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5 Great Surf Beaches for Beginners & 5 to Avoid

As a latecomer to surfing I felt like I needed to swallow a maritime dictionary just to walk on to a north coast beach. What I did realise over my first year’s whirlwind romance with Cornish surf was that the beaches that beginners gravitate towards aren’t particularly the best to aid their surfing skills

Perfect For:
Surfing for Beginners
Great Surf Beaches
Great Post Surf Food

With all the great beaches in Cornwall there are many great spots missed out here, but worry not; there’s no better time than now to start: the beaches are quiet and the queues in the beach cafes are non-existent. Brilliant!

5 for beginners

  1. Gwithian: Plonked in the middle of nowhere
    between the badlands and St Ives, Gwithian is the friendlier, slightly tamer,
    sister of Godrevy. With access through the dunes and with the fantastic Sunset
    Surf Cafe
    only a 3-minute-walk from the beach, lessons and equipment hire are
    available from 10am to 6pm every day. Dangerous rips are few and far between
    here, and there is more than enough space for everyone to catch a decent wave
    or two. The more experienced tend to stick to Godders, leaving Gwithian for the
    dedicated beginner to hone their carves and pumps ‘til their heart is content,
  2. Harlyn Bay is one of the few North facing
    beaches in Cornwall that is beginner-friendly. When the rest on the North Coast
    is big and blown out, Harlyn picks up a tidy 2-4 foot onshore wave that packs a
    bit of a punch as it compresses into the bay. Your best bet here is when mid-tide
    falls in the first part of the day, as it pays to beat the crowds in this
    passionate surfing community.
  3. Polzeath is the closest thing Cornwall has to a
    town that exists purely for the stoke. With great views from the cliff top
    campsite, Polzeath could be on the west coast of the States. The waves vary
    from small and choppy to large and chunky, so check the forecasts first on then head up the road to the Oystercatcher, one of Cornwall’s
    finest post-surf pubs. Great vibes guaranteed.
  4. Perranporth in the summer may be the Cornish
    equivalent of Mumbai Central, but it has several features that make it perfect
    for year-round surfing experiences. Scoffed at by many more experienced surfers
    despite the excellent Lushingtons to the south of the main beach, Perranporth
    usually has 5 or 6 great peaks at any one time and opportunities galore for
    newbies trying to work on their techniques. The fantastic Watering Hole Beach
    Bar serves excellent food and drink too, and free parking is easy enough to
    find in the winter too.
  5. Towan Beach in Newquay is the least talked about
    beach in the whole town but comes into its own on mid tide when Fistral is
    taking a mushy battering. With surf shops everywhere and an effortless paddle
    out via the harbour straight out back, the surf breaks off the harbour wall and
    gives a reliable and not overly powerful left. It rarely gets crowded on this
    break due to the fact that it only works under certain conditions, but when it
    does it’s more reliable than death and taxes.

5 to avoid

  1. Fistral is Britain’s most famous surfing beach
    and a magnet for holidaymakers and stag/hen dos. While Fistral offers a strong
    punchy wave that is good enough to host major surf competitions, it is usually
    overrun by surf schools and you spend as much time playing an aquatic version
    of Frogger than you do enjoying the waves.
  2. Watergate Bay is incredible! Open expanses of
    golden sand, great bars and restaurants and a really friendly crowd too. So why
    is it on the avoid list you may ask? Simply put, there is often too much heavy
    equipment in the water to make novice surfers truly relax and feel safe. With
    kite surfing, windsurfing, kayaking and so on, this extreme sports hubs
    actually has your bog standard stand up surfer fairly low on its favourites
    list. That said, it’s quiet on weekday daytimes over the winter and has a
    decent wave not unlike that of Gwithian
  3. Praa Sands is often seen as the jewel of the
    south coast but there are several warning shots to be fired before considering it
    as an easy beginner’s spot. The first is the monster rip on the west end of the
    beach which has marooned many a rookie with their swell boards against the
    rocks. The second is the car park above the beach, where if you pop out to
    check the condition of the waves you may come back to a parking ticket. It’s a
    bit Soho you see. The beach cafe is, however, quaint and the cake is
  4. Chapel Porth should have an AVOID sign on the
    beach unless you were born in a surfing town and have a degree in surf science
    with a masters in wave technology. The rips are extremely strong here and
    beginners are recommended to head straight for Porthtowan down the road where
    the waves and lifeguards will take care of you. Come back once you are
  5. St Agnes is a small, north facing beach that is
    usually piled up with a local contingent who are not only very accomplished
    surfers, but also a little reluctant to give up the wave they’ve waited for in
    favour of watching a beginner wipe out and get spat out on the steep bank of
    the sandy beach. Rumours of localism here are generally over-egged, but like
    any other sport, if you turn up uninvited to someone else’s party then please
    respect the house rules. A better option if the west facing beaches aren’t
    working is Portreath – much more rookie-friendly.

