When was the last time you went surfing? Given that we’ve enjoyed one of the warmest UK summers in memory – in fact, the fourth hottest since 1910 – I’d hope the answer is “Recently”. I’d love to hear that you braved the coolness of the ocean, forging toward the horizon off the coast of Cornwall, Gower, Devon or Thurso; that you conquered waves large and small before the sun skedaddled to its hideaway, obscured by a screen of autumn clouds.
Surfing is big business in the UK, and the stats bear this out: last year it was reported that the sport represented some £1.8 billion to the economy(*). There are 500,000 surfers that call Britain home, and with an abundance of coastline surrounding us – newsflash: we’re an island! – there’s no reason why that number shouldn’t swell in the coming years.
Let’s get it out of the way: there’s a popular image of ‘the surfer’. Long-haired and lithe, perennially tanned, prone to ending every sentence with dude, dude. This template is as misleading as the one advanced in Point Break – that surfers are a ragtag bunch who rob banks when they’re not chasing mammoth breakers.
The truth is, anyone can give the sport a blast: individuals, groups of friends, families. A desire to try something new, a willingness to put up with failure – yes, you will fall, fall and fall again, in new and ever more spectacular ways that grant your cohorts a good chuckle – and a love of the water are the only ingredients required.
If you’re wondering how you’ll keep the kids entertained on your next getaway, I propose that a surfing holiday will do just the trick, with the following destinations providing the perfect backdrop. Never surfed before? Don’t worry: I’ve recommended some top surf schools to get you started. What are you waiting for?
1. United Kingdom
Shall we start at home? Sure, why not? Let’s see if we can boost that surfing revenue to a round £2 billion. There’s a plethora of coastal towns at which to decamp, with waves varying in size to suit your level. Do your research and you can head for whichever outpost suits you, be it Saltburn-on-Sea, Tynemouth or Jersey.
The undisputed king of Blighty surfing destinations, though, is Cornwall. Boasting terrific water sport conditions, wide expanses of golden sand and a preponderance of hotels and campsites, it’s ideal for a maiden family surfing trip.
There are countless surf spots along the Cornwall and Devon coast; Porthmeor, in St Ives, with its lapping Mediterranean-blue waves, is an astute choice, its gentle summer swells perfect for first-timers. Another is Fistral Beach in Newquay, its long stretch of sand backed by low cliffs and the venue for various annual surf festivals, among them Boardmasters.
The Rip Curl English Surf School is a great place to get started. The vastly experienced team have been coaching budding surfers in Newquay for two decades, and offer a variety of packages to suit all ability levels. Opt for a two-hour surfing or bodyboarding taster lesson (£30) and you’ll be among a group of eight, sharing an instructor and learning the basics, from beach safety to skimming the waves.
There are more advanced options too, where you can surf among a group of five (£42) – ideal for families – or even enjoy one-on-one tuition (£65). Alternatively, a fun-packed private family lesson (£119, up to 4 people) by a Surf GB qualified instructor is certain to start your surfing ‘career’ with a bang.
2. Canary Islands
If you want to venture out of the British Isles, there are few destinations as pleasurable – or as warm – as the Canary Islands. Comprising seven large islands, and a half-dozen smaller ones, this arid archipelago benefits from a chain of lava reefs and more than its fair share of strong mid-Atlantic winds.
When you go is your choice, but winter is a good bet, both for the surf and the sun. Frequently referred to as the Hawaii of Europe, the volcanic island of Fuerteventura is a terrific surfing locale. Holiday brochure sand beaches and lively, whipping winds provide fertile ground – or water – for not only surfers but kitesurfers and sailors.
Learn to embrace the surging sea at the island’s Rapa Nui Surf School in Costa Calma and dip your toes in one of the longest and most resplendent beaches in the Canaries. Taking groups of no more than six pupils, the instructors will put you through your paces for up to four hours in one lesson, with the option of purchasing a personal surfing video shot from a mounted Go-Pro camera on your board.
There are all manner of courses offered depending on your level, among them 2.5 hour private lessons (€120) and three-day kids’ courses for 7 to 12-year-olds (€129). If you want to base your whole holiday around surfing, meanwhile, the school’s comprehensive ‘Surfcamps’ – including accommodation, transport, theory lessons, a sailing cruise and a weekly BBQ at the Boatriders Bar – is an enticing proposition.
