When we think of surfing, the chilly and windswept shores of the UK might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe the tropical coasts of Australia, California, or Hawaii might be more conventional choices – or perhaps the world-famous waves found in Portugal?
But our relatively exposed position in the Atlantic Ocean means that many of our coastal stretches can see top conditions for surfers of all ages and abilities, and are accompanied by some truly spectacular natural scenery.
With this in mind, we’ve put together this list of nine of the best surf spots in the UK…
1. Saltburn-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire
The surfing community was born in Saltburn-by-the-Sea when one local (along with his two pioneering friends) decided to brave the waves on a crude, homemade board back in the 1960s. Ever since, Saltburn has been the go-to spot in the Northeast of England for riding waves.
Dissected by a Victorian pier, this stretch of coast is treated to better swells (groups of waves that have been generated by far-off winds) than its neighbours thanks to its northerly facing direction. The pier itself, and the sandbars that form around it, also contribute to the consistent wave conditions – so many surfers try to stay relatively close to this structure.
For beginner and intermediate surfers, it’s best to stick to either side of the pier where high tide is your friend. And for the more experienced riders, consider heading to the south side, where you’ll find some waves with a bit more power – especially at ‘Penny Hole’, where the beach meets the rocks.
For lessons and board hire, head to Saltburn Surf School & Hire located on the beachfront.
2. Portrush, County Antrim
One of the more fickle spots on this list is Portrush, on the north coast of Northern Ireland. The sea here can be frustrating due to its unpredictable swells, but catch it on a good day and you’re in for some excellent surfing.
Portrush is made up of two beaches, the East Strand and the West Strand, which are separated by the headland where the town lies.
Every visitor and local has their own opinion about which strand is best, though all agree that while the summer swells can be unimpressive, the colder months are when this sliver of coast comes to life (just don’t forget you wetsuit boots and hood for insulation, as water temperatures can dip to 7°C!).
If you’re unsure about where to surf here, big wave rider Conor Maguire recommends Whiterocks on the far side of the East Strand.
3. Sennen Cove, Cornwall
Located on the very tip of the Cornish peninsula, just a short way from Land’s End, is Sennen Cove. It’s the most exposed beach in the South East of England, so anytime there’s a rumbling in the Atlantic, there are sure to be waves here!
Surfing is good in the summer, but it’s autumn, winter, and spring when this place really kicks into gear; producing some picturesque, glassy, hollow waves. Do bear in mind though that it can get a bit rough during this time, with some dangerous rip currents. Newbies to the sport are best staying clear or tackling the waves with an instructor.
If you’re a confident surfer, then while you’re down in this area, you might want to check out two other popular locations. These are Gwenvor, a reliable point break (where the waves break on a headland) to the north and Porthleven, on the other side of the Cornish peninsula.
Porthleven is thought to produce one of the best right-hand breaks (waves that break to a surfer’s right) in the UK. But it’s wrought with hazards, so only the most experienced surfers should tackle it.
4. Llangennith Beach, Swansea County
If you’re looking for excellent waves and natural scenery to match, you won’t find many places better than Llangennith Beach in Rhossili Bay.
Located on the very tip of the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, this three-mile strip of sand is in the ideal place to catch any swells rising out of the west – so there are consistent waves here all year round.
Llangennith has been the beating heart of the surfing community in Southeast Wales for years, and it’s easily accessible for surfers in the Midlands who don’t want to head all the way down to Cornwall. This does mean it can get busy during the school holidays. But the sheer size of this magnificent beach means that there’s plenty of room to find some space in the water.
With surfable waves breaking left and right all along this sandy bay, Llangennith is a brilliant choice for a day out in the water, no matter your ability. Just be sure to wear boots, as there may be weaver fish buried under the sand, which can give a nasty sting if you aren’t protected.
5. Eoropie Beach (Traigh Shanndaigh), Isle of Lewis
If you’re in the market for a truly wild surfing experience, why not plan a visit to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides? It’s the most remote entry on this list, but those who take the time to venture here can be rewarded with some spectacular waves.
The Outer Hebrides might not spring to mind when you think of surfing, but due to their exposure, they’re a bit of a swell magnet, especially during the winter months. While there’s a small but dedicated community of surfers here, due to its location, the beaches of the Western Isles aren’t likely to get too crowded – so there are plenty of vacant waves to catch.
There are a few great spots on the Isle of Lewis, but Eoropie Beach (or Tràigh Shanndaigh, as it’s known in Scottish Gaelic) is a popular spot. Located at the very tip of the isle, it’s known as the UK’s most northwesterly break.
