The Ultimate Guide to Cornwall Surfing

by Rich Francis

Cornwall surfing is legendary in the UK and Europe. Poking out into the cusp of the Atlantic, this great peninsula county offers breaks on both south and north coasts, with waves for all levels. Summer is best.

Cornwall surfing

Cornwall surfing at a glance

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The good

  • Beautiful coastal scenery
  • Fantastic beginner surf in summer
  • Good wave variety

The bad

  • Winter can be badly blown out
  • Spots with localism
  • Cornwall can be expensive

Check out our main guide to surfing in England

What’s in this guide to surfing in Cornwall?

An introduction to Cornwall surfing

Cornwall is the long, poiting finger of England. It juts out of the country’s south-western edge to divide the Bristol Channel from the English Channel. That means two swell-facing coasts, each with their own prime conditions and native spots. However, there’s no question that the most famous Cornwall surfing takes place on the northern shoreline. That’s home to iconic surf towns like Newquay and St Ives, and can be a veritable swell magnet – Cornwall is often firing even when the rest of the UK is flat!

There’s crazy variety in the waves. Newquay – arguably the county’s surf capital – hosts both gnarly Fistral (a barrel-capable beach break) and Towan (where some of the best surf school Cornwall has to offer ply their trade with beginners). Beyond that are huge, sandy bays with logger waves. There are pure west-facing coves like Sennen that pick up any summer tracers. You’ve got sheltered south-coast spots that have point breaks and reefs that wedge right and left. Honestly, you WILL NOT get bored!

We often feel that Cornwall’s main limitations are the weather. Yes, there’s a microclimate, but this is England, remember! Winters can be brutal and cold. They do clear the way for strong storm swells, but the south-west is at its best on 6-12 foot summer pushes that have nice long periods. Those are the dawnies you’ll remember, sat with your crew in a turquoise bay with white sands and the sun beating down!

The Cornish coast

Where is Cornwall?

Cornwall is easy to find. It extends out of the foot of the UK to meet the Atlantic Ocean. It’s officially home to the most southerly mainland point in the country, which you’ll find at Land’s End. The county’s north coast wiggles up to the Bristol Channel. Meanwhile, the south coast stretches along the English Channel to the Devonshire beaches.

The best spots and best surfing beaches in Cornwall

We’ve split Cornwall surfing into north and south. There’s much more in the north, including the most famous spots of Newquay, Bude and Polzeath. The south is more

North Cornwall

Bude

Bude

Facing directly west, Summerleaze Beach in Bude is one of the region’s fiercest winter beach breaks. Come the spring and autumn, it’s fabulous beginner’s spot, but also has some reefs and points for more experienced surfers. If that’s you, consider dropping into rocky Crooklets Beach, where hollow waves can come on big swells at high tide. Widemouth Bay is the place for the surf schools, especially with easterly offshores in the summer.

Polzeath

Polzeath

Polzeath is a major hub for Cornwall surfing lessons. Go here in spring, summer and autumn and you’re likely to find nice approachable waves with lots of whitewash. Conditions on direct W swells are mushy, with only a few rideable walls out back – that’s why intermediates+ tend to keep away. Flying boards will be your main opposition. Oh, and big lineups. Still – the best surfer is the one who’s having the most fun, right?

TL:DR: Polzeath is among the best beginner surf spots for families in the whole of the UK.

Trevone

A NW orientation keeps the little bay of Trevone sheltered from the full whack of the Atlantic. It’s a fav on midwinter storm days because there’s a nice refraction around the point that gives decent fat waves. That said, there’s a tendency for Trevone to close out. It’s a big stomping ground for foamers.

Watergate Bay

Watergate Bay

A few clicks to the north of Newquay, Watergate Bay is a cracking stretch of sand for beginners and improving intermediates. It’s all peaky beachbreak with sand underfoot. Big closeouts when it’s 10 foot plus but summer brings neat sets of secondary swell for the schools. Get out back and you can usually find a spot to yourself.

Newquay

Newquay

We think EVERY guide to Cornwall surfing should have a hefty section on Newquay surfing. This buzzy little town (now something of a surprise stag and hen do destination, if you believe it!) is the self-proclaimed wave capital of the county. It has some of the most reliable beaches around and hosts the annual Boardmasters Festival come August.

Fistral Beach is the jewel in the crown. A five-min walk from the centre across a gorgeous headland spotted with cottages and flowers, it offers fantastic swells that get pumping on both NW and SW swells. It’s always busy when it’s on, but it’s some of the top surf in Cornwall!

Beginners should get down to Towan Beach. It’s long and sheltered and actually right by the promenade. A peaky beach break, it’s the chosen playground for many a Cornish surf school.

Crantock

The first popular spot south of Newquay is Crantock. We’d say it’s one of the top quality beach breaks in the county, with a set of sandbanks that can offer hollow, super-quick rides on a good day. What’s a good day? Around 8ft on a SW swell is perfect. Head for the north end of the bay to catch the famous right-hander. When it’s working its super nice.

Perranporth and Penhale

Perranporth

Totally exposed to the Atlantic, these two lengths of Cornish beachfront don’t cope that well with big winter days. On medium spring swells they can be perfect for improvers, and even mimic a Nicaraguan beach break with nice sets of chest-high A-frames. Those conditions are rare, but the more reliable wave is the left that rides off the south point of the beach.

Gwithian

Gwithian is Cornwall surfing for beginners at its best. Set on a long beach around the headland from stunning St Ives, it’s an easy destination to work into a family trip to the south of the county. There’s loads of room, so things are rarely too crowded to have some fun. Wave wise, the peaks are strong, sometimes steep and can even be hollow. Secondary swell is for the surf schoolers.

