When someone starts talking about surfing, the mind turns to California or Hawaii with huge waves and plenty of sunshine. But the truth is, here in the UK we have some excellent spots for surfing and the weather does cooperate sometimes – but even when it doesn’t this can be a good thing!
The Equipment – Boards and Wetsuits
The first and most crucial part of your surfing equipment is the surfboard. There are three main types of board but only two of these are suitable for beginners. Foam boards tend to be the most forgiving and are ideal to learn the basics such as standing up. Most surfing experts will recommend a pop out board for beginners. These are made from plastic and come in many shapes and sizes – when it comes to selecting your first one, make sure you go big. The bigger the board, the more volume it has to help surfers stabilise so boards that are 8-9 feet for an adult beginner are ideal. Smaller boards may look cool under the arm but are harder to paddle and there’s less chance you will catch a wave with one.
The wetsuit is the next crucial piece of equipment when surfing in UK waters if you want to retain feeling to your extremities. Getting the correct fit of wetsuit is very important and seeking out a local supplier is the best bet – get expert advice to make sure you get the right wetsuit for everyone is the best idea and saves money as it ensures you get the right suit from the start.
Other important start up equipment includes a leash or leg rope is also useful to have as this attaches from the board to your ankle and means you don’t loose your board when you fall off. Wax is also useful to have if you are aiming to spend any time on the board and ignore all those ideas that it goes on the bottom of the board to make it go faster. The idea of wax is to go on the top of the board for traction. Select a wax designed for cool or cold waters so that it responds correctly to the British seas.
Preparing to Surf – the Weather and the Tides
Once you have your equipment, then you are ready to surf, right? Wrong because the next step is to understand a little about waves, wind and tides as well as selecting where is the right place to go and start.
All beaches have waves but some will be delicate and dainty and others will be huge and monstrous. The weather has a big impact on the type of waves that hit the beach and a windy day might sound great but is better for kite flying than surfing. Understanding the tide at the beach you have chosen will also help, particularly if there are areas of rocks that need to be avoided. Most beaches will have signs on them with relevant information on it as well as on websites and the Met Office are always good for an idea on weather conditions.
When choosing a beach also factor in the safety aspect. Look for beaches that have lifeguard cover in case anything goes wrong and even better, if there is a surf school based there you can either join in or at least know it is good spot to try out. The RNLI also work hard keeping an eye on everyone in the water and their website lists all beaches that have their lifeguards on them.
Where can you learn to surf?
If you really aren’t certain that you or the kids will take to surfing then getting a few surfing lessons can be a great option. There are hundreds of surf schools around the country and most will include the basic equipment needed to start out so people don’t need to spend money on equipment until they have tried the sport. Basic surfing skills can be learnt in as little as a day but a series of lessons will allow a fuller sense of the sport and let kids see if it is ‘the one’ for them.
If jumping into the sea to try out surfing is a little intimidating for anyone, then there are also a few indoor surf centres around located across the UK. If you live in Wales or planning to visit Wales during the Summer Holidays you could consider the Cardiff International White Water centre, which has a special surf machine for complete beginners to try as well as experienced surfers to practise when the weather is bad. Indoor Surfing can also be carried out at the LC at Swansea.
Lake surfing is a modern creation and a great example is Surf Snowdonia, a fresh water lagoon the length of six football pitches with a two metre high barrelling wave running from the centre to the ends. A great place to learn to Surf if you are a little intimidated by the Sea!
Popular Surf Beaches
Whether you are in England, Scotland or Wales there are plenty of beaches where you can go Surfing. The most popular Surf Beaches are;
Longsands Bay, Tynemouth
Ideal for beginner to expert level, the best swell direction is coming from the northeast. There is lifeguards on duty in summer and both lessons and board hire can be arranged at the beach.
Saltburn-on-Sea, North Yorkshire
Good for intermediates but also fine for beginners, the surf is generally fairly mellow either side of the pier and there are excellent reefs as well.
Fine for beginners but intermediate onwards only in big swells. There is a surf shop on the beach offering equipment hire and lessons as well as daily surf reports and there are rarely crowd problems here.
Watergate Bay, Cornwall
Suitable for beginners through to experts, the beach has been created as a ‘ski resort on the beach’ with surfing just one of the lessons on offer. It has been the premier water sports spot in Cornwall since the 1960s so can get a little crowded.
Pease Bay, Borders
Great for beginners and one of the new hotspots of surfing in Scotland. There are good breaks and a lovely beach as well as challenges for more experienced surfing. There is also a surf shop offering hire and lessons nearby.
There is a certain etiquette when surfing and it is important to learn this before starting on the waves to avoid offending anyone. Many beaches will even post a list of what is expected from those using the beach and while they are mostly common sense, knowing who has right of way is a good one to get to know!