Britain's best surf spots to rival California

·6-min read
 fistral beach - iStock
fistral beach - iStock

Britain is a nation with a glorious coastline of craggy cliffs, rugged peninsulas and soft sandy bays lapped by waves. On this island, where the furthest you can be from the coast is just 70 miles (113km), it’s no wonder that a surf scene has blossomed into a multi-billion-pound industry.

Catch the right conditions and the waves in Britain are on a par with anywhere in the world. The water’s not as warm as Waikiki, but in winter frigid swells bring in big, powerful waves that attract competitive surfers.

In the summer months, mellow beach breaks are great for beginners and the seas and shores team with marine wildlife – dolphins, porpoises, seals and sharks, including the occasional (harmless) basking shark, as long as a double-decker bus.

There’s nothing like the feeling of those final, deep paddle strokes as you catch the momentum of the wave and it propels you forward. When everything comes together and you pop up, moving through the air on a board on a wave on the sea. You don’t even have to be any good to enjoy it – it’s magical, elemental and childlike.

children surfing - Getty
children surfing - Getty

The heartland of British surfing is Newquay, but the best places to surf aren’t only in Cornwall. To mark International Surf Day (June 20) our list includes remote and wild beaches across England, Scotland and Wales with near-perfect waves and hardly anyone riding them.

Surf Snowdonia

Looking like the set of some dystopian Hollywood movie, Surf Snowdonia is a lake nestled in the Welsh hills where man-made 3ft-high waves roll in every 90 seconds. You can pick your zone according to your ability – the waves are biggest closest to the central pier. Book a lesson and fast-track your skills so that you’re ready for the open sea. Throw in on-site glamping and a cosy bar overlooking the lagoon and you’ll have more fun inland than you’ve any right to.

Adventure Parc Snowdonia offers lessons on the waves for all abilities (

Rhossili Bay, Gower Peninsula

Sweeping, dune-backed Rhossili Bay with its eminently rideable waves and low-key atmosphere is the surf capital of Wales. Waves peak all along the three-mile (5km) beach at all stages of the tide so there’s plenty of space for groups from the local surf schools as well as pros; conditions are consistent because any swell from the Atlantic touches here first. If it’s flat here, it’s flat everywhere on the Welsh coast. Park at the northern Llangennith end by Hillend campsite or at the National Trust car park close to Rhossili village. Be sure to stick around to watch the sunset blazing across the iconic Worm’s Head.

The Welsh Surfing Federation offers group tuition on Llangennith Beach (

Rhossili Bay - Visit Britain
Rhossili Bay - Visit Britain

Whitesands, Pembrokeshire

There aren’t many prettier spots in Wales than this golden bay hemmed in by a craggy headland and overlooked by towering Carn Llidi. Hope for a west or south-west swell and offshore wind and you’ll get clean and consistent waves at 3ft to 5ft, plus there’s a useful rip at the north end of the headland that will take you back out (beginners beware). The downside is that the bay isn’t huge, so when surf’s up, Whitesands gets crowded.

Ma Simes Surf School offers surf lessons and hire (

Saunton Sands, North Devon

This sand dune-backed, three-mile long stretch is just the ticket for novice surfers. The long peeling waves are mellow and perfectly suited to longboarding at high or low tide (though it’s a long walk followed by a long paddle out). The line-up gets crowded at the sheltered rocky end, but there’s loads of space to move into along the bay. If surf conditions aren’t quite right, there’s always nearby Croyde Bay or, beyond Baggy Point, glorious Putsborough. Saunton has a large paid car park with a couple of surf hire shacks, as well as a decent café.

Walking on Waves offers group surf lessons and courses (

Saunton Sands - iStock
Saunton Sands - iStock

Newquay, Cornwall

Newquay has nine beautiful surf beaches but Fistral Beach, half a mile west of town, is considered the home of British surfing. Book-ended by rocky headlands, the scoop of golden sand is backed by sand dunes and overlooked by a string of hotels. All the UK pro contests are hosted here and in summer it’s packed out, but the consistent hollow waves stand up to the hype. The Cribbar, Cornwall’s legendary big wave spot, can be found off Towan headland at the northern end of Fistral. When the conditions are right, waves here break at more than 24ft and attract pro surfers from across the globe.

Fistral Beach Surf School offers private and group surf lessons ( Read more: Telegraph Travel's complete guide to the best hotels in Newquay

Cayton Bay, Yorkshire

The Yorkshire coast with its cold, murky North Sea might not be your idea of a surfers’ paradise, but the world-class surf breaks here are gaining international attention. Just south of Scarborough, wild and unspoilt horseshoe-shaped Cayton Bay is surfable at all stages of the tide. The three different breaks are The Point, Bunkers and Pointhouse, but the first should be left to experts only. Cayton is the hub of the east coast scene and can get busy, though locals have a reputation for being welcoming.

Scarborough Surf School offers individual and group surf lessons (

Cayton Bay - Getty
Cayton Bay - Getty

Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides

Combined with Harris, this isolated island mass is the most northerly in the Outer Hebrides. The west coast takes the full brunt of the Atlantic, so when it’s too messy there, surfers simply pick up and head across to the east coast – there’s consistent swell and somewhere on the island will have a favourable offshore wind. Lewis is rugged, beautiful and uncrowded and on a sunny day, its beaches could be mistaken for the Caribbean. Although it’s remote, there’s a couple of surf shops for advice, tuition and equipment hire.

Hebridean Surf operates from the Welcome Inn filling station in Barvas and offers surf lessons and equipment hire. (

Sandend, North-east Scotland

One of the most consistent spots on the North Sea, the little fishing village of Sandend is a year-round surf destination. Rarely crowded, the beach has a gentle gradient at low or high tide and it’s generally sheltered. This little spot on the Moray Firth coast has a beach and point breaks. Best of all, surfers occasionally share the water with bottlenose dolphins – the most northerly resident bottlenose population in the world. Surf lessons and equipment hire are available year-round at Sandend.

Suds Surf School offers group and individual lessons (

dolphins - Catherine Clark/Getty
dolphins - Catherine Clark/Getty

Thurso East, North Scotland

West of John O’Groats, this remote spot is only for the hardiest of souls and the best surf is in the winter months, when the days are short and the North Sea temperature hovers around 43F (6ºC). Although surf conditions here are unpredictable, Thurso East is famous for the right-hand reef break that produces consistent barrelling waves on a northwest swell. For access, park in the farmyard in front of the break and walk, or paddle, out from town on the Thurso river.

Bring all your equipment along, including a 6mm wetsuit, hood, gloves and boots, as there are no hire stores or lessons nearby.

Top tips for surfing in Britain

Read up on surf etiquette (never “drop in” on another surfer). Choose a spot according to your ability and research local rip currents. Always surf with a friend or, if there’s a lifeguard, between the chequered flags.


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