The UK has over 11,000 miles of coastline with more than 200 great surf spots. Cornwall and North Devon surf beaches are some of the most famous in the UK, welcoming around 10 million visitors each year. Many come to give surfing a try. I moved here almost 10 years ago and learned to surf at these beautiful beaches.
There’s a good reason four of the 11 best surfing beaches we’ve listed are on the UK’s southwest coast in North Devon and Cornwall. The coast looks out to the Atlantic Ocean. This allows for a longer ‘fetch’ — the distance the wind has to blow and create waves. Ultimately, the best surfing beach in North Devon depends on your skill level and what you’re looking for.
If you’re new to surfing, the beach you choose to learn on has a lot to do with your success. Paddling out or mastering the art of standing up for the first time at a beach where pro surfers hone their craft is likely to be challenging. A beach with consistent waves and more extended wave periods will make learning to surf a little easier.
The North Devon surf beaches we’ve listed up front are ideal for beginners. Number three is where I stood up on a board for the first time! We’ve included a few beaches at the end that are better suited to surfers with a little more experience. That’s because we know you’ll want to come back for more once you’ve been bitten by the surfing bug!
The great thing about surfing in North Devon is that no matter what your level of surfing ability, there’s a beach to match.
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Where to surf in North Devon?
Regularly appearing in best beach lists, Woolacombe is a gorgeous 3-mile stretch of golden sand. Easily one of the best surf beaches in North Devon, it offers a wild ride in autumn and winter when waves can get well over 12ft high.
Summertime waves are far less intimidating, not to mention warmer, making it an ideal surf beach for beginners. The long flat beach has consistent waves between 2 — 5ft through the warmer months of the year. The best waves are with the incoming tide. There are no hidden rocks or reefs to worry about either, just endless sand and on a good week, radiant sunshine.
Despite attracting thousands of holidaymakers, there is plenty of room for everyone to enjoy some time in the surf. I like to head along the beach towards Putsborough when I surf here. It’s a little quieter. Do watch out for rips – it’s a long beach and the rip tides are visible by their deceptive calm. Where the waves aren’t rolling in, the current is pulling out to sea.
Surf lessons and equipment hire – Woolacombe
North Devon’s Woolacombe Beach has been recognised as a top surf spot since the 60s. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of surfing schools and surf-hire places close by.
Steve’s Surf Hire & Woolacombe Surf Hire Summer & Winter Outlet
Claiming to be the cheapest surf-hire company on the beach, Steve’s Surf Hire rents wetsuits, surfboards, bodyboards and other beach equipment. They cater for sizes from 2 y.o children to 3XL adult sizes.
Just five minutes walk from the beach, The Bay Surf Shop rents surfboards, wetsuits and bodyboards for kids as young as 3 y.o and adults as large as 3XL.
Offering surf lessons along with surf hire, stand-up paddleboarding lessons, kayaking and coasteering, WSC has “Centre of Excellence” accreditation from Surfing England. Surf lessons can be booked as single sessions or as a set with the surf school.
Single lessons and longer courses are offered by Surfing Woolacombe. You’ll find this surf school on the beach. Full surfing kit — including boots and gloves when the water is a little cooler — is included in the price of lessons.
Surf beach parking – Woolacombe
There are two main car parks for Woolacombe Beach.
The Esplanade car park is perfect for earlier surf sessions or shorter stays as it’s charged by the hour. Their early bird parking offer gives drivers a reduced fee if they’re gone by 1 pm. It’s easy to access the beach from the car park and you can also book beach huts through the car parking website.
Marine Parade is better for all-day parking and is run by the local parish council. It overlooks the mid-section of Woolacombe beach and you’ll need to wander through the sand dunes to reach the sea. You’ll find a little cafe in the car park and can expect to pay around £10 for a day’s parking throughout summer.
Surf snacks – Woolacombe
Being a tourist resort, there are plenty of places to choose from for a post-surf snack in Woolacombe through the warmer months. The town tends to get a little quiet in the cooler months and some of the smaller places close up shop in the off-season. These surf snack picks are open year-round.
