The Ultimate Guide to Devon Surf

by Rich Francis

The Devon surf includes some epic beach break A-frames that are among the best in the UK. It’s also a beginner mecca.

Devon surf

Devon surf at a glance

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The good

  • Some epic beach breaks
  • Three coastlines that face different ways
  • Not as busy as Cornwall

The bad

  • Onshore westerly winds
  • Lineups that get busy on holidays and weekends
  • The south and north coasts don’t work so often

This guide is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in England

What’s in this guide to Devon surf?

An introduction to Devon surf

The thing about Devon is that some of it faces south, some of it faces north, and some of it – and here’s the thing, surfers! – faces west. It’s that last piece that really brings int the goods. If you think about it, we’re talking the same exposure to the Atlantic that the UK surf mecca of Cornwall enjoys further south. Sadly, the westerly shoreline isn’t long. It actually goes for only 10 miles from Woolacombe to Westward Ho!, and then a few miles more closer to the Cornish border.

However, that short bout of English coast is responsible for some very high-quality waves. They’re mainly beach peelers like Saunton Sands and Croyde, which offer some pretty epic rides on their day. Of course, the north-facing bays and the south-facing bays also have their moments. They require pretty strong W swells to get wrapped in, which can happen in winter. Just don’t head to those parts of the county expecting the same reliability and A-frames.

Devon surf isn’t as famous as Cornish surf. That helps to minimize the crowds in the summer, but there are still well-honed local surf crews and travelers from Bristol and London who will pack the lineups at Croyde etcetera. The best way to beat them is to get in early. It’s a chore in winter, true, but the rewards are fine.

Where is Devon?

Devon is the kneecap of the South West region. With Cornwall to the south-west and Somerset and Dorset to the north and east, it spreads between the Bristol Channel and the English Channel, with a nice stretch of west-facing coastline on the Atlantic. The biggest city in the county is Exeter. The nearest major UK city is Bristol.

A guide to Devon surf spots

We’d put Devon up there with the UK’s more underrated surf spots. Yes, it gets plenty of attention, but little is said about the sheer quality of its breaks. We think there should be special mention for its fantastic beginner to intermediate beach breaks, which are blinding good fun from Woolacombe down to Saunton. The south coast also offers something, but you will need to scout the forecasts and time things right if you’re heading down there.

North and west Devon surf spots (the best)

The west-facing spots of Devonshire get the full whack of the Atlantic. That’s great news for summer surfing and reliability, and the breaks there really are a cut above the rest (one’s actually among the finest in the UK). The north shore needs stronger W and some N swells to wrap around into the Bristol Channel but can also work well when conditions are right.

hollow waves in Putsborough

Lynmouth

Lynmouth is a fairly decent break when it works. You will probably have to wait for an element of north swell in the forecast to see it get going. If that’s on the cards and the wind is low, with a big hit on the westerly channel, you can score pretty nice lefts off the rivermouth. They’re a little sucky but offer fun rides and there’s a growing local following who seem to come scope it out whenever there’s a chance.

Woolacombe

Woolacombe is like the transition spot between the north and west coast of Devon. It’s got a slight hint of north-west orientation, which helps to protect from the dominant W swells when they’re in full force. The result is a big bay that’s filled with welcoming beginnerr-friendly ankle burners for much of the summer. There’s good wind protection and the wave tends to be pretty mellow and forgiving. Woolacombe handles size real well too, so it can keep working on 12 footers. Often busy but the vibes are good.

Putsborough

Putsborough is a fancy name for the south end of Woolacombe Beach. With the headland rising just behind, it gets excellent shelter, which means it’s a reliable spot when winds are strong and in the SW channel. Sadly, that protection also cuts the surf down, but come with anything over 5 foot on the buoy and you can score some neat lefts off the rocks that are mushy but fun. WAY smaller line up that Woolacombe itself, too!

Croyde

Croyde is the surf spot that really puts Devon on the map. It’s the county’s answer to Cornwall’s Fistral Beach, and a real doozy of a break when it’s on. Talking of being on – it’s often on! The westerly groundswells that hit the bay virtually head on are almost nonstop from September to March. They creep wonderfully into the Celtic Sea and wedge up into beefy A frames as they approach Croyde’s main beach. There’s also a lovely, curving left off the southerly headland that’s a long boarder’s dream. The days you’re waiting for are crisp autumn sessions early on, when there’s a cold easterly offshore and about 7 foot in the wave. Local rippers always waiting. Good surf shops and surf camps in the vicinity.

Saunton Sands

One headland around from Croyde is the fairly epic bay of Saunton Sands. It’s a wide sweep of dramatic West Country coast that’s got less development to it than the town spots of Devonshire. The quality of the wave isn’t the same as Croyde because you don’t get that refraction into the bay. It’s all unprotected and straight on when it’s westerly, which adds a bit of heaviness to the breaks – they’ll close out at around 8-10 foot. Still, on smaller days, Saunton manages to stay chilled and mellow. Spring and summer conditions usually turn it into one of the best learner breaks in the whole country.

Westward Ho!

