Surfing in Cornwall (The Complete Guide) 

When it comes to top surfing destinations, England doesn’t spring to mind. Isn’t it just cold, rainy, and windswept? Well, yes, during winter, this description fits. However, what many surfers don’t know is that between storms, Cornwall has some epic waves on its day. Here is an overview of everything you need to know for surfing in Cornwall.

Table of Contents

Best Surf Spots in Cornwall 

There are countless surf spots around Cornwall, mostly beach breaks, which turn on/off depending on subtle changes in the winds, tides (which are frickin huge in the UK), and swell direction. The coastline is rugged which means even on the largest storms, you can hunt down somewhere sheltered to surf, but I’ll let you find those yourself. Here’s a rundown of the best spots for surfing in Cornwall. 

Porthmeor Beach, St Ives 

Ahhh St Ives! This is where I learned how to surf and spent years working at the surf school here. Porthmeor is a stunning beach, located in the heart of the equally beautiful St Ives town. Driving into St Ives for the first time and catching a glimpse of the harbor, feels like you’ve stumbled across a town in South France or Italy rather than Blighty, a truly awesome part of the world. 

The wave itself can have great waves for surfers of all abilities, depending on the tides and swell. At Porthmeor, avoid high tide as the beach mostly becomes a dumping, un-surfable shore break. But during mid-tide (outgoing is the best), the waves are perfect for beginners on the inside with fun peaks for intermediates and advanced surfers out the back.

Because Porthmeor faces North (not directly into the predominant swell direction), the waves are more sheltered than the west-facing beaches up the coast. Learn more about surfing in St Ives here. 

Porthmeor Beach

Sennen

Sennen is one of the more consistent beach breaks in all of Cornwall. Facing due west and situated on the tip of Cornwall (next to Lands End), there is always something to surf here, so if the swells mall, check out Sennen and you might get lucky. If you’re a beginner check out Sennen Surfing Center and get some insight from the locals. The best time to surf at Sennen is between low to mid tide. 

Godrevy 

Just across the bay from St Ives (which was voted one of the most beautiful bays on Earth), Godrevy is a super exposed beach break that picks up any swell in the water. While it’s a long paddle out and the wave is mostly fat, meandering peaks, you’ll usually find waves here, Surf Godrevy when the swell is head high and the wind East. Check out Surfline Godrevy. 

Top Tip – In Cornwall (due to the continental shelf and a rugged coastline, when checking Surfline, the waves are often smaller than predicted. So always take this into account when checking the surf and planning a surf trip from up country. 

Perranporth 

Another exposed west-facing beach break, the huge miles-long beach, and Perranporth can have great waves on the right day, particularly when the swell is smaller. Walk the length of the beach and you might find a good sand bank for yourself. In summer, the town is small but popular with a few beach shops and surf schools right there in town. 

Porthtowan 

Another tiny beach town with incredible waves on the right day, At low tide Porthtowan can have fun barrels and is one of the biggest waves in Cornwall on the right day. At high tide, the tide comes in for seemingly miles, and reduces the size of the beach–condensing everything into a small bay.

Praa Sands 

Down on the south coast lies Praa–one of the only Southwest facing beach breaks in the county.  On small SW wells and when the wind is North (and all the north coast beaches are blown out), Praa is an excellent option. Expect punchy a-frame peaks up and down the beach, with crowds in front of the car park. 

Porthleven

The best wave in Cornwall and up there with some of the best breaks in Europe on the right day, While its far from consistent the best days are always packed with every man and his Volkswagen surf bus onto it! Porthelven is one of the only reef breaks in Cornwall and Lev, is broken into 3 peaks; Main peak–a hollow a-frame peak, harbour left–a slabbing a frame peak, great for body boarders, then finally, Wrestles–a wally left with sections for tubes and turns.

Porthleven Surf

Fistral Beach 

Fistral is the most famous beach, a west-facing beachie, that picks up any swell in the water, It’s consistent, can have fun peaks for tubes and turns on the right day, and works at all tides. While the beach gets insanely crowded with holidaymakers and beginners, during shoulder seasons, you can core fun waves here. In Newquay, you have dozens of other beaches close by. Check out the beautiful Watergate Bay, the site of the Boardmasters festival, Towan Beach, Lusty Glaze, and Crantock. 