In Málaga, families can practice paddle surfing or windsurfing along a varied 160km coastline that’s regularly hit by choppy poniente winds. With over 150 beaches to choose from, you’ll be well placed to target waves that suit your level of experience – or bravery!
Fuengirola, Playa del Chino and Playa del Castillo are great sites for beginners, lapped by manageable waves that should be surmountable for most boarders. Head to the west coast and Cadiz and you’ll trade that poniente for the moist levant wind, an easterly long-welcomed by Spanish surfers for the A-class swells it produces.
The Stand Up Paddle School is one such Andalucian surf club that helps newbies refine their skills on the water. Based in Marbella, the team have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to sourcing the best waves depending on sea or wind conditions, whether this means hopping in the van and pulling up at Victors Beach, just off the Golden Mile, or the busy Playa del Cable.
Specialising in Stand Up Paddling (SUP), the school offers a variety of modules to get you started. A one-hour taster session (€30), conducted either off the beach or in a lake or river, schools you in the basics, while four-hour Flatwater and Waves sessions (€120) allow you to shift from amateur to intermediate.
One wonderful experience offered until September is the Full Moon SUP, where a family of three can paddle out to watch the sunset (€30 per person).
France might not immediately spring to mind when you mull surf destinations, but in fact the country boasts some of the best beach breaks in the world. From the Basque Country to Brittany (and other towns not beginning with B), the coastline is something to behold.
One of the finest beaches, benefiting from a high level of surf, is Hossegor on the Cote d’Argent – around 20 miles north of Biarritz. You don’t have to be a rad pro to surf in Hossegor though; there are suitable waves cresting the shore for first-timers too.
Lacanau, in Gironde, is another superb choice – a surfing commune renowned for peaky waves and stop 16 of the ASP Men’s Qualification Series. It can get busy in summer though. Le Pin Sec, to the north, enjoys similarly great barrels but fewer throngs. This many-duned beach is also the base of Feral Surf Tours.
Feral Surf Tours is a passionate crew of young surfer-travellers who provide daily tuition and ‘surf camps’ along the coast. Custom build your own holiday package (3 nights: £150, 7 nights: £315, accommodation and meals included), take advantage of last-minute deals, or grab a bespoke family deal – just contact FST for more details.
You wouldn’t know it, but as well as being feted for its culture and history, Morocco is an outstanding location for surfing. The coastline north of Agadir in particular is known for its warm temperatures year-round, and is sheltered from the occasionally nasty storms that sweep across the northern portion of the country during winter.
Anchor Point, north of Taghazout, has been welcoming surf bums since the ‘60s, but can be a challenge for novices. Elsewhere, the soft sands of Essaouira Beach, with its lovely and light alizee wind, makes for a refreshing choice.
The Rapture Surfcamp Morocco is a fine starting point if you arrive in this land hell-bent on learning how to board. Based out of a small Moroccan style abode in the aforementioned Taghazout, 15 km north of Agadir, the certified guides satisfy not only your nascent passion for surfing, but other pursuits too: The Surf & Yoga package (€526), for instance, includes one week’s bed and breakfast, packed lunches, camp dinners, five surfing lessons and five yoga sessions!
Home to 600 km of beaches and bays, it’s no surprise Portugal is one of Europe’s premier surf destinations. From certain spots you can ride the best waves in the Continent, but for wide-eyed families just tinkering with the notion that they might one day surf a moderate-sized swell for all of ten seconds – well, there are smaller waves too.
The Surfivor Surf Camp, now in its tenth year, is the most popular of its kind in northern Portugal. Operating out of twin sites – the classic Surf Camp in Esmoriz, 25 km south of Porto, and a brand-new Surf Hostel in Porto’s Atlantic boulevard – the enthusiastic team offer several courses aimed at beginners.
There’s also lessons in surf theory and video coaching, barbecues, a Yoga for Surfers program and additional activities, from beach volleyball to cycling. Want a one-stop shop for your surf holiday in northern Portugal? Look no further. A variety of packages are offered, or why not create your own bespoke family package by emailing the Camp direct?