Surf’s up! Britain and Ireland have good waves in abundance and surfing’s popularity has grown very fast in recent years, from just a handful of practitioners in the Sixties to thousands of young wetsuited enthusiasts who now flock to the our beaches every summer.
ALEX WADE, the author of Surf Nation, picks out the best places to surf for riders of all levels. All schools are approved by the British Surfing Association.
Rest Bay, South Wales
On the edge of Porthcawl, Rest Bay is just three hours from London and a short hop from the Midlands. This is a sandy beach with waves that are superb for beginners but can also often be good for all levels of surfer. The surf is usually best at low tide.
Cost The Simon Tucker Surf School is run by the former British surf champion and offers private lessons from £60 or group lessons from £25 (both 2 to 2½ hours)
Contact 07815 289761; surfingexperience.com
Sennen Cove, Cornwall
Tucked into the southeast corner of White-sand Bay, near Plymouth, Sennen Cove is a beautiful village with two surf schools. Both provide top-quality tuition in waters that are as likely to be visited by seals, dolphins and basking sharks as surfers. Conditions grow more challenging as the sea sweeps round to Gwen-ver beach on the northeastern edge of the bay, but closer to the cove itself there are often perfect beginners’ waves. There are lifeguards in summer, a caf� and a surf shop and, for après-surf, an excellent restaurant overlooking the sea.
Cost The Sennen Surfing Centre offers private lessons at £60 for 2 to 2½ hours, or group lessons at £25 for your first session (£20 thereafter). The Smart Surf School, is in the process of getting British Surfing Association approval, offers private lessons at £40 for two hours, or group lessons for £25
The North East is fast becoming a surfing Mecca. In winter, bands of low pressure hovering between Scandinavia and Iceland send lines of powerful swell on to the slab reefs of this uncrowded coastline, and it’s no surprise that some of Britain’s best surfers – the likes of Sam Lamiroy and Gabe Davies – are Geordies. In summer Tynemouth makes for a great, and very scenic, place to learn to surf, with plenty of other watersports, too.
Cost Jesse Davies offers private lessons at £25 for an hour, or group lessons at £25 for two hours.
Contact 07884 436831; www.risesurf.co.uk .
Fistral Beach, Newquay
Surfing’s close cousin – bodyboarding – is a great way to get used to waves. Instead of standing up on a board, waves are ridden by lying on a short, rectangular foam board. “Bodyboarding’s initial goals are much easier to achieve,” says Rob Barber, the British Bodyboard Team coach, who runs a local board school. “The equipment is cheaper and you’ll be catching unbroken waves in your first lesson.” Whatever the state of the tide, Fistral beach provides ideal bodyboarding conditions, and is a favourite with surfers, too.
Cost Rob Barber offers private lessons from £45 or group lessons for £30 (both 2 to 2½ hours)
Contact 01637 878074; www.robbarber.com
Llangennith, South Wales
Llangennith is a gorgeous three-mile expanse of golden sand on the Gower peninsula with waves that seem to caress the shore. In summer, the surf lacks punch and with the absence of rip tides, this a perfect place for kids to surf. If there is a swell, head south to the Rhossili end of the beach where sheltered surf can be found.
Cost The Welsh Surfing Federation offers group lessons at £25 for two hours
County Clare, Ireland
By far the most extraordinary wave on our doorstep breaks at the foot of the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland. Known as “Aileens”, the 50ft wave is the kind most of us would rather watch than surf but it has been ridden by British and Irish surfers in the 20ft-30ft range. Such is the quality of Aileens that top Hawaiian and Californian big-wave riders now have it in their sights. Lahinch, four miles down the coast, boasts waves for beginners, intermediates and experts, while the town centre has three surf shops and a surf school.
Cost The Lahinch Surf School offers private lessons at €120 for two hours, or group lessons from €30 for two hours
Contact Call 00353 87960 9667; www.lahinchsurfschool.com
Facing due southwest on the Lizard peninsula, Porthleven is a traditional working port that is exposed to everything the Atlantic gales can blow at it. In a big swell, fast, tubing waves break over a reef to the west of the harbour entrance giving Porthleven its tag as “the best reef break in England”. Porthleven is always crowded with competitive and intense surfers so don’t paddle out here unless you are very sure of your ability. Less-experienced surfers should visit one nearby Praa Sands and Perranuthnoe, both good surfing beaches.
Thurso East, Scotland
Forget Hawaii’s North Shore, we have our very own. The north coast of Scotland is littered with world-class reef breaks, the jewel in the crown being Thurso in Caithness. Overlooked by the remains of Thurso castle, surfers can find awesome waves with long walling sections and barrels. But be warned, in winter, when the surf’s at it’s best, it’s cold. Very.
Contact Visit www.tempestsurf.co.uk for more information about rental facilities and the caf�
Crab Island, Wales “Thank God for Crab,” says Simon Jayham, a big-wave surfer and owner of Gower Surfing Development. The break, which is in Langland Bay, is formed by a small island that appears at low tide. Jayham is one of a well-respected local crew which surfs the long, powerful right-hander whenever the swell hits. A serious wave, often subject to a strong rip tide, so advanced surfers only.
Cost Langland Bay lacks rental facilities
Contact Gower Surfing Development 01792 360370; www.gowersurfing.com
The Severn Bore
Where can you surf past trees, fields, cattle and houses for more than a mile? The answer: the heart of middle England. The Severn Bore is a tidal surge up the River Severn, the biggest of which occurs around the vernal equinox (February, March and April) and the autumnal equinox (August, September and October).
A phenomenal sight, the bore has been known to exceed 2m (6ft 7in), while the Severn Estuary experiences the second highest tide in the world. International records for the longest wave surfed have regularly been set here, and surfers occasionally try the river at night, under a full moon. The best place for a Bore virgin is Newnham on Severn in Gloucestershire. Not for novices but a must, at least once, for every British surfer.
Surf Nation: In Search of the Fast Lefts and Hollow Rights of Britain and Ireland by Alex Wade (Simon & Schuster, £12.99) is available from Times BooksFirst for £11.69 (p&p free). Visit timesonline.co.uk/booksfirstbuy or call 0870 1608080. To find a certified surf school in your area, visit www.britsurf.co.uk