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Activity Guide: Surfing
From the Severn Bore (that’s far from it) to the breaks of Hawaii, you’ll find beach boys and girls coming unstuck on their boards all over the world.
Surfing the Severn Bore
The Severn Bore has a legendary reputation among surfers. The river’s unique funnel shape allows a wall of water to sweep up its estuary, along the West Country peninsula and down the Welsh coastline. Imagine a tube of toothpaste being jumped on by an elephant. The massive pressure exerted upon the tube squeezes out the toothpaste at high velocity. The Severn Bore is much the same, except the liquid is mud brown, icy cold and relentlessly tries to displace you from eight feet of fibreglass.
Although bore tides take place twice-daily year-round, the larger, rideable waves occur in spring and autumn when the tide is at its highest – occasionally reaching up to two metres – especially around the full moon.
Surfing elsewhere in the UK ....
Newquay is the surf capital of the UK thanks to its gnarly tubes and bitchin’ breaks. Located in Cornwall – a five-hour drive from London – the town boasts 11 sandy beaches over a seven-mile coastline.
Experienced surfers head to Newquay’s biggest beach, Fistral, which hosts high-profile competitions such as the UK Pro Surf Tour. You’ll have plenty of room to spread out from fellow surfers, and non-surfers can enjoy a swim.
Lusty Glaze beach provides a sheltered haven more suited to intermediate boarders. There’s also the Adventure Centre for beginners.
Portrush, Northern Ireland
Situated on a mile-long peninsula, Portrush is one of the most popular surfing areas in Northern Ireland. The seaside getaway is surrounded by beaches, providing plenty of board action.
Tynemouth, Tyne and Wear
While the waters of this Northern England beach may be chilly, Tynemouth offers a refreshing alternative to the better-known surf havens of Cornwall and Devon.
Visit during spring and summer months to give the water ?a chance to warm up.
Croyde Bay, Devon
This small village on the coast of North Devon has three beaches that are sheltered by the bay, making them ideal for all levels. It’s becoming an increasingly popular destination for surfers.
Thurso East, Scotland
The surf at Thurso East crashes over a rocky reef, providing large swells for experienced surfers. The waves have been said to resemble those off the coast of Hawaii, although the experience undoubtedly outweighs the chilly temperatures – the water averages just six degrees. Less experienced surfers should beware of unexpected rocks.
... and in the Republic of Ireland, Bundoran
In northwest Ireland, Bundoran has formerly hosted both the European Surfing Championships and the Quiksilver World Masters, as the jade waves of the Atlantic crash on to the Emerald Isle’s headlands and flat rock reefs. Perhaps best known is Tullan Strand, which can produce fast hollow waves, as well as mellow peaks. The Peak in Bundoran is considered the cream of breaks in Ireland, in terms of both consistency and quality. This is for experienced surfers only.
Surfing in Europe
It might not be Malibu or Hawaii but whether you’re a novice or straight-up shredder, there are great waves in Europe just waiting to be caught.
The southwestern coast of the Algarve is arguably Europe’s foremost surfing mecca, thanks to the long Atlantic rollers that sweep its shores. Lagos and Sagres are the epicentres of the surf scene, with the former offering a frenetic party atmosphere, while the latter languishes in a chilled-out hippy haze. Winter swells are considered the best in this region, as strong winds over summer make better conditions for kite surfing. But it’s still a pretty good bet for a summer surfing trip, and with more than 150km of coastline to choose from, there’s every chance you’ll find a swell secret spot all of your own.
Local surfers often take to the River Tejo in Lisbon to ride waves caused by catamarans. The flat waters can enjoy 2ft swells in the right conditions.
Mundaka is the legendary surf spot on the Bay of Biscay in northern Spain, neighbouring Bilbao and San Sebastian, making it a great choice for those who fancy a side of holiday with their surf. Its deep barrels have hosted the likes of Kelly Slater and Andy Irons. Thanks to its renown, it can get dangerous out on the waves if the winds are strong and the crowds are out in full force. The Bay of Biscay can be treacherous as huge Atlantic swells batter the rocky coastline, so watch out for the rip.
The surf at Biarritz at the southern tip of France doesn’t pack too much of a punch, which means it’s an ideal destination for beginners and intermediates. The Cote de Basque beach is great for newbies, with small swells and enough fellow foamie-riders to banish any self-consciousness. Grand Plage around the corner is suited to the more experienced, but is temperamental – the area of Anglet further north is more consistent and enjoys some huge swells.
20km north of Biarritz is Hossegor, which has a reputation as the best beach break in Europe for serious surfers, thanks to its consistent tubes. But be warned that Hossegor is prone to Atlantic flat spells, so you’ll need patience. Beginners can get involved from May to September, when the Atlantic is most active and produces decent waves.
A deep underwater chasm focuses the swell on Hossegor’s few miles of sand, which is why it’s so great for green rooms.
The Canary Islands are a great place to catch a wave, thanks to warm waters and year-round sun. The islands lay off the coast of Africa and – even more confusingly – are often hailed as Europe’s answer to Hawaii. Fuerteventura in particular has a huge surf scene, with the largest Atlantic swells hitting the island’s north. Head to Et Cotillo beaches for paradise-pristine sands, mellow waves up front for beginners and big surf at the back for show-offs.