There’s no surf school located here, though Surf Lewis, which is located in nearby Sandwick, rents boards and hosts lessons wherever the conditions are right.
6. Croyde, Devon
Croyde Beach in Devon is a three-quarter-mile ribbon of white sand that’s famous in the surfing community. Every year, thousands of riders flock to Croyde hoping to catch one of the famous barrel waves that are known to roll in at low tide.
With consistent surf ranging anywhere from 1-8ft+, this is a great spot for beginners, intermediates, and even advanced surfers to enjoy a day in the water.
Like many of the popular spots in the neighbouring county of Cornwall, it can get pretty busy here on a warm day. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of space and, if you want, you can head to Woolancoombe instead – which is the next beach over to the North. This is an even bigger stretch of coast, where you might find a little more room.
There are a few options for lessons and board hire here, though Surfing Croyde Bay comes highly recommended.
7. Thurso East, Caithness
Buffeted by North Sea and Atlantic swells all year round, the coastal waters of Northern Scotland are a playground for surfers who don’t mind icy water temperatures and the more-than-occasional howling winds. However, the feather in this region’s cap is undoubtedly Thurso.
Located on the very tip of the UK mainland, Thurso attracts surfers from across the globe due to its exceptional right-hand reef break on the east side of the bay.
Reef breaks, as their name suggests, are when the waves break over a reef (as opposed to a beach or headland). Unlike a beach break, where the shifting sandy bottom is constantly subject to change, steadfast reefs produce waves that break pretty much the same way each time.
This predictability is helpful for surfing, as you’ll always know where to line yourself up to catch the perfect wave. But, as you may have guessed, surfing over rocky or coral reefs poses a host of dangers, so places like Thurso East are strictly for serious surfers. That being said, no list of the best places to surf in the UK would be complete without it!
If you’re a beginner and you’d like to take advantage of the brilliant waves in this part of the world, why not head on over to Dunnet Beach to the east of Thurso? This long, sandy bay with crystal clear waters is a great place to hone your surfing skills. North Coast Watersports are based at Dunnet Beach and offer lessons as well as hire.
8. Fistral Beach, Cornwall
One of the most popular surfing beaches in the UK, Newquay’s Fistral Beach is a top choice for surfers of all abilities. As the host of a variety of tournaments (for example, the English Surfing Nationals), it’s a reliable spot and can see some outstanding waves when the conditions are right.
This is especially true at ‘the Cribbar’; a reef off the North Headland that’s known as the UK’s biggest wave spot – producing monsters over 20ft tall. Only a handful of people have ever dared ride this break.
The north end of Fistral Beach – including ‘Little Fistral’, a small inlet – is where the waves can be big and hollow, so this is a great spot for seasoned surfers. The south side, however, is a little more sheltered, so it’s perfect for beginners to learn the ropes.
There are plenty of surf schools to choose from here, though Fistral Beach Surf School and Hire is a popular choice.
9. Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire
Unless you’re with a qualified instructor, this is another entry that’s not for people that are new to the sport. This is because even on a relatively calm day, this spot is plagued by strong rips that can pose a very real danger if you don’t know what you’re doing.
That being said, Freshwater West is undoubtedly one of the jewels in Welsh surfing’s crown. And if you’re an experienced surfer looking for consistent and powerful breaks in the UK, then it doesn’t get much better than this.
Some of the best surfing can be found at the small, rocky headland on the south side. Though you can find some endlessly exciting swells all the way up the beach. Past this headland, and a small rocky bay, is Frainslake Sands, which is off limits to the general public as it’s part of Castlemartin military firing range.
Due to its remoteness and the natural beauty of the area, time spent at ‘Fresh West’ is never wasted, even when the water’s calm. It’s so picturesque that it’s been featured in a variety of films and television – perhaps most famously, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, where Dobby the House Elf (spoiler alert!) dies.
For lessons and hire, check out Outer Reef Surf School, which is based in the main car park.
There are plenty of excellent surf spots to be found along our 7,000+ miles of coastline here in the UK, including many that didn’t get a mention on this list. That being said, we hope that you enjoyed reading about some of the highlights.
If you’re not a surfer but would like to give it a go, check out our beginner’s guide for some information on how to get started.
Remember that surfing is called an extreme sport for a reason, so if you’re a newbie, always learn the ropes with a qualified instructor before hitting the water solo. And if you’re looking to surf without supervision, make sure to follow these safety tips from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).