Best time of Year

The best waves in Cornwall happen in winter, (October to April), when the coast is battered with storms. But between these storms, and tides/winds align, there is the opportunity for amazing waves. Summer is prone to frustratingly long flat spells, but can also have fun waves, with September and October as my favorites– lots of swell and not too cold yet! Win-win. 

Where is Cornwall? 

Cornwall is in South West England and is the furthest county SW (or state if you’re from across the pond). The area is famous for landmarks such as Lands End and surf town holiday hotspot Newquay. 

How to get to Cornwall? 

By car 

Driving to Cornwall is the best and easiest way. Coming down from London (or up country, a locals describe anywhere North of the county), requires an hours-long drive down the M5, the major motorway that connects Cornwall with the rest of the country. 

By bus 

If you can’t drive, a long but budget-friendly method of visiting Cornwall is by bus. The National Express has frequent routes to most major towns in Cornwall and while a trip from London will take around 8-10 hours, it will also cost you between £20-40. Not bad, huh?

By train

More expensive, but quicker than the bus, you can take a train down to Cornwall to most major towns… Including St Ives and Newquay. The only downside is surfboards generally aren’t allowed on trains. 

By Air  

Alternatively, you can fly to Cornwall. You can find cheap flights from London Gatwick to Newquay and be in Cornwall in less than an hour. You can then rent a car from Newquay and hit the road. 

Cornish beach surf in summer

Is Cornwall good for beginner surfers? 

Cornwall is excellent for beginner surfers. This is largely due to the continental shelf and rugged coastline that often dilutes the swells and takes the power out of the waves. 

Best time of Year for Beginners

The best time of year to surf in Cornwall as a beginner is during summer (April – October). This is when the RNLI lifeguards patrol the beach 7 days per week, and when generally swells are much smaller and less frequent. Oh, and the weather might be a tad sunnier. 

Surf lessons in Cornwall 

All over Cornwall, there are some excellent places to learn how to surf. Check out my friends down on Porthmeor Beach at St Ives Surf School. This is where I learned to surf and spent years working as a surf coach. They’ll tell you everything you need to know for scoring waves in St Ives or helping you ride your first ever waves. 

Where to stay? 

In the major surf towns around Cornwall, you’ve got several options for accommodation. Where you stay will largely depend on your budget and the type of trip you want to do. 

Cornwall Surf Hostels 

If you’re looking to score waves on a budget, there are many hostels all over Cornwall where you can find a room close to the best surf breaks. For hostels, I’d suggest using Booking.com or Hostelworld. 

Surf Camp Packages 

Organizing a surf trip can be stressful, from booking your transport, accommodation, where to eat, getting equipment, and finding coaching. It’s a headache. But if you’re not someone who likes the organizational side of things, don’t stress. This is where Book Surf Camps come in. They make it super easy to book your entire surf trip in one easy package. They offer packages all around Cornwall (and the world) for all abilities. Check out the best surf camp packages in Cornwall here.

Fistral beach - Cornwall Surf Spot

Non Surfing Activities 

Cornwall’s not all about the surf, there are heaps of other wicked thing to do and see. 

Beaches

People come to Cornwall for beaches which if you can time with great weather, are stunning. White and, crystal clear blue waters–not what you expect from England… 

Boardmasters 

Boardmasters Festival is a huge festival with some of the biggest acts in the world performing every year on the cliff at Watergate Bay. The surf contest turned festival is the biggest event in Cornwall. Happening in August. 

Lands End

The famous landmark is the last part of the land (you don’t say) in mainland England. Lands End lies at the southwestern tip of Cornwall and is a wicked place to spend an afternoon post-surf! 

Food 

Around Cornwall, there are some excellent restaurants. Famous for its fresh seafood, Cornwall’s surf towns have several excellent restaurants. That or, you can grab fish and chips in the harbor, cheaper, just watch the seagulls.

Final Words 

While Cornwall doesn’t have the same world-class waves as it’s European neighbors, such as France, Spain, and Portugal, Cornwall still has excellent waves on the right day. If you’re happy with fun beach break waves and are coming down from up-country, Cornwall is an excellent respite from the city life further north in the UK. For more information on surfing in Cornwall, please flick me a message below, or head over to my YouTube channel. 

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