty of shops making sure everything a surfer might need is readily available here. Early in our trip my friend noticed a small hole in her wetsuit, so we set off in search of a new one. With an abundance of surf shops to choose from, it took us no time to find her perfect suit, pull it on and get out in the ocean minutes later.

Get ready to catch some waves in Newquay!

Whilst I have occasionally seen longboarders here, Newquay’s energetic waves make it a shortboarder’s paradise. The ideal surf season depends on your skill level; the waves become exciting around October so this period is better suited to experienced surfers. During the summer, lifeguards are abundant, a vital reassurance for novice surfers honing their wave-reading skills. Summer also brings smaller, more manageable waves, drawing larger crowds of learners to the beaches. For newcomers, I highly recommend taking some classes with one of the many surf schools to help you find your feet on the board.

Essential for anyone hitting the waves is your pre-surf warm-up, all the more apt when heading into cold water. Depending on how far your accommodation is from the beach, often carrying your board down to the shoreline is a good way to get your blood pumping and muscles warmed up. Some quick star jumps or running on the spot followed by basic yoga stretches usually does the trick for me. My personal hack for beginners who will find it quite tiring to start with is to surf on an incoming tide. Trust me on this one, an incoming tide is amazing because you can ditch your belongings at the top of the beach, surf to your heart’s content, and by the time you’ve finished, completely knackered by the session, you are saved from the long trek back.

Everyone develops their own post surf traditions and I was no exception during this trip. My cooldown pretty much always involved enjoying a cider and chips while overlooking the bay – the perfect end to a lengthy session in the water.

Newquay is an amazing destination for surfing

For days when you can’t get into the sea, Newquay has some of the finest coastal walks in the UK. The Gannel Estuary is one of my favorites and a local tipped us off to the walk down Pentire headland – a tiny walk but with some stunning views. If you fancy something further afield, the coastal path from Trevone to Padstow is a fantastic trek. If cycling is more your thing, renting out a bike to complete the Camel Trail is something my parents had us do every year.

There’s one glaringly obvious part of surfing in Newquay that I have yet to mention – wearing a wetsuit. The ocean remains cold enough all year round to merit one. There’s always someone, falsely assured by the sunny days in our fickle summers, who ventures out in only board shorts and a rashie, only to exit the water much sooner than they intended. There are numerous places to rent wetsuits, but I highly recommend investing in your own, even if you’re not planning on surfing regularly. The little boots and gloves, though a little goofy looking are essential particularly as the weather turns colder into the winter months.

My advice for psyching yourself up to get into the cold water? Just take the plunge without overthinking it. The longer you stand there thinking about it, the less likely you are to dive in and that’s less time you get to spend riding the waves. So grab your board, pull on your wetsuit and plow straight in. There’ll be a pint and a pasty waiting for you when you’re done – just watch out for the opportunistic seagulls.

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