The Porthole – Marine Drive Car Park This little kiosk-type cafe offer hot and cold drinks, ice creams, sandwiches and hot snacks like chips and savouries. The staff are friendly and the food is delicious – well worth working up an appetite for!
The Red Barn – Woolacombe Esplanade A family-friendly beach-side pub offering hot and cold drinks, meals and sweet treats. It’s a licenced restaurant so beers and wines can be ordered with meals too.
At the other end of Woolacombe Beach is Putsborough. It’s the perfect spot to check out when the wind is making surf difficult at Croyde or Woolacombe. That’s because the headland provides a little more shelter from south-southwesterly winds.
The best time to surf at Putsborough is mid-tide. If you’ve enjoyed the incoming tide at Woolacombe and want to keep at it, head along to Putsborough.
Putsborough has bigger and more consistent waves through winter, but if you’re anything like me, the chill water is a bit hard to take. Don’t worry though, there are still good waves to be had through the warmer months. Expect 2 — 5 ft waves on a good day. No need to fret about rocks or a packed beach either, there’s plenty of room for all.
Surf lessons and equipment hire – Putsborough
Like Woolacombe Beach a little up the sand, people have been enjoying the surf at Putsborough for generations. You’ll be able to book lessons or hire your surfing kit here if you haven’t brought it with you.
Along with one-to-one and group surfing lessons, Nick Thorn Surf hires beginner surfboards, wetsuits, gloves and boots, hardboards for more experienced surfers, as well as bodyboards and standup paddleboards.
Barefoot Surf rents beginner’s surfboards, wetsuits, gloves, hoods and boots per day or per week. They also provide lessons for new and experienced surfers. Surf lessons can be taken as one-to-one tuition or as group bookings. Both single surf sessions and sets are offered.
Surf beach parking – Putsborough
There’s just one car park at Putsborough and no matter how long you’re intending to stay, you’ll be charged for the whole day. Expect to pay £12 for the summer season and a little less through the off-season.
Surf snacks – Putsborough
Putsborough surf beach has a great little cafe attached to a beach shop. Hot and cold drinks, ice creams, sandwiches, cakes and hot food like chips and sausage rolls are sold year-round. That’s your only option for after-surf sustenance unless you pack something to take with you.
This beach has perfect waves for longboarders and beginners. Because of this, you’ll find surf groups here for most of the year. The waves are powerful enough to ride on a longer board but not quite so great for short boards or kneeboards. These tend to need a steeper wave and the long beach break at Saunton doesn’t create that shape of wave.
Saunton is my favourite North Devon surf beach and the most likely place you’ll find me through summer. The waves are easy. The beach is 3 and a half miles of golden sand backed by awe-inspiring dunes. There is plenty of room for everyone to play. At the height of summer when it gets a little busy, just take a little stroll along the sand to get away from the crowds.
I’ve seen the waves reach over 16ft in winter, but through summer it’s a much more fun and comfortable wave. Expect somewhere between 3 — 5ft on a good day. The waves are left and right-handers — just like Woolacombe and WestwardHo! That means the wave breaks in both directions and you’ll be able to surf either way along the wave’s face.
Surf lessons and equipment hire – Saunton
Being that Saunton is such a good beach for newbies, there are plenty of surf schools and coaches offering lessons here. We’ve noted only those that you’ll find on the beach. The nearby town of Braunton is home to myriad surf shops and coaches.
Found in Saunton’s car park, Saunton Surf Hire has beginner surfboards, hardboards, wetsuits and buoyancy aids for most ages and sizes. It’s best to book your equipment on the website to avoid disappointment.
The shop changed hands in 2020 and is now owned and run by Matt, Michael and Sarah Whitely – who provides surf lessons through her Walking on Waves business. If you need to grab another block of wax or other surf supplies, Matt is always happy to help out.
Single lessons, surf packages, group sessions and one-to-one coaching are available for most ages and surf-level abilities. You’ll find this surf school at the edge of Saunton’s car park and the top of the slipway. Full surfing kit — including boots and gloves when the water is a little cooler — is included with the price of lessons.
