While the UK may not be renowned for tropical beaches and warm waters, let’s not forget that we are surrounded by bucket-loads of water! Like any great island, one of the most popular activities is undoubtedly surfing. Perhaps it’s our predictably cold and wet climate that makes us forget that we have the Atlantic Ocean knocking on our door. It may not get the same surf kudos as places like Portugal or Morocco, but with a little know-how and some driving tips, you could be shredding waves no matter where you live in the UK.
This is the go-to guide for any driver to kickstart a new hobby of surfing. We'll recommend the best locations, vehicles, and advice – we’ll even plan a weekend road trip. Start putting your driving to good use by turning a lazy Saturday into a gnarly surf trip that’ll want you coming back for more.
Surfing in the UK depends on the swell (the intensity of the waves) from the Atlantic Ocean, which in turn depends on the time of year. The swell from the Atlantic Ocean hits the UK with different intensities throughout the year, where at its peak, almost the entire UK coastline will experience a high swell. At other times of the year, the swell will recede, and only certain locations will experience swell good enough for surfing. It’s worth noting that there are many other factors which come into play (such as wind and swell direction), but let’s keep things simple for this article!
Winter. Ironically, the coldest time of year in the UK brings some of the highest swells. Most of the west coast gets battered with some intense waves and headwinds, while the north-eastern coasts get a good beating from the North Sea as well. You might need to be a little cautious surfing during these times as the headwinds might be too strong and unsafe. Thick wetsuits including wetsuit gloves, boots and hoods are an absolute must in these situations. If you do decide to muscle the winter and shred some of Britain’s best surf, the cold water will boost your immune system, improve circulation and even reduce stress.
Driving to the coast in the winter can be tricky, so here are some quick winter driving tips to keep on standby:
Spring. If the winter was too unpalatable for you, the spring might be more to your liking. The swell will still be decent in the UK, although it will be in the process of dying down. Your best bet for consistent surf is to head to the extremities of the UK coastline, such as Cornwall or northern Scotland. This doesn’t mean you can’t find surf elsewhere because you certainly can with help in the next sections.
Summer. At this time of year, you’ll more likely want to lie on warm sands rather than chase the swell. This is because the winds would have died down to turn those choppy oceans into motionless, pristine crystalline waters. Well, not exactly for most of the UK, but this season will make swell hunting a bit more difficult. Again, the geographical extremities of the UK are your best bet for summer swell. If you are frequently driving to the coast in the summer, take this car advice with you:
Autumn. Ah, the Autumn. Where green turns to orange, and calm waters turn to perfect waves. This is an excellent time for surfing across the UK as the Atlantic is kicking up another yearly swell cycle. From Cornwall to Scotland (and even the south coast), you will find great surfing conditions, although you should bring a wetsuit just in case!
The talk of seasons is all well and good, but it’s no use without knowing any surfing spots. Let’s break down each region of this little island into the best surfing spots, but remember, some may only be active in certain seasons. Because you are all so serious about jumping into the surfing lifestyle, we have also recommended some excellent vehicles that are perfect for surfing and for getting around each location.
Starting with Cornwall, you can find amazing surf spots in Bude which is great for beginners due to the shallow gradient sandbanks and excellent schools such as Freewave Surf Academy. Heading towards Lands’ End, you will find Gwithian Towans beach which is a bit more advanced (dog friendly too). If we move to the very tip of Cornwall, you can find a great surfing place called Sennen Cove.
Devon offers some excellent surfing spots, including Croyde, Woolacombe bay and Saunton sands. As for Dorset, its south coast has places like Kimmeridge Bay, Bournemouth (Boscombe) and Lyme Regis. Heading a bit further east, you can find surf spots like Hayling island and Bracklesham Bay. More likely than not, you will be travelling down to these places from elsewhere which means a surfer van will be uber helpful as you can pack surfboards and stay in them overnight with a little conversion. Check out some of the best Vans for surfing below:
1. The Vauxhall Vivaro. This is one of the most practical medium-sized vans around due to its length and loading capacity. It’s a comfortable ride and there’s a wide choice of engines to suit your needs. There’s even an electric version which will come in handy for the planned road trip at the end of this article. Looking for something a little smaller? Then check out the Vauxhall Combo – there’s a 4x4 model available too!
