Obviously it is hard to surfboard without any decent surf.

I know in England the best surf is near the South West, Cornwall and Devon being famous for it (Woolacombe and Newquay), but elsewhere I'd have no clue.

I also know weather is a factor, requiring offshore winds, but that can ultimately change a lot even in the best surf areas, so let's assume the wind is favourable.

If I were to go abroad and wish to surf, What kind of location do you need to look for in order to get a decent surf?

Artificially created factors are important too.

  • 2
    If you want even better surf in the UK you need to head to northwest Scotland. Way bigger and better, than Newquay, and the water is often warmer, as the North Atlantic Drift hits the north. Especially try Thurso or Bay of Skaill :-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 7:45

2 Answers 2


Couple of factors that I'm aware of


This is why most of the UK has bad surfing. The swell is the energy generated in the Ocean, this is ultimately what drives the waves. To generate swell you need big powerful weather systems. These typically only form in oceans. The problem with the UK is that Ireland is between us and the Ocean. So all the energy is deflected around us. this is why places like Newquay and the west coast of Scotland (as well as the west coast of Ireland) have good surf. Because they are exposed to the Atlantic swell and not the Irish sea.

The break

The break is the terrain that the swell hits. Different "breaks" generate different types and aspects of waves. A wide shallow sandy beach will generate different "waves" to a pointy rocky headland.

You need some kind of obstruction though, something that forces the swell to rear up and form a wave. So you want the water to go from deep to shallow in a relatively short period of time.


Low and high pressure systems are what generate the swell. The effect of the air pressure above the ocean (potentially far away from the beach) will have big impacts on the swell. This can turn a bad surf beach into a good one.

  • 1
    Additionally, the Pacific Ocean is big. Really big. So the swell gets time to build to something awesome. The Atlantic is much smaller, so even at its best, it will never be as big.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jun 10, 2015 at 16:35
  • yes, the energy generated to power the "swell" is directly proportionate to the amount of water in the body of water, more water == more energy
    – user2766
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 8:13
  • @RoryAlsop I was never into the technicalities of Surfing. I grew up in a coast city only a few km from the Equator line so we had surfing every morning from 5.30 to 7am. Again, I was never into the technicalities but I always heard the Atlantic was better surfing for having less water (space for water) and therefore any sea changes (swell, weather, etc) would make waves bigger than the Pacific where the Ocean is bigger and water has more space to go to. Similar idea is dropping a pebble in a cup of water and another in a bucket.
    – Desorder
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 20:14
  • 1
    @Des - sadly no, it doesn't work like that. The Pacific generates much bigger waves because there is more time for the swell to increase over the distance. It's not pebbles in cups, but wind blowing over larger area.
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 7:43

Accessibility of the Break

Choose breaks that you can reach before tiring, thereby saving energy reserves for the main event of catching and surfing waves. Avoid a long paddle!

If legal and safe to do so, it might be possible to enter the surf from a boundary feature to shorten the paddle (eg: shoreline rocks, groynes, piers and harbour walls).

Sometimes you can identify channels in the surf where the wash is not rushing towards the shore. A channel may be calm or could be a rip current flowing seawards. These channels can be exploited to more easily reach the break (though can pose a danger to swimmers lacking surf equipment). Boundary features can cause these conditions, or they can arise naturally at intervals in a long shoreline.


Plenty of surf locations are safe but you should weigh the specific risks at each spot. Be aware of: tides and washes, potential currents, the form and composition of the seabed, localism, dangerous sea-life and any safety measures (eg: municipal lifeguards, nets and drum-lines). Consult sources of local information (eg: print/online surf atlases and guides, tourist bureaus, posted notices and other beach-goers).

Prefer clean and clear seawater. Dirty and polluted water can result from effluent and river outflows, particularly after rains. Swimming and surfing in this water can cause illnesses and heighten the risk an encounter with a shark (if swollen nearby rivers are capable of carrying dead animals out to sea).

Seasonal Changes

Seasonal changes of climate and weather might result in sizable and consistent waves only at particular times of the year. The best surf season might not align with the warmest air and water temperatures, requiring a wetsuit and possibly booties/ hood/ gloves.

Interactions with sea-life might be seasonal (eg: I believe the jellyfish risk in tropical Australia is highest in summer).

  • If I say it's safe to surf this beach, captain - it's safe to surf this beach. I'm not afraid to surf this place, I'm not afraid to surf this ...
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 13:56

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