If you fancy changing things up, the strong winds at Flag Beach are top notch for kite surfing.
The Reykjavik surf scene comprises not much more than a score of people, so there’s probably no better place to work the waves in peace. There’s everything from gentle rolling point breaks for beginners to gnarly tubes. If you want a really refreshing dip, try paddling the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon.
Norway has been described as “a rare surfing frontier”. If you’re serious about surfing and looking for an offbeat challenge, the cold Arctic swells here can be extreme. Jaeren is widely held to be the best surf spot, with long, sandy beaches and granite and boulder reefs. Pretty city Stavanger is an hour’s drive away and has a hedonistic waterfront on summer nights for a post-surf scene. The best swells come in winter, when it’s mostly dark. But the long periods of light throughout summer make up for it, enabling round-the-clock action.
Surfing in Morocco
Lying at the epicentre of the North Atlantic ground swell, Morocco receives decent waves all year round, but it’s during the winter storms you can expect to find the consistent barrelling waves, or ‘green rooms’, that draw world-class surfers from across the globe.
The Moroccan coast draws plenty of hotdogging, but it’s a ripping good place to learn, too.
Tamri Bay is one of the 20 or so surf-spots that wet spectacular surf-washed beaches north of Agadir. Every bay and headland for more than 100km along this route is known for its point, beach or reef breaks.
Experienced surfers can find their ocean-fill of fun in Bali, which boasts more than 20 breaks on the southwest and southeast coasts and around the Uluwatu peninsula. Surf season is from April to October and top reef breaks can be found in Kuta, Uluwatu and Nusa Dua. There are also mellower beach breaks for novices.
Long considered the birthplace of surfing, locals have been riding the waves since at least 1779, according to a diary entry by Captain James Cook.
Oahu’s rugged North Shore offers massive waves in the winter thanks to giant swells generated by island storms. From May to October, wave worshippers make a beeline for the south shores of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head Beach. The pristine island of Kauai boasts top surf spots including Poipu Beach.
There are sheltered coves suitable for newbies too, as well as a surfeit of surf schools to help you hone your technique.
I’m bored with surfing. What now? Hawaii’s latest craze is paddle surfing, which involves standing on the board and, erm, paddling.
Mancora, 1165km north from the Peruvian capital of Lima, is considered the epicentre of the country’s surf scene. Receiving two ocean currents year round, the cold Humboldt Current (14-19˚C) and warm El Nino Current (21-27˚C), the resulting surf is reliable and comfortable. In nearby Chicama, sets of waves in excess of 4km long are created thanks to forceful south-western swells that push through the Pacific – that’s up to five minutes of continuous surf time.
Although many argue the birthplace of modern surfing lies in Hawaii, scientific archaeology – the process of analysing and measuring salt erosion on ancient artifacts to enable deeper understanding of how our ancestors lived – indicates that it actually evolved on Peru’s northern Pacific coast in Huanchaco.
Lobitos, a good all- round ‘warm up’ beach some 40km north of Mancora heading towards the large coastal city of Piura. Boasting an impressive sand reef break with long lefts, these year-round waves can reach 3m (10ft), so a good technique and strong paddle is essential.
The region’s ultimate surf breaks include Pena Redonda (Round Rock) a great barreling beach break with short lefts and rights. And close to Mancora town, there’s Punta Ballenas which offers a serious left-hand point break with a reef bottom.
Cabo Blanco (White Cape) is a spectacular left reef break world-famous for its long, perfect tubes.
Surfing South Africa
The Eastern Cape’s Jeffreys Bay, J-Bay as it’s known, has long led the pack, its beautiful break drawing surfers from around the world.
But there’s much more to South African surfing, and the real gems show up once you escape the most popular beaches.
The best lesser-known spots include:
The Wild Coast is home to some of South Africa’s must-visit undiscovered surf spots – including Mdumbi, an isolated beach in the rural Transkei region. When conditions are good, its famous wave can run as long as 1km. This is a simple, protected and secluded beach, far from the masses. Without many modern amenities, some surfers come for a few days and stay for weeks.
Victoria Bay, just south of George in the heart of the Garden Route, has long been known as a surfers’ pit stop halfway between Cape Town and J-Bay. Flanked by a coastal forest and suitable for all levels of surfers, Vic Bay has grown into a standalone destination guided by fiercely loyal locals. The waves are consistent, and the scene is quiet and serene most of the time, but expect busier days when the surf is good, especially in the summer. Novice surfers paddle in slowly; more advanced surfers jump straight off the rocks.
Elands Bay – also known by its Afrikaans name, Elaandsbaai – is a small, quiet town located on the Western Cape’s remote northwest coast: a zone relatively unknown to backpacker masses. Elands Bay is a small town, with little more than a few small stores and places to stay. But while it may be quiet here, it’s not obscure. Surfers from around the world make the journey to Elands Bay to experience the world-class left break. The surf is at its best from October to March but thanks to the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll need your wetsuit year-round.
Do you have a death wish? Dungeons is where you go for the most epic waves in Africa – in fact, on the planet. This is definitely not for beginners.
Dungeons, located in Hout Bay, just outside Cape Town, is only accessible by boat and only active in the winter months. Here you’ll find icy swells of four to 14 metres caused by waves coming from Antarctica and the South Atlantic.