Adjacent to the beach shop at Saunton, Surf Saunton holds single and group lessons for surfers of all abilities. They also offer surf yoga weekend retreats that include beach accommodation, 5-star food, yoga sessions, private surf lessons away from the hoards and free surf hire.
Surf beach parking – Saunton
There’s just one car park at Saunton which can get full early in the day at the height of summer. You’ll need to pay by the hour at the end of your stay. Make note of your number plate as you’ll need this to pay for parking.
There are a few parking bay lay-bys overlooking the beach too. Parking here and trying to navigate traffic or the steep path with a board or beach gear isn’t advised.
Surf snacks – Saunton
There are a few options for satisfying your surf-generated hunger pangs at Saunton Beach. Whether you want a quick snack, a bistro meal or something a little finer, one of these options will fit.
Another of my favourite North Devon surf beaches, Westward Ho! has a steeper wave than Saunton with a little more ‘oomph’. It’s another long stretch of sand, backed by Northam burrows. The village sits at one end with the beach stretching north to the village of Northam and the estuary. I find the best surfing is further down the beach away from busy Westward Ho!
A massive pebble ridge creates a barrier between the beach and the burrows with parking on the burrows. At high tide, the waves lap at the pebbles making the most amazing sound. It’s no good trying to surf here at high tide, thanks to the pebble ridge. But the surf is great at both mid and low tides, so it’s not usually much of an issue.
The waves are formed by a beach break. The beach is slightly steeper than Saunton’s on the other side of the estuary, creating a steeper wave face. Do check for rip tides before getting into the surf here – they can be quite strong. Spotting rips so you can avoid them is a wise way to start your surfing session.
Surf lessons and equipment hire – Westward Ho!
Westward Ho! Is a great beach for learning to surf or taking out a bodyboard. There are many surf schools and coaches in the village, we’ve noted the ones that are closest to the beach.
You’ll find this surf school and hire shop at the south end of Westward Ho! Beach between the village and the burrows. They offer single surf classes and sets of lessons for kids as young as 4 and adults of all ages. They also run surf clubs throughout the year and hire out boards and wetsuits. I purchased my beginner board here a few years back and can attest to their helpful staff and good-quality equipment.
Offering one-to-one surf lessons and group surf classes too, Westward Waves Surf School is at the north end of the beach in Northam Burrows. You’ll find their blue flag just behind the coast guard’s cabin and the pebble ridge that back the beach.
Surf beach parking – Westward Ho!
Parking in Westward Ho through the summer can be a little difficult. If you’re planning a day in Westward Ho! the best advice is to get there early. Car parks fill up quickly and charges start at £1.30 per hour.
Seafield car park is found at the south end of the village. Parking is free. Follow the southwest coast path from the car park to reach the village and the beach. It’s a 5-minute walk from the car park to the sea.
Northam Burrows Country Park also has parking just behind the pebble ridge and close to Westward Waves Surf School. If you arrive before 8:30 am, parking is free. After this time the toll booth opens and you’ll need to purchase a day ticket for around £5.
Surf snacks – Westward Ho!
Westward Ho! Is a popular seaside resort in North Devon, so there are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat in the village. If you take our advice and head further along the beach to the Northam Burrows area, you’ll still be able to grab a hot or cold drink, tasty snack or ice cream from the food vans behind the pebble ridge. The coffee van is there for early morning surfs too. If you get out before 8 am, Dawn will be happy to serve you a hot drink after your session.
The waves at Croyde tend to be steeper and more powerful than those at Saunton or Westward Ho! It’s a smaller bay and beach which tends to get pretty crowded through the summer. That can make surfing here a little dangerous. The waves can be a little more challenging as they’re steeper and have more energy than the longer beaches. Even so, it’s a good surf beach for all abilities with regular left and right-handers.
Surf schools teach beginner surfers here and more experienced surfers enjoy the waves too. In the winter season, waves can be an intimidating 16 ft or higher. It’s fun to watch the pro surfers enjoy the surf through winter here. Through spring and summer, the waves are more manageable for newbie surfers. You tend to have longer wave periods too, so paddling out is a little less arduous.
