Why I love surfing in Newquay, Cornwall

In our round-up of aquatic adventures, Ellie Ross hears the siren call of the surf.

By Ellie Ross
Published 3 Apr 2019, 19:04 BST
Fistral Beach in Cornwall
Newquay's Fistral Beach, legendary summer haunt of lovers of boards and waves.
Photograph by Kieran Webber

The sun is beginning to set as I wade through the whitewater and jump onto my board to paddle away from the shore. When I reach the lineup, my arms are aching and my hair is plastered across my face. But no matter, it’s moments like this — sitting on my board, watching the burnt-orange horizon — I cherish.

It’s just after 5pm on a Friday, and while most people have left for the pub, I’ve zipped myself into a wetsuit, strapped my surfboard to my car and headed straight to the beach. And I’m not alone. There’s a scattering of surfers in the water on this chilly afternoon.

The Cornish town of Newquay is regarded as the UK’s surf capital. Britain’s board-riding boom began here in 1962 when four Australian lifesavers rocked up to the beach with the first fibreglass boards the UK had seen. But it’s been a long journey getting here. Originating in Polynesia, surfing was exported to California, Australia and New Zealand in the early 20th century by Hawaiians such as Duke Kahanamoku, before arriving on our home shores.

Newquay is also now the place I call home, having moved here from London in 2017, partly to be close to the surf. It’s here I’ve transformed a passion into a way of life — in the process, learning about the sport’s ideal conditions (an offshore breeze, with a swell size suited to your ability) and the best season to surf (autumn, when the summer crowds have left and the water is still warm).

“There’s that unbeatable sensation when you get up — a surge of adrenalin as the board accelerates under your feet and you ride a perfect, glassy wave.”

Ellie Ross

The counties of Cornwall and Devon remain the obvious choice for those in the South West, but there are great spots all along the British coast — Llangennith, Thurso East and Whitby, to name just a few. In fact, one of the best things about surfing is that it gives you an excuse to travel, to seek out those unexplored breaks. I’ve been lucky enough to surf in countries including France, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Portugal and one thing remains the same — it’s good for mind, body and soul, bringing me closer to nature than anything else I’ve experienced.

Although surfing is a full-body workout, it’s more than just a physical experience; keeping cool during wipeouts demands metal strength and there are constant challenges, whether that’s standing up for the first time or perfecting a turn. No two waves are ever the same, so you’re always adapting, learning, as with life itself.

My first experience of surfing was a 10-minute, expletive-filled disaster in Maui, Hawaii. But I persevered, later trying beginner-friendly beaches in the West Country, where I soon became hooked on the exhilarating feeling of being repeatedly pummelled by the Atlantic.

And, of course, there’s that unbeatable sensation when you get up — a surge of adrenalin as the board accelerates under your feet and you ride a perfect, glassy wave. When you, your friends or even a stranger catches a good wave, the uncontrollable smile afterwards is infectious. That’s why I love surfing — and why I rush to the sea every time Friday rolls around.

Published in the April 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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