Surfing is one of the top sports in Cornwall with thousands of people giving it a try for the first time each year. When on holiday most of your favourite beaches will be home to surf schools keen to get you in the water, and standing up for the first time.
In my mind, there are three types of surfers, ‘the novice’, ‘the pro’, and the people like me. I fall into a category with many others. We are the people who have given it a go many a time, have their own board potentially, and can stand up, but by no means can actually surf! It’s all about the image and dream… if you’ve got the skills… I like to think if you’re able to paddle for a wave, catch it, and stand up at some point on said wave, then it’s classed as ‘surfing’. My husband is likely to disagree, but for my own self-esteem, I can surf.
I would also like to point out that I’m only a fair weather surfer… My husband will be out in any weather or temperature if the waves are good, but I’m all about the sunshine. The beginning of my surfing year begins about April if the weathers nice (although you will still need gloves and boots to keep warm), and runs through until September, October at a push. If you can resonate with me here, then you fit into the group I’m calling ‘the sunny surfers’.
If you’re a seasoned surfer and have tried body boarding or surfing before then you may be on the lookout for some of the best places in West Cornwall to ride the waves. We’ve compiled a list of our favourite places to jump in and enjoy the white water, or larger swells that often roll across the Atlantic to Cornwall’s shores.
If you’ve never been surfing before then sign up for some lessons before you try it for yourself. Just remember always swim at a lifeguarded beach if you aren’t ‘a pro’! The lifeguards set up a red and yellow flagged area for bathers and boogie boards, and usually a black and white area right next door for anyone on surf craft. If you don’t know the local conditions, swells, tides and rip currents then always speak to the lifeguards for some advice before entering the water.
The conditions at each beach will vary depending on the swell size, direction, wind, which way the beach faces and the local weather. So you may visit one day and it’s flat, but the next could bring the perfect waves.
If the surf’s up, here’s our list of the best places in the West of Cornwall.
Starting at this quaint North Coast cove of St Agnes, also known as Aggie to the locals. This surfing spot can give big hollow waves when the swell is right and the tides not too high. We would say that this beach, when the waves are hitting, is only really suitable for ‘the pro’. On your average day here you don’t usually get much of a wave so is suitable for bathers and people looking to play around in a small wave. When the winter swells hit Cornwall then the waves wrap up the North Coast. St Agnes provides a sheltered spot from the wind, and the perfect headland for the waves to deflect into.
With the Blue Bar found right on the edge of the sand, it’s a great place to sit and enjoy the surroundings while you’re waiting for the surf conditions to develop. Ideal for people looking to improve their skills with a reasonable area of white water and surf schools present to improve your surfing ability. Ideal for ‘the novice’ and ‘the sunny surfer’ as well as ‘the pro’ on bigger swells. There’s a large car park set back from the beach, and great coastal walks head East and West from this sandy valley.
Gwithian and Godrevy
Perfect for ‘the novice’, ‘the pro’ when the conditions are good, and ‘the sunny surfer’. Gwithian and Godrevy have it all. There are several surf schools based here, lots of parking available, cafes and a huge beach for you to hang out on.
When the waves are too big at this end of the beach then head down the beach in a westerly direction for smaller waves. Upton Towans, down to Mexico and Hayle can all pick up swell, but the larger surf will be found up at Gwithian and Godrevy. If you don’t want to don a wetsuit and give this surfing malarkey a go, then the cliffs along Godrevy headland are a great place to people watch and enjoy others with the skills (or not) giving it a go.
The best surfing beach in St Ives. If you’re in St Ives for the day and have run out of galleries, shops, and food to eat then walk across to Porthmeor for the only place to receive waves. With several cafes along the edge of the sand there’s loads going on here. Head along to St Ives Surf School to hire wetsuits and sign up for a lesson. This beach is perfect for ‘the novice’ but at times can also provide the big waves ‘the pros’ are looking for. Parking isn’t as easy in St Ives, so we would recommend getting the train in and hiring a board when you get there.
With a large sandy beach, lots of car parking and surf schools down on the water this is a great place to learn. Sennen is the most Westerly beach so usually welcomes the biggest waves which hit the land first here. The waves here can be suitable for everyone depending on the daily conditions. During the summer months Sennen is the perfect place to learn to surf, with Dolphins often found using the waves for enjoyment too. But head down to Sennen during the winter months and you can witness some of the biggest waves seen in the UK. Know your limits, and only go in if you feel confident.
Gwenver is tucked in right next to Sennen but is not as easy to access. You can park at the top of the cliffs and walk down the steps, or walk along the coast path from Sennen. The beach is usually less crowded due to the access, which means you’ll have more of the sea for yourself. The lifeguards work here during the summer, so there will be bathers and surfers found on Gwenver. When the conditions are good expect to see lots of local ‘pros’ out in the lineup.
This is for the more advanced surfer only, ‘the pro’ will probably think of Porthleven as one of their favourite Cornish surfing spots when the perfect swells arrive. It’s a bit different to most of the other surfing spots in Cornwall as the waves break over the reef, instead of the sand. This creates a hollow wave that the locals love, but makes it very dangerous for in-experienced water dwellers. I’ve never surfed here, but my husband, coming from Helston, loves Porthleven. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, just head along the harbour wall when there’s swell and you’re bound to see lots of people jostling for waves.
The last of our West Cornwall surfing beaches, with the South Coast not having quite as many opportunities to surf as the North Coast. Praa Sands is a long sandy beach with lots of parking available and facilities just off the beach. It’s a great place for bodyboarders and surfers alike, but the best waves are tide dependent.
For the most up to date and detailed surf reports check out Magic Seaweed.
Are you a ‘novice’, ‘pro’ or ‘sunny surfer’ like me? Whatever your status we hope this inspires you to try this ever-growing water sport next time you’re in Cornwall.
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