The Ultimate Guide to Bristol Surf

by Rich Francis

Bristol surf is all about hitting one of the UK’s best artificial wave spots, along with some really reliable sections of North Devon and the Welsh coast.

Bristol surf

Bristol surf at a glance

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The good

  • The Wave – one of the best artificial surf spots in the UK
  • Access to Devon and South Wales
  • Bristol has loads of bars and shops

The bad

  • This is a city and it has no beaches of its own
  • You have to drive to the breaks
  • This region is prone to being blown out on onshore westerlies

This guide is one chapter of our full guide to the surfing in England

What’s in this guide to Bristol surf?

An introduction to Bristol surf

Surf? In Bristol? You bet. Yes, this is a city. No, it’s not plum on the coast. But the old Victorian powerhouse of a town is well situated for access to some of the best surfing spots in the South West. What’s more, it’s one of the closest towns in England to the Severn Bridge, which means quick jaunts over to hit the Welsh south coast are doable.

Generally speaking, you’re looking at classic British stuff. Wide, winy bays with peaky beach breaks are the norm. The likes of Croyde and Saunton Sands are cases in point. Good consistency often takes second place to quality in those, but there’s no doubt they are hallowed surf territory with plenty of great riding. South Wales is a little different in that it gets bigger on S-SW swells, although Porthcawl and the Gower are still really about the peaky beaches.

Bristol surf also has a trump card up its sleeve: The Wave. We’d say this is up there with the best artificial surf spots in the world, let alone the UK. Powered by Wavegarden technology it’s got two lagoons that are capable of producing all levels of breaks, from gnarly overheads that get hollow to really easy whitewash. It’s also not mega expensive and all pretty chic – the site was only opened in 2019!

Where is Bristol?

Bristol’s location is key to it being a decent spot to base a surf trip in England. Right by the mouth of the River Severn, it straddles a couple of hills at the mouth of the Bristol Channel. That’s the main sea linking out to the Atlantic Ocean, and where virtually all the beaches of South Wales get their swell. More than that, Bristol is right on the M5 motorway that leads southwest to Devon and then Cornwall – two of England’s surf meccas.

Where to surf near Bristol

We’ve already established that Bristol is a city and not a surf city at that. You’re going to have to hop in the car to find any breaks in the surrounding area. Or, you could hit The Wave (the town’s famous artificial surf lagoon, which is darn fantastic). More on that later. For now, here are the best places to surf in the wild around old BRS. Some are in Wales over the Severn Bridge. Others are deeper into the West Country. The time it takes to drive from the center of Bristol to all of them is listed below the names.

Woolacombe beach

Porthcawl 

Distance from Bristol: 1h12

Porthcawl is probably the best surf spot in the vicinity of Cardiff, the capital of Wales. That’s because it’s one of the first Welsh coast towns to have a directly west-facing beach. It’s got two main spots. The first, and the more exposed, is Rest Bay. Decent for all levels depending on the tides and the swell size, it’s a peaky beach break with mushy sets. Great for groms and short wave riding. The other is Coney Beach. That’s more advanced but needs decent offshores (which are northerly). Holds better shape on lefts than rights and is over a mix of reef and sand.

Lynmouth

Distance from Bristol: 2h10

Lynmouth is just a little over 2 hours outside of Bristol but we wouldn’t recommend doing the drive after work as rush hour traffic can really clog things up. Better to plan it as a weekend of surfing away from the city, especially if it’s working well. Then, the harbour wall here serves up some of the best lefts in England. They’re quick, rippable and sometimes hollow. Needs decent westerly swells to work and only goes on high tide.

Woolacombe

Distance from Bristol: 2h20

Stay another 10 mins in the car and you could reach the jewel of the North Devon coast for surfers: Woolacombe. Really long and wide, it’s got lots of space for all surfers. That’s good because it’s a popular break. Offers slightly mellowed out beach waves thanks to that slight north-westerly beach face. Great on W and SW swells, when the point cranks up some nice lefts and the main sets in the centre of the bay get peely for longboarders. If you ask us, this one would be the most reliable option when it comes to Bristol surf on the nearby English coast.

The Wave Bristol

The Wave Bristol Surfer

Distance from Bristol: 20 mins in the car from the center. You can also take the local buses to Easter Compton.

Consistent waves with perfect shapes might be rare on the beaches of the Southwest coast but there are up to 1,000 of em’ an hour at The Wave. We’d put it up there with the most hi-tech artificial surf stations in the UK. Powered by Wavegarden Cove technology, it’s capable of creating sets to suit any level. The menu has four tiers of difficulty, from beginner to advanced and expert. Most reviewers say that the level is a little harder than expected, so if in doubt air on the easy side and go from there. Big Thursday sessions are dedicated to the biggest waves of all.

The Wave Bristol prices start at £50 for a beginner session. There are different rates for group lessons. Book your session in advance to be certain of a space – this one is ALWAYS in demmand!

Where to stay when surfing in Bristol

One thing Bristol isn’t short of is hotels. We’ve tried to pick a few that are good for accessing the surf breaks or have something extra fun about them. Check it out…

Towed Town Camping ($)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Bristol that sort of sums up the hip and quirky attitude of the town, Towed Town Camping is perfect. It’s a hostel at heart, so prices are decent. However, rooms are in repurposed caravans from decades gone by. There’s also an onsite pool table and bar to mix with other travelers. Pretty cool, huh?

