The Ultimate Guide to Newquay Surf

by Oliver Sander

Newquay surf is famous throughout the UK. In fact, this fun-loveing Cornish beach town is arguably the surf capital of England.

Newquay Surf

Newquay surf at a glance

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The good

  • Fistral on a good day is simply epic!
  • The Bay area offers lots for beginners
  • Excellent summer surfing

The bad

  • Busy town
  • Touches of localism on Fistral

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

What’s in this guide to Newquay surf?

An introduction to Newquay surf

Newquay is the self-proclaimed capital of the Cornish surf scene and one of the best surf towns in the whole of the UK. It’s a veteran of major competitions, has fantastic exposure to the west Atlantic swell channels, good vibes and oodles of surf schools and surf camps. If you’re thinking of putting together a surf outing in England’s wave-blessed Southwest region, this is always a solid option.

The breaks are split in two. There are the ones out on the exposed Cornish coast past the Towan Head. They’re the most famous of the lot, especially that uber-high-quality beach break down on Fistral. The other selection of places are inside what’s known locally as The Bay – a protected part of the shore that runs from Towan up to Lusty Glaze. They are sure spots for crumbly beginner swells and ankle burners, but also offer something when the swells are too high and the onshores set in.

Where is Newquay?

Newquay is one of the main towns on the North Cornwall coast. It’s roughly midway between Padstow (a charming harbour town that’s popular with holidaymakers) and the town of Truro. Newquay itself is tucked behind the Towan Headland in a bay of its own, with surf beaches to the west and to the north. The best way to arrive is by car on the A30 that connects with the M5 at Exeter.

A guide to Newquay surf spots

It can be useful to divide the surf spots in Newquay into two categories. There are the ones inside Newquay Bay (known locally as, simply, The Bay) and there are the ones outside of it. The first bunch range from Towan Beach in the center to Lusty Glaze in the north. They tend to have smaller waves and less onshore wind. Outside of The Bay things get more exposed and turn to face the Atlantic with more head-on swells. That adds reliability but also size, making these beaches usually better for intermediates and up…

Surf spots in Newquay Bay

The Bay surf in Newquay

We’ve said that the surf spots in Newquay Bay are smaller and better for beginners. The reason for that is their shifting orientation. It starts with Towan Beach (the main town beach in Newquay), which faces almost directly north and ends with Lusty Glaze, which turns to face roughly north-west. All that has the effect of chopping down the oncoming W swells off the main Atlantic Ocean, and adding protection from the winds.

All The Bay beaches also have a really low shelf and don’t get the same wave movement as much of north Cornwall. So, the sandbanks are more predictable and the sets more consistent. If you’re a beginner or improver, or there’s a huge storm swell hitting Fistral, this is the area to be in…

Towan Beach

The cruisy floosy of Newquay town, Towan is where countless UK surfers have cut their teeth over the years. Not literally – we mena this is a beginner mecca; Cornwall’s answer to Bali’s Kuta. The reason? It’s the beach that’s set the deepest into The Bay, meaning there’s loads of protection to the dominant W winds and W swells from the Towan head and the town itself. Newquay surf schools adore this spot so it’s usually busy. It’s especially good for learners because it’s not just whitewash, but often nice left rides that are uber-mellow out back. Can be flat in summer. In the winter, it’s a hunting ground for sheltered sets when Fistral is blowing a storm.

Great Western Beach

The Great Western Beach is the next length of sand up from Towan. It’s very similar in size and quality because it still benefits from that headland shelter to the west. Wrap-around winter swells hit this one just a tad harder than the main town beach, though, so there are days when its punchy and pretty fun, especially in winter storm season. Summer days see hundreds (literally) of kooks having a bomb in the water – it’s a top learner spot on 2-3 foot in June and August.

Tolcarne

Tolcarne wedge can kick into action when the tide creeps up towards the headland on the north side of Great Western Beach. It’s a fun right that rolls across the sand to offer some fantastic freestyle sections for the bodyboarders. Closeout potential and lack of depth make it primarily a foamer’s wave.

Lusty Glaze

Lusty Glaze (nothing sexy – the name comes from the Cornish for something or other!) is one of the more exposed of The Bay beaches. It still gets nice protection from the Towan head closer to Newquay town. That means the swells in winter and autumn are tempered into something more manageable for lower intermediate riders. It’s all sand bottom, which is reassuring. Often used by surf schools. Close outs a risk on NW swells, although they are rare.

