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Chasing Waves: A Cornish Surf Road Trip

Surfer walking into the sea

Exploring Cornwall’s lesser known surf spots in a Jeep Compass

With a long weekend of sunshine ahead, some very appealing surf conditions rolling in and a Jeep Compass at our disposal, it seemed rude to pass up the opportunity for an impromptu road trip around Cornwall. It is, after all, our new stomping ground.

We’ve lived in the small coastal town of Perranporth for just under a year. Recently realised that we’ve not ventured very far from our local area to get to know the rest of Cornwall. There’s just so much to do and explore right on our doorstep that we’ve not felt the need, or indeed found the time! So we decided to head west and explore some surf spots we’d not tried yet.

Surf spot: Perranporth (Droskyn)

Parking: Before 9am or after 6pm there is free parking up at Droskyn Rock. Otherwise pay to park there, or at the seafront carpark.
Access: At low tide you can walk down the steps at Droskyn straight onto the beach behind Chapel Rock. At high tide access the beach as normal from the town.
Break: Beach
Best surfed at: Mid to high tide

As relative newbies to surfing, our local break at Perranporth beach poses a few challenges to beginner and improver surfers like us. On the plus side, there’s no specific break as such. This makes it a highly appealing option for those who don’t like surfing in crowds. Don’t get me wrong, when the surf is good the water gets busy. But there’s almost always space for everyone.

On the downside, however, Perranporth, known as ‘paddle-porth’ to the locals, can be a blooming challenging paddle out. It’s not unusual to spend 20 minutes battling your way through the whitewater to get out back. And once you’ve got there you’d better not mess up that wave you’re going for. All you’ll get is another unrewarded battle with the ocean only to resume your exhausted position at the back of the line-up!

Surfer unpacking jeep with board

Time to explore more of Cornwall

Recently, 3 whole days of a gentle offshore breeze happened to coincide with a consistent 3-4 foot swell further down the coast. So we leapt at the chance to get in some solid hours of actual surfing, and not just paddle training!

We packed up our Jeep with enough beer and BBQ supplies to feed all of Cornwall’s seagulls. Filled every nook of its deceptively spacious boot with way too much camping gear, and hit the road. Summer tunes blasting on its exceptional sound system. Happy days!

The combination of our preference to wild camp with minimal gear, and our usual tiny car has meant that we’ve not done a great deal of car camping in recent years. I’d forgotten just how great it is to pile everything in the car without thinking about it. And the luxury of hanging out in a tent you can stand up in?! Ah, the small things.

So we set up camp in a large site nestled in the dunes of St Ives Bay. And after enjoying a lengthy lunch in the luxury of camp chairs, we hit the beach. Our first surf spot of the weekend — Sandy Acres.

Surf spot: Sandy Acres

Parking: You have to pay for parking at the carpark in the dunes next to the Blue Bay Cafe.
Access: A short walk from the carpark through the dunes takes you to the beach.
Best surfed at:
Mid to high tide

Located towards the southern end of Gwithian beach in St Ives Bay is Sandy Acres. It is a hidden little gem of a spot that is ideal for longboarders, beginners and improvers. You can usually expect the conditions to be a little smaller and gentler the further south you go along the beach away from Gwithian. And because of its relatively awkward access, it almost never gets busy.

Our weekend wheels effortlessly attacked the ‘road’ down to the carpark, which should normally be negotiated with caution. It cruised through the paddling-pool sized potholes with ease leaving us finally appreciating its off-road capabilities we’d heard so much about.

And despite questionable visibility we also attacked the 3 foot waves at Sandy Acres with relative ease, enjoying the break almost to ourselves.

Sandy Acres beach in Cornwall

Chasing waves (and sunshine!)

An interesting turn of weather forced us to retreat from the north coast. We headed south in search of the sun. Although surfing in sunshine is always preferable, we’re not the types to let a bit of bad weather put us off getting in the water. However, when an unexpected and incredibly dense sea mist descended upon much of the north coast and stayed firmly put, we took the hint. Time to move on, to chase the sun and see what the south coast had to offer. And we weren’t disappointed.

Surf spot: Praa Sands

Parking: You have to pay for parking at the carpark next to Beachcomber Cafe.
Access: An easy walk onto the beach from the carpark.
Break: Beach
Best surfed at: Mid to low tide

Praa Sands is a gorgeous sweeping golden-sanded beach on Cornwall’s south shore, just east along the coast from the famous St Michaels Mount. When the swell is pumping on the north coast it tends to be a little smaller at Praa. And although the waves were barely much bigger than a foot or two, there was still plenty of fun to be had. Plus, we could actually see the waves!

High tide at Praa Sands is best avoided in bigger swell unless you enjoy the challenge (and hazards) of a heavy beach dump. That said, high tide at Praa can offer excellent conditions for experienced surfers and is one of the best surf breaks on the south coast of Cornwall.

A north coast hot spot

For days when the waves (and weather) drive us back up to the rugged north coast, we are spoiled for choice. The area between Perranporth and Padstow is blessed with a hefty helping of surf spots, not to mention further north beyond the Camel Estuary. The UK’s surfing hub of Newquay has something for everyone, offering everything from world class waves to beginner breakers. But predicatably, it gets VERY busy. Battling for position in the line-up ain’t really our bag! So we prefer to head to quieter breaks far from the madding crowd.

Harlyn Bay

Parking: You have to pay for parking at the field carpark that overlooks the beach.
Access: An easy walk onto the beach from the carpark.
Break: Beach
Best surfed at: Mid tide
Although by no means the best break in north Cornwall, Harlyn Bay is a great option if you’re in the Padstow area and looking for some fun. It is a slightly lesser known surf spot that can offer ideal conditions for beginners, improvers and experienced surfers alike. When the rest of the coast is getting pummelled with big swell, Harlyn Bay can often be much more surfable due to its sheltered nature. Because of that, however, it does tend to get busy at certain times, but nothing compared with the chaos of Newquay’s breaks.

Lessons learned

A few days away from the ‘comfort’ of our locale has taught us much about getting the best out of Cornwall. The value of getting in the water even when the conditions aren’t prefect is a huge one. And even though the forecast was ‘supposed’ to be everything we could ask for in terms of weather, wave quality and swell size on our mini Cornish road trip, it turned out to be quite different. Yet we still had bags of fun and had the chance to work on a few things too.

But the willingness to travel further than our usual seven minute walk to our local surf spot is the most important thing we’ve learned. When the surf is massive, mushy or non-existent in one spot, it can be a whole other story a half hour drive down the coast.

A summer of surf road trippin’ then? Could be worse!

About the author


Joey Holmes is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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