About the Author

5 Great Surf Beaches for Beginners & 5 to Avoid

Top Quote:"If it's not broken, break it."

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14 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. Joel

    Lushingtons is actually the South Beach at Porthtowan….
    (Named after the copper mine Wheal Lushington)

    Jan 31, 2012 @ 9:59 am

  2. Rich

    Really helpful. Off next week with GF. Both doene 2 week surf camp but only had about 40 days in total on a board so great beginners info:)

    Aug 22, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

  3. Jack Haliday

    Hello Ali,

    Just read your post, must say I am surprised to see Watergate Bay on your avoid list! We went there in September and were very impressed with the quality of the surf. It was at the weekend though, so perhaps that’s why we had such a good experience?

    Anyway good post

    Oct 10, 2013 @ 11:29 am

  4. thehat

    Hi, think you should have put in Bude town beach for the novice,plenty of sand,barely a rip. I walk there to surf.

    Feb 18, 2014 @ 7:30 pm

  5. steve

    Hi. St. Agnes is a great beach. I have been surfing there since I was 11. Been in many wipeouts, some hurt a lot but most were funny. Great beach go to it…

    Feb 19, 2014 @ 9:32 pm

  6. steve

    Since i was 3 sorry, now I’m 11

    Feb 19, 2014 @ 9:32 pm

  7. Dave

    Great post, thanks for this. Just what I needed as a newb…especially as Praa had been tempting me.

    Oct 17, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

  8. Beth

    Great tips and I think it’s a great idea to remind beginners where to avoid surfing as well as where is good to surf. Another great location is Widemouth Bay, as the light gradient of the beach causes the waves to break more gently, offering ideal locations for beginners and younger children.

    Feb 18, 2015 @ 11:22 am

  9. Old timer

    Many thanks All,
    a really nice write up for us beginners.
    If I ever meet you I will buy you a plnt
    you can buy me 2 back if you like.
    Happy days

    Aug 13, 2015 @ 5:42 pm

  10. Aman

    Hi Ali,
    Do you know if Porthtowan Beach is any good for surfing?

    Oct 23, 2015 @ 4:38 pm

  11. Anthony Whitehead

    Thanks Mate this is all well appreciated, This been well helpful in looking where to base myself when heading that way soon. Cheers.

    Jan 15, 2016 @ 9:44 am

  12. Neil

    Great article. It’s good to know where to avoid. Rip tides can be so dangerous especially out of season when there are no patrols on the beaches.

    Jan 19, 2016 @ 3:29 pm

  13. Annsbel

    Hi, do people surf in Feb? My son is a relative beginner and we are at St Mawes for Feb half-term

    Feb 11, 2016 @ 10:34 pm

  14. Dave

    Good post, but, I would say that all the spots that you have said to avoid are also good too ! Chapel Porth is rarely a clean wave and does have a strong current and but there are life guards there in the summer.

    May 24, 2016 @ 11:16 am