Porth

We wouldn’t be tempted to come this far north from the main Newquay surf breaks in The Bay. There’s no real punch to the waves that manage to hit the west-facing coast here and they are crumbly as hell. Beginners might get a good sesh away from the crowds in the summer, but it’s a washout that’s worthless for anything more in our humble opinions.

Whipsderry

Want to escape the crowds? Have Whipsderry on the radar and keep watch for a very slight SW swell angle. They can wrap into the headland and give this beach break some pretty fun sets that peel left. SW winds won’t ruin the spot because of the main rocks, but N and E winds will play havoc.

Surf spots outside of The Bay

Fistral Beach

The spots outside of The Bay are the ones that really put Newquay on the surfing map. They include the likes of iconic Fistral but also a few other places that can even crank up to XXL standards. These all get almost complete exposure to the Atlantic – they’re the last piece of land before the Celtic Sea opens into the vast expanse. That means groundswells galore and some seriously big days. They behave pretty much the same as Finistere breaks down in Brittany, with plenty of oomph and character. This is the area for good intermediates up to pros.

Cribbar

Cribbar is Cornwall’s answer to Nazare. Like its Portuguese compadre, it breaks at the end of a headland into a huge wedge that can hit 25 feet and more. It’s rare that it does that and stays clean enough to give an opportunity to ride. When it does, it’s one for the gun boards. The right is the sensible choice. The left will leave you shut between the rocks and the whitewash. Best option? Come to watch on the headland. The vibe is killer.

Little Fistral

Little Fistral is a beach break that runs like a reef. It’s tucked between Fistral Beach proper and the headland where Cribbar rocks the world when it’s on. Hollow and wedgy, the break is a fun left into the tor or a longer, unruly right across the bay. Always better at low because high comes in over the jagged rocks.

Fistral North

Welcome to the most legendary break on the whole line-up of Newquay surf spots. This one’s the host of WQS events and a veritable swell magnet that pulls up anything that’s going on down the W channels. It’s super reliable and gives sets of lovely, high-quality rights with shorter lefts towards the center of the beach. Fistral North holds up like a good friend to around 14 foot. It works best with an E offshore. Always busy and the best rides seem reserved for the pros who’ve made it thier home.

Fistral South

when the wind is blowing from the south, you can make for the headland protection that comes across Fistral South. It’s easy to reach and balances out the low-tide breaks of North Fistral because it works finest on a full push. Some rips along by the rocks to help you get out back. The waves are predominantly lefts and can be pretty hollow.

Crantock

Crantock is a changeable break that requires you to leave the famous Newquay surf and drive all the way around the Pentire Head to the south. It’s not a short drive and there’s a bit of a walk to the beach. The reward is a shifting river mouth sandbar that can give lovely hollow waves that are downright spot on for the loggers out there. When it’s huge, move south to catch some nice lefty shoulders that sit in the protection of the cliffs.

Where to stay when surfing in Newquay

Newquay has become a major summer weekender spot thanks to the reliable waves and lovely beaches. Coming with that is a whole medley of top-rated surf hotels for those who want to get on the water. Be sure to consider…

St Christopher’s Inn Newquay

Surf-hotel-top-pick

St Christopher’s Inn Newquay is a legendary hostel stay with oodles of fun. It’s the place to bed down if you’re the sort who loves to meet other travelers from all around the globe and embark on wild pub crawls by night. It’s got a breezy deck that overlooks Towan Beach, which means the beginner surf spots are just a short walk away.

Fistral Surf, Newquay

Best for: Keeping your eye on Fistral

Fistral Surf, Newquay, has a prime location out on the west side of the town, right above the legendary beach breaks of Fistral Beach. It’s a fantastic place for serious surfers who want to ride the hollow barrels of that awesome break, with enough space for up to four guests, an on-site pool, and views over the swells.

Smarties Surf Lodge

Smarties Surf Lodge is conveniently located between Fistral and the beaches of The Bay, so you can pick where you want to paddle out each morning. We like the fact that it’s a low-key Cornish hostel-B&B with lots of personal touches. That full Irish breakfast also adds to the draws.

