Breathing Water - Surfing Cornwall, Southwest England

Gwithian at Sunrise
Gwithian at Sunrise

Breathing Water in Cornwall, Southwest England (September 2010)

Originally written for Superstoked Surfing Magazine (

After having lived and studied a mere four years at the south coast of England, Bournemouth to be specific, we finally got about to organize a weekend surf trip down to the wild wild southwest.

The scouting mission was a great success (make sure you say the last two words in Borat style.. or if you are looking like a question mark right about now, please read on without contemplating your complete and utter cultural ignorance), and we are definitely going to go here with the surf crew many times in this final year of our master in chiropractic. As Mathieu, Falcón, Dyon, Douwe and the rest of the Boscombe Paradise Pòsse had patients to attend to on the Saturday; and we did not want any lives to be risked; Pål, Thomas and me decided to just go for the window of possibility, in the last minute though; Thomas realized he was going back to Norway and would not be able to make it.

The trip started out as any other trip… with a cervical adjustment. Leaving Bournemouth Friday afternoon after the last patient was treated we arrived 170 miles later in Gwithian at dusk. Tired from driving and keen to get up for a sunrise session the next morning, we checked in to the Gwithian Farm Campsite, a super friendly place with great facilities; and everything for just £6/night (per person). For this price you get a 10x10 area in which you can park your car and set up a tent. If you have a larger camping vehicle the campsite can also suit the need for larger areas, but it will cost you a little bit extra.

Gwithian is a 3000 population coastal village in west Cornwall. It is situated three miles (5km) northeast of Hayle and four miles (6.5km) east of St. Ives, Cornwall across St Ives Bay. Asking the locals, many will say that Hayle beach is the most consistent and best quality in terms of surf. It also has a traditional pub, The Red River Inn. The pub takes its name from the nearby Red River which, in turn, got its name from the discolouration caused by mining effluent. We decided to check out the local scene, and as it was a Friday night, the pub was packed with people; which might have been due to the fact that someone had rented the place for their super sweet 18. After being dragged in; “Come on in guys! This isn’t a closed event, come on in! Have a drink! Have some food! Have my daughter!” we quickly had some pints and observed the scene materializing in front of our very eyes. Dolled up 18 year olds jumping around festively, the more mature crowd (who was a mix of their parents and other locals) and last but not least the pack of dogs running around in the pub. That is right, a big plaque stated DOGS ALLOWED on the front door, and this helped with creating a unique ambiance to the place.

Gwithian has quite a dog culture, with the legendary (Pet Hero of the Year 2010) Newfoundland Bilbo originating from these parts of the land. Using the Newfoundland’s natural sea-rescuing abilities; Bilbo’s owner, Steve Jameson had him undergo the fitness test as a lifeguard resulting in him becoming Britain's only fully-qualified canine lifeguard in 2006. However, in 2008, due to a dispute with the lifeguard association, Bilbo was relieved from his duties. This created a mass movement making their opinions in the matter heard, wanting the large Newfoundland back in action. These days Bilbo and his owner, Steve, tour across the land teaching children and adolescents about sea safety.

Godrevy Lighthouse
Godrevy Lighthouse
Godrevy National Park
Godrevy National Park
Seals amongst the wild wild surf
Seals amongst the wild wild surf
St. Ives
St. Ives
St. Ives
St. Ives

After a couple of pints we turned in and awoke 6:45am to the cold, crispy Cornish air only warmed up slightly by the long yellow tentacles from the big yellow ball bravely fighting its way up in the horizon.

We arrived at Gwithian beach around 7:15am, surprised to see that it was actually people in the water this early. The conditions were looking ok, but not amazing, but after a couple of minutes of shivering we were jumping down the large cliff formations towards the beach, shortboards in hand. Red Bull had set up a tent on the beach in wait of the Longboarding Championships which was going to be arranged later that day, and ironically enough they were drinking coffee to get over the morning chills. Would not warm Red Bull have done the same trick? Anywho, after three hours of cold, but quite good surf, we threw in the towel; stomachs craving black coffee and a full english breakfast. We got in the car and drove about 5min north, arriving at the Godrevy national trust (a national park, which charged £3,50 for full parking), which hosted the lifesaving Godrevy Café. The café had a great, relaxed, loving atmosphere about it, this plus the incredibly friendly (and quite attractive) waitresses made (throw in the 3 hour of cold surfing in the equation) the coffee and the full english breakfast (oh yes churchill, we are talking 2xtoast, 2 eggs, mushrooms, beans, 2xsausages and a whole lot of bacon) a taste even better than previously thought humanly possible. With 2000 new calories aboard, we decided to walk around a bit in the nearby national park, seeing the seals play around amongst the razorsharp reefs, well, some of them at least… the others were laying on the beach, working that seal-tan. And we also checked out the well-known Godrevy lighthouse, which indeed looked like a lighthouse.

