With over 31,000km of coastline, the UK is a great place to dip your toes into the world of surfing (No pun intended!). British people certainly do love to talk about the weather, and that’s because we get such a range of conditions throughout the year.
Surfing is great in the cold winter months, even off the north coast of Scotland, with a good wetsuit, you can enjoy the benefits of cold-water throughout the year. Although the stereotypical image of a surfer might be a bleached, tanned figure catching waves in front of a beaming sun, you really don’t want to underestimate winter surfing… and the UK is the perfect place to do this.
Compared to a lot of other sports, surfing is really inclusive due to the fact that it’s so affordable. There are no membership fees, no pitches to rent out, and no exclusive clubs. In fact, once you’ve got the equipment, there’s nothing standing in between you and the waves.
And with the furthest point from the sea in the UK being only 84 miles from the coast, there’s no excuse not to make the journey. So how to get started?
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Steps to start surfing in the UK
Have a lesson
Sadly, surfing isn’t super easy and something you can really get by with YouTube tutorials for… although you can certainly try. To get started, I would definitely recommend getting one or two lessons to help you understand the basics.
Beginner’s lessons always start outside of the water, to run you through how to paddle out on your board, and then showing you how to stand up on your board once you catch a wave. It’s important to practise the technique on land first, as it makes it a lot easier in the water if you understand what you need to do.
Beginner’s waves also tend to be a lot smaller and shallower than higher ability surfers may be able to catch. Sometimes it takes a little push from a surf instructor to help you catch the wave and ride it to shore, as it can be hard to gain enough momentum otherwise.
Once you’re confident with the basics, you can head out on your own accord!
Buy a wetsuit straight away
The sea and sun can be surprisingly harsh on our skin, so buying a wetsuit as soon as possible is important to prevent any damage. Due to the UK being mostly cold and cloudy, particularly from October through to April, a winter wetsuit would be my recommended starting point.
A 4/3 will serve you well through the winter months, but make sure to try it on in a shop, as these often need to be properly sized out to make sure that they fit just right.
However, since wetsuits don’t cover your foot, it would be a good idea to grab some wetsuit boots of at least 3mm, to go along with it. Even if you don’t mind your feet getting chilly, they are a very uninsulated part of the body, and can often cut your surf short if they’re too painfully cold.
The sea in the UK absorbs very little heat throughout winter, so I wouldn’t underestimate how cold it can be! Once you’ve got a wetsuit that will keep you warm all year long in a country like the UK, everything else will follow.
A wetsuit I really like for surfing is the Oneill Hyperfreak, whilst it’s expensive it’s definitely worth the money.
Rent a board before buying
After you’re happy with the lessons that you’ve had, it’s time to grab a board and go.
However, it’s best to rent a board out from your nearest surf shop a few times before buying. This way you can try a few different styles and find one that matches your ability.
Choosing your first board can be incredibly daunting. Local surf shops are always full of friendly faces who are on hand to help out with helping you choose, so make sure that you ask lots of questions and use their advice!
Beginner boards are best to have a rounded nose that increases buoyancy on the front of the board. Learners need floatation and stability. Foamies (made with foam) are increasingly popular because of the stability and general durability that they offer. Finally, make sure that you get a big one! A common surfer embarrassment is being seen ambitiously heading to the waves with a small board, only to fail entirely. The bigger the board is, the easier the waves are to catch, and since beginners are usually catching much smaller waves, this is of top importance.
Heading to local shops is also a great way to begin learning the weather and wave conditions needed to surf.
Once you’re confident that this is a hobby you’ll persist with, Facebook marketplace and eBay are great places to start your search for your first board. Think of it like your first car: all you need to get you out into the water and learn the basics on before you can begin to upgrade.
Use your local spot
Even though it is technically a solo sport, surfing is a perfect way to connect with some new people. If you’re lucky enough to live reasonably near the coast, you can use an app such as Magicseaweed to find the spots with the best weather to surf.
Once you find these places, keep going!
You’ll find that they already have communities of surfers who already go there, and they’re a reliably great crowd. Not only is it good to meet new people, but making friends with surfers is a sneaky way to improve your own practice too. While you’re wobbling about on top of your board, it’s very difficult to assess where you’re going wrong, but a well-trained pair of eyes from the side will be able to spot it, and give you helpful tips that will certainly improve your technique. Learning from observation is important too, especially when you’re all trying out the same waves together.
If you are lucky enough to start using a new area, be mindful that respect is a fairly big thing in surfing. Make sure never to steal anybody’s wave (if they are closer to the inside, it is their wave), or paddle around anybody to get closer to the inside of a wave- this is called snaking. It may go without saying, but keep the beach clean too.
Surfers are proud of their beaches, as we all should be, and you won’t be warmly welcomed back if you’ve left a huge mess there. These informal rules are only there to keep a good vibe in the water, so stick to them and you’ll see the rewards also.
Go on a weekend trip somewhere with great surf
If you aren’t quite lucky enough to live somewhere with accessible waves, plan a weekend trip away with your pals!
When it comes to searching for the best surfing locations in the UK, don’t be fooled by some of the top suggestions, as these will offer the biggest waves, but not the most consistent. If you’re planning a weekend away centred around surfing, you need to make certain that there will actually be waves at all.
Places like Saunton Sands in North Devon, Widemouth Bay in Cornwall, Cayton Bay in Scarborough (for us northerners), or Freshwater West, in Pembrokeshire. These beaches offer an excellent platform to master the basics, with manageable surf conditions.
Planning a trip away that is centred around surfing is actually surprisingly easy, since all you need to decide on is where to stay, and your daytime activities and location are easily settled.
Wild camping is also legal in Scotland, and places like Thurso are great for beginning surfing, with lessons available there too. All you have to do is drive up, park up, and get surfing. One of the great things about this sport is that most surf spots in the UK are absolute hidden gems; coastal towns and villages with a mild tourism scene always tend to be quaint, adorable, and with plenty of options for food, drink and beautiful sunsets.
Surfing really takes you to corners of the planet that you wouldn’t expect, and random areas of the UK is no exception. If you can get abroad, then you might like to read our recommendations for great beginner surf camps.
Keep going and don’t give up
Even when it may feel like surfing is way too inaccessible on this tiny island, don’t forget that once you’ve cracked the beginning steps, it can be the easiest to access sport going.
Practise is the best way to improve your surf, and while you can always improve your fitness generally, and maybe purchase balance boards to work on your technique, being on the water is truly the only way to really maintain your progress. The more that you practise different waves, experience weather conditions, and get advice from locals and advanced surfers, the more knowledge that you will have to one day be trimming along the green part of the wave.
So hopefully this is enough to motivate you to get started, and begin to search that 31,000 km of coastline for waves that are good enough for surfing. Don’t forget to be nice to the locals, clean up after yourself, and most importantly, have a great time!
Surfing is definitely best enjoyed and best learned when you throw yourself in headfirst, so don’t be afraid to get wet.
About the author
Watersports Pro is managed by Ollie, who has been in the industry since 2007. A paddleboard and advanced windsurfing instructor, Ollie has travelled the world teaching these sports.
Now based on the South Coast of England, he shares his experience and knowledge on watersportspro.co.uk.