2. Peugeot gets a shoutout here with its vans being fuel efficient and spacious for surfing. The Peugeot Expert just has so many varieties of engines, interiors, and features - there is always something to fit your needs for a medium-sized van. If you enjoy what’s offered by Peugeot but need something a little smaller, then check out the Peugeot Partner.
Much of the surf on the west coast of the UK is sheltered by our neighbour Ireland from the Atlantic. However, some reliable spots get a good Atlantic pommelling if you look in the right places. Wales is blessed with places like Rest Bay (Glamorgan), Newgale (Pembrokeshire) and Langland Bay (Gower). As for Northern Ireland, you have surf capital like Portrush, beginner-friendly places like Benone Strand in Magilligan, and advanced spots like White Park Bay in Ballintoy.
If you’re looking to start a surfing lifestyle in these places, a budget-friendly and reliable SUV might need to be in your surfing arsenal. Let’s go through a few which can help kickstart your confidence in getting to even the hardest-to-reach locations (they all come or can be fitted with roof rack attachments too).
1. Peugeot 2008. You get more than plenty for what you pay with the Peugeot 2008. The styling can be praised for hours, but the excellent fuel economy on its 1.2L petrol engine makes it shine for its low prices.
2. Mazda CX-5. This is an amazing family car if you are looking to start the surfing lifestyle with a group. With its comfortable feel and plenty of boot space, you quickly forget you are driving such a large vehicle due to its nimble handling and stability.
3. Suzuki Vitara. The Suzuki Vitara has plenty of options from its two to four-wheel drive options that can suit any budget need, but in any case, you can expect a sporty yet comfortable and spacious ride.
4. Suzuki Ignis. This practical SUV is perfect for surf trips due to its affordability, fuel efficiency, space and offroad capabilities. It some fitted with roof racks to attach as many boards as you want.
5. Hyundai Bayon. If you are a fan of connectivity and easy-to-use driving features, the Bayon is for you. Its roof rack feature is also incredibly simple and quick to install so you can bring your surf gear without any hassle.
The North Sea can be a brutal beast at certain times of the year. If you go far enough north, even the east coast of England starts to feel its power. If you live nearby or are looking for a long drive to witness such excellent surf, you should check out places like Bamburgh, Beadnell Bay, Saltburn and Sunderland. These places get excellent swell between Autumn and Spring.
Scotland is one of Europe’s top surfing destinations, getting hit by multiple swells no matter where you find yourself along its coastline. The northernmost tip of the country is known for its excellent waves, while its west coast takes a big swell from the Atlantic. Note down places like Thurso, Isle of Lewis, Belhaven Bay, Isle of Tiree, and Pease Bay. Scotland is big, beautiful, incredibly scenic, and perfect for the surfing lifestyle - if you can handle long drives. Check out our recent blog on the best cars for long commutes here. One of our recommendations would be the Vauxhall Insignia – spacious, comfortable and can be fitted with roof racks to take your boards.
1. Board Sizes and Types. If you are a beginner, go for a longer board with a large volume – they are far more forgiving due to their stability and ease of use. As you advance, you should try out boards that are smaller and more manoeuvrable. You can always try paddleboarding or bodyboarding to start to get a feel for what it’s like on the open water. Before you buy anything, have a go on some practice boards first with some help.
2. Wetsuits. Being the UK, it would be crazy not to wear a wetsuit when surfing, especially up in the northern reaches of the country. Wetsuits come in different thicknesses, and the thicker the wetsuit the less flexible it will be. If you are in a cold region, you might need a thicker wetsuit and sacrifice some flexibility. In extremely cold places, you might need some gloves, boots, and a hood for extra warmth.
3. Surf Forecasting. There are plenty of Surf forecasting websites like Magic Seaweed and Surf Line which can predict the swell for the next few weeks, but they can be a little hard to read for the inexperienced. Reading the elements of a surf report can be summarised as:
Swell size. Look for a wave height of 1-3m for beginners, go bigger for experienced surfers.
Swell period. Look for swells that last longer than 8 seconds which is long enough for them to build height and speed to surf. Anything shorter flops.
Swell direction. Look for swells that are coming from the direction your beach is facing. So, a north-facing beach will benefit from swells coming from the north or northwest.
Wind. Wind-free surfing is ideal but rare. For beginners, your ideal wind conditions would be a beach with offshore winds – giving the waves a better chance to form a barrel. You should avoid wind speeds over 20mph.
Tide. This one isn’t too difficult to understand and is just a matter of knowing the tide cycles of your chosen beach – usually mid to high tide is the best (but again, it depends on where you are).