Berwick Lodge ($$$)

Best for: Luxury near The Wave Bristol

Combine an out-of-town break to the stunning farm fields just north of Bristol with a surf trip to the West Country, all with a stay in the handsome manor house of Berwick Lodge. It’s just a couple of miles south of The Wave lake Bristol (the town’s cracking artificial reef) and has historic rooms with grand four-poster beds in a vast estate.

When to surf in Bristol

Bristol surf is at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean. That’s pretty much what powers all the spots to the south in Devon and Cornwall, along with the spots to the west in South Wales. Here’s what to expect from the different seasons.

(Of course, you could just opt to surf at The Wave Bristol. That’s an artificial reef so conditions are always whatever you request them to be!)

Porthcawl Beach

Winter (Nov-March)

Winter has pretty consistent swell on the south and west coasts near Bristol. Woolacombe is a great option because it’s surrounding headlands and sandbanks can tame the SW sets into something manageable, although the beach is really vulnerable to westerly onshore winds that will blow it out in a jiffy. Generally speaking, the Bristol surf is most consistent at this time of year, but it’s also cold and prone to being chopped up by the winds.

Wear: 5/3 or 4/3 with boots, gloves and a hood

Summer (June-August)

There’s no doubt about it – summer is a cracking time to enjoy the Bristol surf. The only issue is with consistency. Places like Woolacombe and Rest Bay might be considered swell magnets, but it’s not often that you get a summer that’s filled with wave days from beginning to end. Beaches on North Devon also start getting busier, so expect more groms and holidaymakers in the lineup. waves that need bigger swells like Lynmouth and Coney might struggle to work.

Wear: 3/2 or 2mm

Spring (April & May)

Spring is a great time to surf the south coast beaches of Wales and the west-facing bays of North Devon – the closest places for surfing in Bristol. The seasons sees very consistent groundswells on the W channel, so there’s nice incoming sets most days. On top of that, the winter storms die down a tad and you can chase some nice offshore waves.

Wear: 4/3 with boots and gloves at the start of the season

Autumn (September & October)

It’s hardly surprising but autumn is our pick of the bunch when it comes to surfing in Bristol. Lately, South Wales and the South West have enjoyed balmy and dry Indian Summers that last well into the late part of the season. Line ups thin too and there’s good consistency in the groundswells off the NW Atlantic. We’d say try to get out of the city early to hit Coney or Woolacombe before the winds pick up.

Wear: 4/3 with a hood handy just in case

Surf shops in Bristol

Like we’ve said 20+ times already, Bristol surf ain’t that famous. This city is more of a history and student hub. However, it’s got a few surf shops because of its big shopping malls and there are some local shapers with a decent rep for getting the fixes in…

Finisterre

Cornwall born and bred Finisterre has an outlet on the College Green of Bristol. We really can’t recommend these guys enough. They have stunning clothes that are all about quality over quantity. Not much hardware, but lots of winter jackets, trousers, thermals and waterproofs.

Bristol Surfboard Repairs

A highly reviewed local shaper with a knack for knocking those dings and scratches on the head. Give em’ a call if you pick up a graze on the old epoxy while enjoying the Bristol surf!

Best places to eat in Bristol

There are umpteen fantastic places to grab a bite to eat in Bristol so we won’t bore you with a long list. Two of our current favourites are…

The Canteen 

Don’t leave Bristol without checking out what the cool area of Stoke’s Croft has up its sleeve. The Canteen is one of the best examples. A boho music venue that’s got a lineup of cracking local bands meets a menu of eco salads, locally sourced fish and eastern fusion food.

The Bristol Stable

Crispy sourdough pizzas and craft brew ales are the name of the game at this cool pub-style eatery on Bristol’s historic harbour. Good place to start a night out because all the local nightlife areas are within walking distance.

Things to do when you’re not surfing in Bristol

Bristol is downright fun! There’s no denying it. The town has become a major nightlife and shopping hub for England, with hipster vibes to match even East London. Here’s what we’d get up to when we weren’t chasing West Country waves…

The Lanes

Man, we love The Lanes. Some great memories have been made in this retro bowling alley come Rockabilly bar. Cheap beers and vintage clothes abound. It’s the perfect place to go partying in the city after a day on the waves.

SS Great Britain and other great engineering feats

Bristol is a cracking place for history loving surfers. It’s got things like the SS Great Britain ship, which was one of the world’s first iron-hulled cruise liners. Then there’s Brunel’s great suspension bridge over the Avon, not to mention a centre that’s laced with medieval buildings. You won’t get bored walking around.

How to get to Bristol

  • Fly: Bristol has its own international airport. There are only a couple of long-haul links. Most connections are low-cost hops to Europe. Poland, Spain and Italy are particularly well linked. There’s a regular bus from the Airport terminal to Temple Meads station that costs around five quid in advance.
  • Drive: Bristol is a major traffic interchange of the South West region. The M4 whizzes by just to the north for travelers heading in from London or across from wales on the Severn Bridge. M5 links are to the south and north, which is the route to to take to get to Cornwall and Devon. That said, the A39 coast road might be better for reaching surf breaks like Woolacombe in North Devon. Check Google maps to get uo-to-date info on the traffic at the time of travel.
  • Train: Bristol lies on the main east-west line that links London with Swansea (a town that’s the gateway to the great surf of the Gower Peninsular, out of interest). However, locomotives on that route only stop at Bristol Parkway. You’ll need to transfer from there to get to Bristol Temple Meads – the station that nearer the heart of town.

We might use affiliate links in this post. Basically, you click em’ and we get a little something from your booking or purchase. They help us keep offering more and more in-depth surf guides to awesome places all around the globe. So, thanks for that!

This guide to Bristol surf is just one part of our guide to all the surf in England

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