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Surfing in Cornwall: Beginner to Expert Guide

Updated on November 13, 2011

Cornwall Surf Spots

show route and directions
A markerPolzeath -
Polzeath, Saint Minver Highlands, Cornwall PL27 6, UK
get directions

Polzeath beach - ideal for learning

B markerPorthcurno -
Porthcurno, St Levan, Saint Levan, Cornwall TR19 6, UK
get directions

Porthcurno, possibly the heaviest beach-break in Britain!

C markerPorthleven -
Porthleven, Helston, Cornwall, UK
get directions

Cornwall's premiere reef-break. Rock bottom and hot locals

D markerThe Cribbar -
Newquay TR7 1EW, UK
get directions

Cornwall's big wave spot

E markerGodrevey beach -
Gwithian, Hayle, Cornwall TR27 5, UK
get directions

Godrevey is consistently good and generally not too powerful

With a multitude of beaches to choose from, most of which have surf of one kind or another, I thought I'd compile a quick guide of five of the best spots to surf at according to level. With at least 3 coasts and a wide variety of beach and reef-breaks it is essential for both your enjoyment and safety to choose an appropriate surf spot.

Having surfed in Cornwall for over 25 years now I have surfed many of the best waves around. The list I compiled contains only one wave I am not familiar with - you may be able to guess which one. I have used my own patented system of skull and crossbone ratings for each of the spots mentioned with 1 signifying suitable for beginners and 5 meaning suitable for pros and nutters only.

Polzeath ☠

Gentle surf at Polzeath Beach
Gentle surf at Polzeath Beach | Source

Polzeath is a great spot to learn to surf. The gently sloping sandy beach takes a lot of the power out of the waves and also means they do not break as steeply as many nearby beaches. Don't beleive the hype, Polzeath is a beginners beach - the waves here do not provide enough power, even at size to excite the more proficient surfer.

The major downside of Polzeath is its reputation as a surf mecca and its accessibility make it a very popular choice in the summer. With the majority of these other surfers also being beginners there is a higher risk of being run over by a surfboard than drowning here!

Godrevey beach, near Hayle ☠☠

Godrevey / Gwithian beach is one of West Cornwall's most consistent
Godrevey / Gwithian beach is one of West Cornwall's most consistent | Source

Godrevey beach is the northernmost stretch of Hayle's "3 miles of golden sand". It is a pleasant sandy sweep of beach with the island lighthouse just offshore and views over to St Ives.
The waves here are ideal for surfers of all levels, this is where I learnt to surf. There is more power here than at Polzeath, particularly at low tide when it becomes heavier and hollower. One of the great things about Godrevey is that there are peaks up and down the beach and if you sit somewhere long enough a wave will come to you - ideal if you aren't the World's greatest paddler.

On its day Godrevey can be scary enough, it is also well known for its sneaker sets, when all of a sudden 10 waves will pile through catching everyone inside. Another downside is that the surf is quite effected by the wind and anything west of due south will make it a little ragged.

Porthcurno Cove ☠☠☠

Porthcurno. Not always this gnarly but never an easy option!
Porthcurno. Not always this gnarly but never an easy option! | Source

Porthcurno always used to be regarded as a secret spot. If there is a fair westerly swell and the wind has even a hint of north in then Porthcurno will be offshore and pumping. The only problem is it has to be extreme low tide and in addition it is often a top to bottom, spitting, sand dredging close out. For this reason it is popular with bodyboarders many whom of seem to relish the opportunity to spend the next fortnight picking sand out of every orifice!

That said when the banks are lined up here then it is a barrel fest. Steep drops and thick lips combined with turquoise water and a stunning backdrop make this one of my favourite spots (to take photos!). I have had some fun surfs here, I've also snapped a surfboard clean in 2 here. So, Porthcurno, definitely not a spot for beginners.

Porthleven ☠☠☠☠

Porthleven local legend, Mole, takes a big 'un at Porthleven
Porthleven local legend, Mole, takes a big 'un at Porthleven | Source

Porthleven is Cornwall's most consistent and best known reef-break. For those who don't know what this means, it means the wave breaks over solid, barnacle encrusted rocks and not sand. The rocks at Porthleven are particularly mischievous, probably as a result of the fact the reef exists from blasting the harbour entrance.
So why would anyone want to surf over rocks? Well, as the rocks do not absorb the power of the wave like sand does it makes the wave more powerful. Also there is no sloping beach to sap the waves speed and power, it just comes in from deeper water and unloads on the reef.

Porthelven offers a powerful, predictable wave that is often hollow. It breaks both left and right and there are a couple of other spots within a hundred metres of the main reef. Besides the obvious dangers of rendering oneself insensible on the rocks the greatest risk is other surfers. This is a very popular spot, fortunately most of the other surfers known what they are doing so collisions are rare. It is still scary when you surface from one hammering by a wave to see someone careering down the face of a 12 foot wave straight towards you!

The Cribbar ☠☠☠☠☠

Newquay's big wave spot - the Cribbar
Newquay's big wave spot - the Cribbar | Source

The legendary Cribbar is located just of the Headland at Fistral Beach in Newquay. It takes a huge swell to get this place going and generally, for its size it isn't that powerful. However, with the right tide and wind plus mountainous seas the Cribbar can be a proper beast. The first guy to surf here was an Australian, back in the late 1980s I believe. He did it alone and without the aid of a jetski so must have had some kajonas. Over recent years it has been surfed more frequently and often accompanied by a media circus - which is good news if you want to watch the videos and have no intention whatsoever of surfing here!

How big does it get? Well the video of Ben Skinner on the right claims 30 foot on this wave. Footage this year shows people surfing what has been called 50 foot by the national press. I have to say I've seen some of the video and this is probably a bit on the generous side.


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    • Phenomenalapse profile image

      Stacy Clark 4 years ago from Reno, NV

      Beautiful hub with very nice pictures. I've always wanted to spend an extended period of time on the coast and begin learning to surf, and I never would have that a hub would be such a huge piece of inspiration! I look forward to reading more from you

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 6 years ago from London

      Sorry, I do still quite like Polzeath, caveats notwithstanding!

      Great hub.

    • surfgatinho profile image

      Chris Leather 6 years ago from Cornwall UK

      Thanks Judi. 25 years of mediocre surfing, thankfully I now have this article to show for it!

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 6 years ago from UK

      Hi Surfgatinho - my husband and daughter were at the Cribbar when Ben Skinner surfed that wave - more like 10-12 ft apparently!

      Good informative hub - voted up etc.