Holiday makers have been flocking to the golden-sanded coast of Cornwall for centuries. It’s one of the UK’s top holiday destinations but it’s also a Mecca for surfers. In fact, surfing in Cornwall is world renowned, hosting one of Europe’s biggest pro-surf competitions: Boardmasters.
With over 300 beaches dotted around the 250 miles of Cornish coastline and a consistent swell coming in from the Atlantic, it’s no surprise that surfing in Cornwall is so popular. That, coupled with excellent hospitality, spectacular scenery, stellar beaches and waves that are suitable for all levels of surfers, makes Cornwall surfing a very appealing way to spend your holiday.
In this article, you’ll find information about the best surfing beaches in Cornwall and what to expect from your visit to each spot. Additionally, you’ll come away with an understanding of where to go surfing in Cornwall for beginners, where to get surfing lessons and where the best longboard beach in Cornwall is.
The best surfing beaches in Cornwall
|Parking:||Paid parking at the carpark next to The Sandbar Cafe|
|Access:||An easy, 30 second walk onto the beach from the carpark|
|Praa Sands webcam:||Yes!|
|Best surfed at:||Mid to low tide|
Praa Sands is a gorgeous sweeping beach of golden sand on Cornwall’s south shore. It’s just east along the coast from the famous St Michael’s Mount. When the swell is pumping on the north coast it tends to be a little smaller at Praa. But it benefits most from the combo of a southerly swell and northerly wind.
The wave isn’t especially long, but it’s fun and snappy and suitable for advanced longboarders on the right tide. Unless you enjoy the challenge (and hazards) of a heavy beach dump, high tide at Praa Sands is best avoided in bigger swell. That said, high tide can actually offer excellent conditions for experienced shortboard surfers. As such, Praa is one of the best surf breaks on the south coast of Cornwall.
Food and drink: Sandbar Cafe
|Parking:||Free before 9am or after 6pm 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 from the seafront.|
|Best surfed at:||Mid to high tide, but low is also good when swell is small|
Perranporth is an excellent surfing spot for all levels. There are loads of places to hire boards or book onto a class for beginners. And because there’s usually decent swell at the huge beach, the whitewater retains enough power to practice getting up onto your feet.
Another plus to surfing at Perranporth is that there’s no specific break, as such. This means that there’s (almost) always enough space for everyone to enjoy the waves, whatever your experience. However, it does get very busy during peak times. And as the tide comes in, the surfing area gets smaller. So if you prefer a little more space to flex your surfing muscles, then get in at mid tide or when the tide is just below Chapel Rock.
Low tide can be quite dumpy at Perranporth. However, during the summer when the swell is usually smaller, this expansive beach break can be enjoyed at any tide by all levels.
There’s a growing longboard scene in Perranporth which is very well represented by local ladies of all ages and abilities, dominating the long lefts with style and grace. They’re all super-friendly, too!
Stick in closer to Droskyn and you’ll find short-boarders aplenty charging on steep and snappy lefts and rights. Yes, there really is something for everyone!
On the downside, Perranporth, known as ‘paddle-porth’ to the locals, can be a challenging paddle out, especially in the winter when the swell is bigger. It’s not unusual to spend 20 minutes battling your way through the whitewater to get out back. But once you’re there, the scenery is spectacular, there’s no localism and there are usually waves aplenty to go round.
|Parking:||Paid parking at the carpark in the dunes next to the Blue Bay Cafe (you need to pay further up the dirt track at the entrance)|
|Access:||A short, 30 second walk from the carpark through the dunes takes you to the beach|
|Sandy Acres webcam:||No|
|Best surfed at:||Mid to high tide|
Located towards the southern end of Gwithian beach in St Ives Bay is Sandy Acres, also known as Mexicos. 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, in terms of the drive down, it almost never gets too busy.
When it does get busy, however, it deals with the numbers well as there’s often no defined single break, depending on how the sandbars are affecting the waves.
One of the best things about Sandy Acres is that if it’s not happening, there are a couple of superb surfing options close by. As mentioned, head north along the beach to Gwithian or even Godrevy. Or for smaller waves, head south down to the Hayle river mouth.
Food and drink: Sandy Acres Beach Cafe
|Parking:||Paid parking at Gwithian Towans Carpark|
|Access:||5 minute walk down to the beach|
|Best surfed at:||Mid to high|
When the sandbars and wind are working in harmony with the swell, Gwithian can be one of the best surfing beaches in Cornwall. There are a number of breaks to choose from right at Gwithian, so although it tends to get pretty crowded for such an out of the way surf beach, relatively speaking, it just about deals with the crowds.
But if the wave size and / or crowd size aren’t to your liking then head south along the bay for smaller waves and less people (mostly) or north to Godrevy for bigger waves and less people (mostly)!
The whole of the four-mile stretch of golden sandy beach from Godrevy to Hayle river mouth tends to get a bit heavy and shore-dumpy at low tide.
