Although the south-west may be the most popular choice, the best surfing town in the UK is actually Saltburn-by-the-Sea, in the northernmost corner of Yorkshire. Saltburn is a quaint Victorian seaside resort with a bohemian feel: there is plenty of affordable accommodation, numerous great pubs and fish-and-chip shops, and a 19th-century funicular sea lift connecting the main town with the beach. Saltburn’s waves are clearly defined, the areas surrounding the pier are the most popular spots, and there’s a constant stream of rip-able surf. Saltburn Surf School provides equipment and lessons for all abilities. The town is a real gem.
Dunnet Bay in Caithness is an exceptionally beautiful, vast, often empty, two-mile stretch of beach that is absolutely perfect for beginners, and just six miles from the popular Thurso East section of coast. It has world-class waves, suited to the more advanced surfer. Surfing alone is incredibly special – the way you feel connected to nature and the rhythm of the waves and the ocean. Scotland is one of the few places that you can still experience that.
Two-mile-long Newgale beach has recently become my favourite UK surf spot. A trip last September saw us out on the water each day – attempting to surf huge waves on Friday and paddleboarding by Monday. Brilliant hire shop, Newsurf, offers boards from £11 a day, and is conveniently positioned next to the Duke of Edinburgh pub. Impressive views of Newgale can be found along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path to the north. Top tip – a fantastic pub/B&B, Victoria Inn Brewhouse, is a mere two-minute drive inland, offering comfortable rooms, sunset views and ales brewed onsite.
Cemaes Bay on Anglesey is a great place for paddleboarding for families, with a safe cove with small harbour, a wood-fired-pizza cafe in the car park (£2), free public toilets and parking next to the beach. There are no strong currents, beautiful views of gorse and headlands and, if you go along the coast, you can see the shadow of Wylfa nuclear power station, before the spit of Cemlyn Bay, known for its birdlife. There are lots of holiday lets in the village, and the Bull Hotel in Llangefni is a great gastropub with rooms.
As a family based on the Lizard in Cornwall our nearest surfing beach is Poldhu, which we go to regularly to get some waves. My partner is an ex-professional and the beach offers waves for both beginners, which suits our nine-year-old, and those looking for something a little more challenging. Depending on the banks, the beach break can offer peeling lefts and rights or wedgy, fun shore-breaks. For beginners there’s a surf school at the top of the beach offering lessons with former big wave surfer Dan Joel, and the cafe serves a lush hot chocolate for those who brave the waves without wetsuits. There can be rips on bigger days, but the beach has lifeguards in the summer months.
Tiree, in the western Inner Hebrides, is the perfect place for summer surfing. On long days in June and July, white-kissed Atlantic breakers roll in from dawn to dusk and it’s light until almost midnight. The sparkling waters can be surprisingly warm in late summer too, helped by the Gulf Stream. It is one of the UK’s sunniest places – it’s not dubbed by Scottish surfers the “Hawaii of the North” for nothing! Take your board or hire one at Port Bharrapol, a rocky, white sand beach in a sweeping bay.
A landlubber who can’t swim, I’m only tempted into or on to the water in a few very special places. Poole Harbour’s calm, clean and shallow bay at Sandbanks, Dorset, is such a place. Here, I made my maiden attempt at standup paddleboarding. While my husband made it look easy, I only ventured deep enough to avoid grounding the board’s fin. But I did manage to go from kneeling to standing for a limited period – a good workout, especially for core muscles! And it was great fun. We had our own board, but hire and lessons are available nearby at the Watersports Academy.
Bigbury-on-Sea is the perfect spot for watersports enthusiasts. The blue-green waves, reminiscent of Italy’s south coast, are perfect for novice and advanced surfers, while a low tide gives paddleboarders the perfect opportunity to explore south Devon’s picturesque coastline and paddle alongside nearby landmarks such as Burgh Island. There are many surf schools nearby, the most convenient being Discovery Surf School, next to a car park and a short walk from the sea, which offers affordable rental gear and lessons.
Wokingham Waterside Centre offers a variety of ways to go paddleboarding on the Thames. You can take a guided paddle with a coach, rent a board and strike out alone, or join a weekly paddleboarding social group. The river is wide and beautiful, with wildlife and islands. If the idea of staying upright on the waves of the open sea seems ambitious, this is the perfect way to try out the sport.
Five minutes from the UK’s smallest city, St Davids, is the renowned Blue Flag beach of Whitesands Bay, a lovely stretch of sand between two rocky headlands (both offering outstanding bay views via the Pembrokeshire Coast Path). Beachside surf hire is available in the summer months, with impressive surf breaks at the north end in high demand. Bodyboard and paddleboard hire is also available. There are multiple campsites nearby, boasting beautiful views; alternatively, St Davids itself is full of charming B&Bs, restaurants and cafes. En, as always within Pembrokeshire, local boat trips, adventure tours and coasteering operators are in abundance.