Having gotten some recommendations to check out the nearby city of St Ives, we went to the car after drooling at some of the top model Firewire surfboards down at the Red Bull competition stand. Four miles later we arrived in St. Ives, which in fact, looked truly idyllic where it bathed in the sunlight along the coastline. We were checking out the various St. Ives surfspots, but unfortunately the swell was out for lunch or something. Walking around in the cobblestoned decorated town we were naturally attracted to a shop called Natural Nutrition; which offered hemp and broccoli seeds in bulk packages (750 grams) for 10 pounds, and also had a wickedly good organic goji raw chocolate cake. Wanting to eat something else than sausage roll (there was a sausage roll store on every corner, and the air reaked with deep fried essences, which was not too tempting after a heavy full english breakfast. Amidst the labyrinth of the St. Ives coastal infrastructure, we found Olive’s Café. Asking the charming waitress what she recommended; she was quick to recommend the scones, which are a Cornwall specialty. They come in natural or fruit base, with home-made fresh strawberry jam and a sort of whipped cream. However, there has been some dispute (finally, a fight worth fighting) as to what is the right way to apply the cream and jam on the scone-halves. The official Cornwall way is jam first, then cream. Whereas Devon prefers the cream to be laid down first and then the jam; this is an actual dispute and I encourage you to google it to find out the full aspect of the quarry. Unaware of that I was actually choosing a political side when I smeared my scone with creamy goodness and jam as a second layer (the Devon way!) An official poll conducted by The Guardian Newspaper ended with the complete and utter victory of the Cornwall way (57.4%) versus Devon’s (42.6%). When in Rome, right…?

Having taken part in a political war it was time to leave town and head for Perranporth to check if this was where the afternoon surf was hiding; to our complete and utter disappointment it was not, but there was some hints of swell, showing promise for the following morning. Perranporth beach is a beautiful, miles-long … well, beach… which with the correct swell conditions creates a lovely beachbreak wave, especially at and around low tide. We travelled onwards to the north, 5 miles to be exact, reaching Newquay; the legendary place, well-known for its deep passionate surf culture and great, consistent surf spots. And what would you know; it actually turned out to be true. We checked Fistral Bay, and has it had definite potential, we decided this was where we were going to surf during the sunrise, before the onshore wind would kick in.

Oakley Xpy Pro Juniors
Oakley Xpy Pro Juniors

Swerving around Newquay looking for a B&B, we found the pretty basic, but comfortable Lyncroft Hotel, located centrally in the high street, Tower road. Run by an elderly couple it had all the necessities for only £16 per person, which was very reasonable. Hitting the town on a Saturday night for some food and beer, we were involuntary involved in multiple stag & hen parties which seem to be a major craze in Newquay. A couple of pints and an ultimate burger later, we were back at the Lyncroft Hotel; head filled with new experiences and thoughts about the future epic morningsurf we would have the following day… and epic it was, when we finally got about to getting enough coins for the parking that is… which was a staggering £7.20 for a full day. However, the sunrise surf session was fantastic. No wind, super clean and perfectly breaking 3ft waves for about 3 hours made the session one to remember. However, as the onshore wind started kicking in about 11:30ish the conditions quickly got choppier and we realized we had probably played the waves for their full potential. The amount of people in the water had increased by about 1000% since we went in and the Oakley Double Decker bus had sprung in to life announcing that the Pro Juniors Championship was about to start on North Fistral. After watching a couple of competition heats, it was amazing to see how much potential there is in the UK grommet scene these days with most of them pulling of amazing cutbacks and even aerials in what had now become less than ideal surfing conditions. It was also great to see the parents really backing up their youngsters, hanging around all day with the other surfer parents, taking care of their young ones as they were finished with their heat. At Fistral beach you have two options of getting nutrition; either the fish and chips / pukka pies store on the 1st floor, which might not be too tempting in the early hours. Or the Fistral Blu Restaurant on the 2nd floor, which is quite a fancy place, decorated in modern surfing style and 50” inch plasma flatscreens hanging on the wall with direct feed from the surf going on. The restaurant also has a magnificent view across the whole beach, and we could easily see the Pro Juniors fighting it out in their quarterfinal heats. There was no hesitancy in our voices as we ordered two full English breakfasts (£8.90 /piece), one Hurtado (the waitress looked like a question mark at the end of Pål’s full description; and he still ended up with what looked like a plain cappuccino) and one black coffee (the waitress smiled in relief).

The Oakley Xpy Pro Juniors was eventually won by Alex Baker, walking away with the prize cheque of £1000. Congratulations!

Having scored our surfing fix for this weekend it was time to head back to our beloved Bournemouth, the magical place which with its artifical reef was said to be a real contender in rivaling Newquay as the new surf capital of the UK. However, as Von Oech wisely said;

“Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what doesn't work; and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.”

So, please ASR, you should have learned quite extensively by now what does not work. Surely there are only a couple of modifications needed to change the function of the Boscombe reef?

One day... frogs will rain from the sky and the reef will be producing perfectly breaking rights.


Edmond 6 years ago

Nice guys, nice landscape, nice waves, nice weather. dude you have a really awesome weekend!!

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 6 years ago from Minnesota

Thanks for taking me on the trip with you. St. Ive's is sure beautiful. Loved all the pictures. Very fun and interesting.

wardjo2 profile image

wardjo2 5 years ago from illinois

cool hub

georgiecarlos profile image

georgiecarlos 5 years ago from Philippines

SO beautiful! I would love to go there one day

surfgatinho profile image

surfgatinho 4 years ago from Cornwall UK

Good accurate info. Looks like you didn't get the best conditions.

How about a hub on all those Dorset secret spots?!

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