Food and drink: Sunset Surf
|Parking:||Paid parking on the cliffs above Gwynver or at Sennen Cove|
|Access:||Easy from Sennen Cove carpark, a 10 minute walk from Gwyner carpark|
|Best surfed at:||Mid tide|
It’s worth visiting Sennen Cove whether the surf’s on or not. This stunning bay of golden sand is the most westerly surfing beach in Cornwall and is just around the corner from Land’s End; lots to explore if the waves aren’t rolling in. But because of its position, it gets hit with some wild weather fronts and big swells coming straight off the Atlantic, even right through the summer, making it a good bet when the swell is small elsewhere.
Much like Gwithian Beach, Sennen Cove offers a variable wave size on the same day. Take smaller, easy peelers at the southern end, or opt for some chunkier, snappier beauties further north at Gwynver Beach.
Strong rips can develop between the protruding rocks at Gwynver and the main beach, so watch out for them. Aside from that, Sennen offers an excellent beach for surfing with the added bonus of it being quieter than many of the main Cornwall surf spots. And despite its out of the way location, it’s well worth making the effort to get there when the swell is rolling in.
Food and drink: Surf Den
|Parking:||Paid parking at Fistral Beach Carpark|
|Access:||Easy walk from the carpark to the beach|
|Best surfed at:||Mid to high|
Most folk that plan to go surfing in Cornwall will have no doubt heard of Fistral Beach. Set against the backdrop of the bustling surf town of Newquay, Fistral attracts beginner surfers and professionals alike, hosting annual international competitions.
Of all the beaches in Newquay, Fistral is the largest and also picks up the most swell. This makes it a good bet during the summer months when the swell tends to be smaller. Additionally, the headlands at either side of the beach funnel in the swell to create powerful, hollow and often rather sizable waves for experienced surfers to enjoy.
A little like Perranporth, Fistral caters very well for beginner surfers too. There are loads of places to hire boards or book onto surfing lessons with plenty of good places to eat in between surfs. Fistral Beach is also family-friendly, with easy access to accommodation, plenty of rockpools at low tide and soft sand for playing on.
Because of its convenient location, excellent amenities and world class waves, Fistral Beach is up there with the busiest beaches in Cornwall! So if this isn’t your thing then avoid at all costs!
Food and drink: Sea Spray Fistral
|Parking:||Paid parking at Porthtowan Beach carpark|
|Access:||1 minute walk to the beach from the carpark|
|Best surfed at:||Low for barrels, high for more gentle waves|
Further west along the north coast from Perranporth is Porthtowan. It’s a pretty exposed beach that benefits from powerful swell resulting in steep, hollow and punchy waves, especially at low tide. Surfing here is certainly not for the faint-hearted and is best left to be enjoyed by barrel-hounds, bodyboarders and experienced surfers.
As you may have guessed, surfing at Porthtowan is not ideal for beginners unless the waves are small. This does make it a viable option for beginners during the summer months, however care should be taken at low tide as the areas below the cliffs can get cut off as the tide comes back in.
There’s a degree of localism amongst the established surfing community. But show the waves some respect and you’ll be just fine.
Food and drink: Blue Bar
|Parking:||Paid parking at Watergate Bay carpark|
|Access:||Easy 2 minute walk to the beach|
|Best surfed at:||All tides|
If the busyness of Fistral doesn’t appeal, then a 15 minute drive up the coast will take you to another of Cornwall’s best surfing beaches for beginners. Like Fistral, Watergate Bay offers good conditions through the tides for all levels of surfers but is also well set up for beginners. Choose from a number of surf schools for a lesson or board hire and catch the powerful whitewater on bigger days or gentle peelers when small summer swell rolls in.
As with all surfing in Cornwall, the bay benefits from big swell through the winter months providing a satisfying, if not tiring, surf for more experienced wave riders. Plus, the spectacular cliffy scenery makes for a highly enjoyable day out, whether the surf is pumping or not.
Food and drink: The Beach Hut
|Parking:||Paid parking at Polzeath Beach Carpark|
|Access:||Easy walk straight onto the beach from the carpark|
|Best surfed at:||An hour before high or low tide|
The small surfing village of Polzeath is a must for those visiting the Padstow area of north Cornwall. As well as scenic walks around the Pentire headland and some excellent places to eat, Polzeath is also well set up for beginner surfers. Firstly, the swell tends to be a little smaller than other places on the north coast making it a good option for big days during the winter.
Additionally, beginners and improvers can enjoy waves that tend to be on the gentle side making it ideal to push yourself to the next level.
The relatively gentle nature of the surf at Polzeath is also favoured by longboarders, especially on an easterly wind. Add that to the easy access right from the beach carpark, stellar sunsets and a welcoming holiday vibe and you’ve got yourself an all round appealing place to surf and hang.
Food and drink: Tj’s Surf Cafe
Of course, surfing in Cornwall isn’t just limited to the above spots. There are many more wonderful places to learn, improve and perfect the amazing and highly addictive sport of surfing.
Wherever you take your surfing adventures may they be safe, energising and filled with joy and fun!
Happy splashing, happy surfers!