Surf Schools. Your best bet to learn is to be with the pros. There are plenty of excellent surf schools around that offer lessons and beginner surfboards. If you are completely new, spend a few hours at a surf school to learn the ropes – it’s certainly worth it. If you are heading down to Bude in Cornwall, check out the Freewave Surf Academy and find something among their variety of surf lessons and other activities like coasteering and paddleboarding.
Taking a trip to the ocean is best done with a little preparation and planning. If there are no freshwater showers on the beach, take a big bucket to keep those drenched salty wetsuits from spoiling your car after you are finished for the day. When you get home, soak them in fresh water to clean them and hang them out to dry. You should also bring traction mats just in case your car gets stuck in the sand (you never know…).
You might also want a way of getting into the surfing lifestyle on a budget. Roof racks don’t only belong on the bigger cars, they can easily fit comfortably onto cheap little hatchbacks and superminis that are incredibly cheap to run and buy. Need some options? Then check out our blog on the Cheapest cars to run in 2023 here.
Who said EVs aren’t for surfers? To show just how easy you can do this, we are going to quickly take you through a guide on planning an EV road trip around Cornwall for a weekend (you can easily make this longer) that gets you confident no matter what surf spot you drive to in this article. Before we start planning, let’s have a look at some of the best EVs for surfers that have long-range, is cheap to run, and can hold surfboards with plenty of space.
3. Mazda MX-30
Let’s say for this surfing trip we take the superb IONIQ 5, although any of our EVs will do (and you can even apply this to normal cars). By using our favourite Cornish surf spots, ZapMap, and some info on the IONIQ 5, we can create a map like the one shown on the left. Want extra help planning an EV journey? Check out a helpful blog here.
Because you could be travelling from all over the place, let’s say you pass through Exeter at 50% charge to begin your journey on Saturday morning. While there are a few 100kwh chargers in the city, we can start at half charge to prove just how reliable EVs are. Since Cornwall experiences surf almost all year round, we could go at almost any time, but for this article let’s say we are travelling in the spring – that means packing a wetsuit!
Your first stop is Bude which is an amazing surf location for beginners, just be sure to book a lesson beforehand through a contact form. The IONIQ 5 is on 50% charge, giving you just over 100 miles of driving range which is more than enough to reach Bude or any adjacent chargers.
You arrive in Bude with a decent amount of charge left – there’s even a 50kwh charger to top the IONIQ 5 up. This only takes 50 minutes which is perfect if you want to get take a little break before the beach. If you find out early that the beach is heaving and you want to go somewhere else, you could drive a little further north to Saunton Sands which is another excellent surf spot. Don’t worry about the longer drive, the IONIQ 5 only has a running cost of 9p/mile, and you will only be down to just under a third of the charge!
Saunton Sands has a few 50kwh charging spots, so you certainly shouldn’t worry about getting to your next destination. After spending the day at Bude or Saunton Sands you can either decide to continue the drive down Cornwall or stay the night.
Your next destination is Gwithian Towers, located on the north coast. This is yet another excellent surf spot and there are plenty of 50kwh chargers around. If you want a little exploration and are in the travelling spirit, a little further down the coast lies Sennen Cove, at the end of the peninsula.
The journey down from Bude/Saunton to these locations can range anywhere from 68 to 135 miles – something the IONIQ 5 can handle easily. If you don’t decide to charge your EV on this stretch – don’t worry, you will still have more than enough charge to get to your final stop after your day of surfing.
Whether you stayed overnight at the first or second surf location, after your time at the tippy-toe of the Cornish peninsula we’d recommend a quick stop in Falmouth or Plymouth on your way back. These are located along the scenic southern coastal roads and are the perfect opportunity to explore, grab some food, and charge the IONIQ 5.
Driving out of Cornwall, if you need another charge, we’d recommend Exeter as it has 100kwh rapid chargers that will see the IONIQ 5 fill up in only 35 minutes.
Getting into the surfing lifestyle is simply a matter of preparation and planning – not luck. With the right car, the right location, and the right season, you can find surf anywhere along this beautiful coast. And don’t worry, surfing doesn’t need to be a daily thing… but it sure beats an empty Saturday of twiddling thumbs. If you are looking for a car to carry your surfboards or want something bigger to deck out into an overnight beachside camper, check out the vehicles in this list or on our website here. We’ll be seeing you on the beach!