Hop over the pebbles that line the beachfront at Westward Ho! to find one of the county’s more accessible surf breaks. It’s really beginner territory but can woo the small-wave pros in the winter, when it gets some nice wrap-around sets floating in. They’ll be fat and rippable but also not too powerful. Good learner spot and also very easy to get to.

South Devon surf spots (some hidden gems)

Devon’s south coast is better known for its well-to-do vacation spots. Hailed as the English Riviera, it includes towns like Torquay and Paignton – yachter hubs with more money than sense, if you ask us! Still, it’s a good place to go hunting if there’s an element of southerly swells in the forecast, especially during the winter when things can get wild on the Atlantic shore.

Paignton, Devon

Dawlish/Dawlish Warren

Dawlish Warren is a beach break with a more easterly orientation. It’s all windswell here, so unreliability is the main enemy. When it’s whipping, it’s all short, crumbly rides. The main reason it gets busy is because Exeter University isn’t far away.

Paignton

Windswell waves occasionally get Paignton working, but it’s low-quality stuff with some strange pollution in the water. Our advice? Keep driving. Don’t stop.

Teignmouth

The lovely fishing town of Teignmouth has arguably the best break on the south Devon coast. It’s a beachie with an east-facing front, which means it pulls in slight groundswells from the North Sea but mainly relies on windswells. Sadly, a W is offshore but they won’t do anything to help the waves. Again, it’s low-quality stuff, but there’s maybe a week in total every winter when it’s decent fun.

Where to stay when surfing in Devon

You’ll find lots of hotels overlooking the beaches and the best surf in these parts. That’s mainly because it’s one of England’s most popular beach escapes. We’ve pinpointed just a few that are great if you’re aiming to hit the waves everyday…

The Nook ($$)

Surf-hotel-top-pick

The Nook is a super-cozy little pad that’s just 250 yards from the beachfront in Woolacombe. It’s perfect for surfing couples who want to keep things simple. There’s also room for two more guests thanks to an additional bedroom. We also love the style and the generous square meterage.

Croyde Bay Hotel or Self Catering ($$-$$$)

Best for: Families

Right on Croyde Bay and close to Saunton for the beginners, the Croyde Bay Hotel or Self Catering is a fantastic family option. You can pic either classic hotel suites or cook-yourself pads, some of which even welcome the four-legged friends. All are nicely done out and have access to a pool and fitness center.

17 Woolacombe The Byron

Best for: Stylish accommodation

17 Woolacombe The Byron offers a beautifully finished stay within a stone’s throw of Woolacombe Beach. By morning, it’s just a short stroll tot he waves. In the evening, you can relax and unwind in the onsite swimming pool and sauna. Very nice indeed.

When to surf in Devon

The best time to surf in Devon is the autumn. There are some strong westerly swells helping beaches like Woolacombe and Saunton work to their best. The water’s also quite warm and winds don’t tend to be too bad.

A surfer in Putsborough, Devon

Summer (June-August)

The problem with the summer in Devon is that it’s super busy. Folk flock in from Bristol and London to enjoy the beaches. Most go south but many go north, so expect lineups galore in surf hotspots like Woolacombe. There’s something to be said for beginners at this time. The waves are cracking for learning, and even offer some nice rides for intermediates when they pick up a bit more power. Forget the south side of Devon entirely. It hardly ever works between June and August.

Autumn (September-Nov)

Our favorite time to hit the Devon surf is the autumn. Strong and consistent westerly swells tend to roll up the Celtic Sea, blessing Cornwall up to Woolacombe with the perfect angle for nice sets on all tides. When things get heavy – as they often do in November – there’s good potential for the lefts on the north coast of Devon to kick in. On top of all that, the water’s pretty warm (it’s 3/2 territory) and there’s not too many people about.

Winter (Dec-March)

Winter is pretty much the only time of the year you can expect things to start working on the south coast. You’ll need to wait for a strong pulse of W or NE swell to kick through the channel for that. Meanwhile, the north and west coasts tend to be pumping with regular Atlantic storm surges. The wind is the main issue, as it’s regularly onshore. When there’s snow forecast for the UK, that often switches N or E, which is perfect for Woolacombe and Croyde. Pack the 5/3 though!

Spring (April & May)

There’s mixed signals in the springtime surf in Devonshire. The high tides bring some nice, squashed up A-frame sets into the quality spots of Croyde. Then again, it could all be blown out and a crumbly mess. The best spring conditions are low winds and NW swells in off the Atlantic channel. When that happens, Woolacombe down can be a wonder. Water is cold – it’s 4/3 time.

Surf shops in Devon

The Bay Surf Shop

Expect a warm West Country welcome from the folk at The Bay Surf Shop. They sell loads of boards for all levels, but also let you rent to try if you want to buy one of their ex hire models. There’s also lots of stock of board shorts and sunnies, surf wear and skateboards.

The Board Barn

Located on the main road leading down to Saunton Sands, The Board Barn is a big surf emporium with all sorts of arrows for your quiver. The stock ranges from Al Merrick classics to Tokyo boards, SUPs to retro-feel minimal. You’re sure to find something and for a good price, too.


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 article is just one part of our complete guide to surfing in ___

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