When to surf in Newquay

Autumn is the best time to surf in Newquay. At least that’s our opinion, because the water says warm until October time and there’s usually decent weather this far south in England. You also get some nice W-NW swells that can get Fistral working for more experienced surfers and The Bay pumping for beginners and learners. Winter is wilder and can suffer from winds, but is loved by the local pro crowd. Summer is ALWAYS busy but means enjoying the closest thing the UK has to Sri Lanka!

Summer (June-August)

Crowds and crowds of holidaymakers descend on Newquay from July onwards. That’s the start of the British school break, and it means the local rentals and hotels skyrocket in price. If you are planning on coming now, be sure to head inland a little and bring the car – it’s always cheaper and means you’ll be able to explore other, less busy, spots down the Cornish coast. Surf wise, there is the risk of flat days. However, it’s a learners paradise, mainly because even Fistral can be worthy of a ride when things are small and there’s crumbly whitewash to play with.

Wear: Shorty, 2mm or even a rash on the hottest days

Autumn/Fall (Sept-Nov)

Our pick for the peak season on the Newquay surf comes with Autumn. The main reason is that the crowds disperse. There’s just a fraction of the people in the water in September as there was in August. The weather and the water also stays warm, so you can usually get by with a 3/2 down to a shorty. On top of that, there’s an uptick in the groundswell report that shows way more action on the exposed beaches of Fistral, along with the odd day when there’s wrap-around swells to add real quality Towan Beach to get you ripping up the ankle burners.

Wear: 3/2 or 4/3 closer to Nov

Winter (December-March)

Winter can be pretty darn big on Fistral Beach and Cribbar, where the occasional big-wave wedge will form on head-on W swells during Atlantic storms. Mostly, it’s reliable stuff with lots of days that are pretty good, tempered by stretches of totally blown-out British wave sets. Winds coming onshore are the main issue, but close outs can also be a real pain. Head inside The Bay to escape the heavier conditions on the biggest of days. You’ll get some nice waves up Great Western and Lusty Glaze, especially if you get there early.

Wear: 5/4/3, gloves, boots and hood

Spring (April & May)

Late spring is different to early spring on the Newquay surf. You can catch some storms towards the tail end of winter in March that will be beefy and big on Fistral North. There’s a touch of more S swell in the angle on occasion, which helps places like Lusty Glaze get their lefts going. Smaller days in May and early June are just about perfect for beginners who want a good challenge.

Wear: 4/3 and bring boots and gloves for early in the season

Surf shops in Newquay

Padstow

Of course, Newquay has some cracking surf shops. In fact, it’s packed with em’, including a number of flagship stores. Here are just two that we love to visit whenever we’re in town…

The Boardroom

The Boardroom Newquay sits on Beacon Road just above the harbour wall. It’s an all-round cracking store with great stock of well-known board brands – Chilli, Matt Barrow. You can also grab pretty much anything else you might need for the Newquay surf, from sunblock to new fin sets.

Custard Point Surf Shop

Custard Point Surf Shop, aside from having a darn cool name, are one of the classic shapers of Newquay. They’ve been blasting out creative boards with a but of a retro edge since the early 80s. The focus is on longboards and alt shorties, like fish tails and eggs. Drop in for a consultation if you’re looking to add something to the quiver!

Things to do when you’re not surfing in Newquay

Sometimes, just sometimes, the Newquay surf isn’t pumping. That’s when you can look to explore all the other things there are to do in this lovely corner of Cornwall…

South West Coast Path

There are some pretty stunning coastal hiking paths to get stuck into around Newquay. The cream of the crop is surely the South west Coast path, which wiggles across the cliffs to the north and south. It’s a legendary trail, hitting a zenith above the white-tinged beaches of the nearby St. Agnes Heritage Coast.

Padstow

It should take around 30 minutes to drive up to the lovely town of Padstow. It’s set on a river estuary around an old stone harbour. There are some cracking places to eat, including a seafood joint owned by the town’s own Rick Stein.

Boardmasters Festival

The Boardmasters Festival has taken place in Newquay since 1981. It’s now one of the seminal events on the surfing calendar of the UK. There are competitions down on Fistral Beach (the Men’s Pro 5 Star WQS surf) and loads of other related surfing events, along with huge music performances and pretty heavy nights out. It’s a great time to visit but not if you’re looking for quiet lineups and empty waves. Basically, the place is packed for the duration and hotels get mightily expensive.


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 Cornwall and surfing in England

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