Porthtowan

West-facing but also protected by the jutting headlands of south Cornwall, Porthtowan is a consistent beach break that can cook up some pretty heavy-going A-frames. It handles well, so it maxes out at around 8-10 foot. Gets narrower at high tide, squeezing the line up. A great spot for experienced surfers.

Sennen

Sennen at low tide

Sennen is the swell-magnet of Cornwall. It’s just about as far south as you can go before you get onto Land’s End, which is the very tip of the whole UK! That means any cross-Atlantic westerlies will be picked up here, and you’ll have something to ride even when the rest of Cornwall and Devon are too small. The beach is separated into two, with a break in the middle and one to the north. At high tide, the waves are funnelled into a narrower part of the bay and the line up is squeezed. Great for longboarders when its short.

South Cornwall

Marazion

marazion

Marazion is better known as one of the most beautiful towns in the county, and that eye-watering castle that sits on the tidal island. There’s also a surf beach here, although it’s quite fickle and inconsistent. Winter swells kick around the Lizard Head to feed the sets. They can be big, but are usually chest-high and a bit messy.

Praa Sands

The best Cornwall surfing on the south coast comes courtesy of Praa Sands. This nice length of golden sand has a fun beach break that’s best ridden at mid tide on the push (close outs come at high and there are rips at low, but things are still doable). Interestingly, offshores here are N winds, which can pump down in the winter to help shape up some lovely right-hand barrels going towards the jetty. Gets busy when it’s on. Some localism.

Surf lodges and surf hotels in Cornwall

Together with Devon, Cornwall is the most popular surf destination in the UK for families and starters looking to get on the waves. Consistent Atlantic swells mean there’s usually something to surf. On top of that is a lovely microclimate that keeps the water and air warm well into September. Tempted? Here are some of the best surf hotels the region has to offer…

The Escape ($)

The beginner surf mecca of Towan Beach is just 300m from the front door of The Escape. A cheap and cheerful option for families or young travelers, it’s about dorm rooms with fun shared facilities – think a games room and on-site bar. Gets super lively in the summer months and when the Boardmasters Fest is on, so book as early as you can if you’re coming then!

Fistral Surf ($$)

A stunning apartment with views right over Fistral Beach (arguably the most famous surf beach in Cornwall), this one’s great for family travelers and groups of young friends. The proximity to the waves is fantastic. There’s also a pool onsite for those summer time chills.

Shark Fin ($$$)

The Shark Fin is a sumptuous cottage-lodge that studs the high headlands above Sennen Cove. That puts it right by one of the county’s swell-magnet beaches, which is also a stunning, Caribbean-style sand stretch. Log fire and grand solarium rooms await inside. Big gardens with Cornish coast views are outside. Pricy but wonderful.

When to go surfing Cornwall?

Cornwall has four very distinct seasons. The winter is the most powerful on the surf front, but it’s actually not our favourite. That honor goes to the sunny spring, an Indian-Summer autumn, and the hottest months, when it can feel like your paddling out in Puerto Rico here sometimes!

Surfing in Cornwall

Spring (April-early June)

As the winter swells dip a little and the weather warms, there can be a great spell of tamer surf in Cornwall during the spring. May is probably the season’s sweet spot. It can be nice and sunny, particularly south of St Ives. There’s good punch to the waves still, with groundwells coming W across the ocean. Good days will be with easterly offshores.

  • Wear: 4/3 at start and 3/2 at end

Summer (July & August)

Peak summer sees Cornwall go into full-on holiday mode. The whole of the north coast and south coast gets inundated with travelers, so it’s really rare to ever find yourself alone in the water. What’s more, flat days are the bane, so you might want to track down spots like Sennen that can pick up anything that’s happening. Wake early on a bright day, however, and summer surfing in Cornwall could be the best you’ve ever had!

  • Wear: 3/2 or 2mm with the sun

Autumn (September & October)

One of the best times of all to surf in Cornwall is the autumn. The locals LOVE it. Why? The Atlantic’s dominant swells start switching to the NW, which wrap-around the edge of Ireland and push good storm pulses into the Celtic Sea. The northern coast of the county is firing on all cylinders, so it’s high time to catch hollow waves at Fistral if that’s what you’re into.

  • Wear: 3/2

Winter (November-March)

The winters in Cornwall see the height of the big swells. Things can hit 2-3m on stormy days and that usually coincides with heavy onshore westerlies. It’s common for things to be pretty hectic all along the coast, but beginners can still hit protected bays like Polzeath and Praa for lessons. More experienced surfers will look to Fistral and Porthtowan for prime conditions that let the barrels get going.

  • Wear: 4/3, boots, gloves and hood

Surf shops in Cornwall

As you might imagine, Cornwall is ram packed with surf shops. You can’t turn around without finding somewhere with boards and leashes in these parts. So, just a few recommendations from us:

West Cornwall Surf Company

Super-friendly and surf-mad folk await at West Cornwall Surf Company. They’ve got a menagerie of SUP and board rentals on offer and all the know-how to cater your purchases to your level and needs. You can also redo the wardrobe, thanks to the wide range of surf wear, shoes, and accessories inside.

The Pit Surf Shop

Locally owned and always ready to help you get kitted out, the people at The Pit Surf Shop in St Merryn are downright brill. The place might look like some sort of stall straight out of a Rajasthani bazaar but that’s why we love it! It’s ramshackle but filled with treats, from leashes to boards to wetties!

Sennen Surfing Centre

Housed in a lovely little wooden shack just by Sennen Cove, this fantastic store has a nice curated selection of branded goodies – we particularly love the Passenger stuff! Also, there are some great bullet foam boards, skim boards, SUP gear and whatnot.


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 is just one part of our larger guide to surfing in England

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