The South West surfing scene is often dominated by Cornwall, with big name surf resorts like Newquay and Bude stealing the limelight. But its modest neighbour, Devon, also boasts some of the best surf spots in the UK. Think glassy hollow barrels, fun beach breaks and long mellow rides.
While it’s the north coast which takes the prize in terms of quantity and quality of spots, there are also some gems in the South which are well worth pulling on the neoprene for when it’s going off.
So, without further ado, we present our list of the best surfing beaches in Devon, starting with our favourite. (Psssst, this list includes places known only to the locals, so whatever you do, keep this info to yourself!)
It would be wrong to start our list anywhere but the glorious beach of Croyde in North Devon. Renowned for its A-frame barrels which line up like corduroy at low-tide, this world-renowned beach has no shortage of surfers which can make the crowds out back hairy at times. The surf here is relatively consistent and provides year-round fun for everyone, from easy summer days learning in the white water, to braving the chill of the Atlantic in winter and being rewarded by world-class swells.
There are hire shops and surf schools in the village – lessons are recommended if you’re a novice to avoid getting out of your depth.
Another North Devon classic is Woolacombe, which is as loved by bucket-and-spade beachgoers in the summer as much as it is by its wetsuit-clad fans. At 3 miles long, there’s space for everyone and its mellow wave is a playground for longboarders, beginners and improvers alike. The waves shape up best at low tide, especially with an easterly wind. Keep an eye out for west and northwest swells for the ultimate conditions. Bodyboarding is fun here too; equipment can be hired from Woolacombe Surf Centre and other local shops and schools.
Beach breaks and a reef break are on offer, so fill your boots!
Down to the South Hams now to a hot spot for the county’s southern surfers. Bantham is known for being the most consistent beach break in the area and for this reason it can get a bit crowded. Be mindful of the rips from the river and to the left of the beach which can take inexperienced surfers by surprise. The size of the breaks varies depending on the conditions: closer to shore it’s good for beginners, while big swells can bring larger waves a little further out.
Just up the road from the beach is a welcoming pub, The Sloop Inn: particularly good for thawing out after a winter surf.
Back in North Devon, Putsborough at the far end of Woolacombe is sheltered by Baggy Point headland and offers peaks along its 3-mile length. Catering for all abilities, it works best at mid to high tide and on smaller days can feature mellower waves - great for beginners. Don’t set out before learning about the rip at the south end of the beach near the cliffs though, as it has both its dangers and uses.
A great spot for families in the summer, there’s a private car park, beach shop and café.
A glorious stretch of beach whose corduroy lines can be observed from the road as it curves around the headland to Croyde; Saunton, in North Devon is very popular for surfers. While it can get crowded, it offers so much space, there’s room for everyone. Slower waves are good for beginners and give a long ride which is great but makes the paddle out a bit more challenging! It’s also a favourite amongst longboarders at low tide, but as with most of our top picks it comes with a warning: beware of the rip current close to the cliffs.
Go early to escape the summer car parking charges!
A few wild cards…
Conditions aren’t ripe in Lynmouth very often, and it’s certainly not one for beginners or surfers of a nervous disposition as it breaks over boulders, but if you’re experienced you’ll be hard pushed to find a similar quality point break in Devon or arguably the rest of the UK. When the universe is in alignment (when the reports indicate a moderate to large westerly swell and southerly wind) the left-handers are majestic: something which doesn’t go unnoticed by the many locals and visiting surfers alike. Form an orderly queue because the wait will be worth it!
If you’ve got family in tow, why not stay for the day and enjoy the delights of Lynmouth? Don’t miss out on a different perspective of the waves from the cliff railway!
A little gem in winter when the conditions are right, the surf at Challaborough in South Devon is best in offshore north-easterly winds with a south-westerly swell. The waves can have excellent shape and are mostly left-hand point breaks offering a relatively long ride. It gets quite busy as it offers something for all levels of experience, but beginners are advised to learn with an expert and be wary of hidden rocks, particularly at the reef on the right end of the beach.
In summer, stop for an ice cream, in winter warm up with a hearty post-surf lunch. There’s parking, a restaurant and public amenities right next to the beach.
Often overlooked in favour of its more surf-famous neighbours, the long beach at Westward Ho! is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area when the conditions are good. With left and right-handers and mellow waves for beginners, it’s a good spot for those starting out through to intermediate surfers. It doesn’t work all the time, but the locals can attest to the fact it’s a bit of fun on the right day!
You can park at the town end, or down on the burrows at the Northam end of Golf Links Road. Charges apply in the latter over the summer months, but it’s free if you’re there early or during the winter!
Take a look at our Devon Beach Guide for more information on these beaches and others.
Whether you’re planning a dedicated surf trip or just to dabble during a family break, you’ll find a wealth of fantastic cottages, hotels, B&Bs and holiday parks close to Devon’s finest surf spots. Some a stone’s throw from the beach, others nestled into the glorious rolling countryside, enjoy an intimate getaway with a loved one or plan a celebratory event with friends. Come on down, the surf’s up!