Surf lessons and equipment hire – Croyde
Croyde is a laid-back surfer village and the high street is packed with surf shops – many selling equipment alongside lessons and surf hire. If you want a second-hand board, Croyde is a good place to go looking. We’ve only noted three surf schools close to the beach, but there are many more in the village.
This friendly surf school is found opposite the Ruda Parkdean Holiday Resorts at the Baggy Point end of the beach. They’re the first of all surf schools in Croyde and have been teaching people to surf since the late 90s. They’re a gold award-winning surf school and Surfing England Training Centre of Excellence.
My son enjoyed regular surf school lessons here last summer. Andi, his surf coach helped develop his competence and confidence on a board along with his love of the sea. They offer one-to-one coaching, group lessons and adaptive surf packages for people of all abilities. The cost of lessons includes all equipment for a great day in the sea.
Located in the first car park you’ll find when getting to Croyde from Braunton, Croyde Surf Academy offers single, group and private surf lessons. They also hire beginner surfboards, wetsuits and bodyboards in a range of sizes.
Walking on Waves was founded by Sarah Whitely who was the British and European surf champion in 2003. It’s the same business as Saunton’s Walking on Waves but their second location is found just behind the dunes at Croyde. Single lessons, surf packages, group sessions and one-to-one coaching are available for most ages and surf-level abilities.
Surf beach parking – Croyde
There are two main car parks to choose from if you’re planning to surf in Croyde. Both are pay and display car parks, so purchase your ticket and stick it on the dash before you head out with your board.
Down End car park is the first car park you’ll see if coming to Croyde from Braunton way. It’s on the edge of the village and the south end of the beach. You’ll need to cross the road from the car park and wind your way to the path to reach the surf. It’s a less than 5-minute walk.
Moor Lane car park is at the other end of the beach and close to Surf South West. Parking is charged hourly. It’s a short walk down the slipway to the beach from here. This car park fills up early, so get there before 10:30 am if you want to find a parking spot.
Surf snacks – Croyde
Croyde village has a few pubs and plenty of cafes and kiosks for drinks and snacks. If you’re looking for something closer to the beach to stop you from getting hangry after a surf the two spots noted below are ideal.
Downend car park cafe serving hot and cold drinks, snacks, sandwiches and hot food too. It’s open year-round, making it the perfect spot to grab a post-surf snack.
Beach Cafe and Parlour at the other end of Croyde Beach serves hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, snacks hot food such as chips and ice creams too. They’re open through the high season or late spring through to early autumn. They tend to close up shop through the winter.
North Devon Surf Beaches for Experienced Surfers
As mentioned at the beginning, the next two beaches aren’t so great for beginner surfers. But if you’ve advanced your skill and want to find some more challenging waves, these two North Devon surf beaches are ideal!
For intermediate to advanced surfers
Around the headland to the north of Woolacombe lies the little beach of Combesgate. It’s a smaller beach with steeper left and right-hander waves. The beach is quite rocky, making it a dangerous choice for beginner surfers.
Intermediate to advanced-level surfers will enjoy the waves most at mid to high tide. An east-to-south-easterly wind direction combined with a west-north-west swell produces the nicest waves here.
There is very limited parking and no food or toilet facilities close to the beach, so come prepared with a drink in a flask and something to eat after your surf.
For advanced surfers
Lynmouth is a beautiful rocky beach hemmed in with high cliffs at either end. It’s usually flat surf here, thanks to the sheltering cliffs. When the right conditions do develop, the best left-hander waves are produced by southerly offshore winds and west-northwest swells.
The rocky shore and cruel pointy rocks hidden by a rising tide make this a bit of a dodgy choice of surf beach for the inexperienced surfer. However, if you know what you’re doing on a surfboard, or just fancy watching a skilled surfer on the sea, Lynmouth is a great beach to visit in North Devon.
There are plenty of parking choices on and close to the beach here. The small village of Lynmouth and the sister village further up the cliff have plenty of places you can choose for a post-surf snack or meal.
About the author
Vic fell in love with surfing when she moved to North Devon. She’s a beach bum at heart and loves swimming in the ocean. Vic combines her love of waves, water and words to share what she’s learned on the sea with Watersports Pro’s readers.