By Rhonda Carrier
Surfing in the UK can be just as good as it is abroad – in fact, some think it's even better. For one thing, you can forget the hassle of airports – wherever you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland, there's a brilliant surfing beach within a couple of hours' drive of you, along with somewhere lovely to stay – whether a campsite, a lodge or cabin, a cute cottage or a stylish hotel or B&B. Choose sustainable, green accommodation where possible, and check out ways to support the marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage, whether by joining in a beach clean, protesting, volunteering or fundraising.
Even on the hottest days, British waters are chilly. Wetsuits are provided with surf tuition but if you're ready to start going out by yourself or simply want some bodyboarding fun, it's worth investing in your own. For surfing in the UK summertime, a 3/2 long-suit is generally adequate (meaning a 3mm thickness on the core body parts and 2mm on the arms and legs for flexibility). Then there are 4/3 wetsuits for autumn and winter in the UK, or 5/4/3 or 6/5/4 wetsuits favoured by northeast-coast or Scotland surfers, with built-in hoods for extra toastiness.
Britain's surf capital is centred on raucous Newquay, but there are plenty of more child-friendly places to surf on the surrounding Atlantic coast, including Watergate Bay (where the eponymous hotel offers surf tuition). Read our feature on a family surfing lesson at the Bedruthan Hotel & Spa in Cornwall.
Devon has two coasts with very different conditions, so there are surfing beaches to entice all levels from beginners to pros. Croyde Bay's and Saunton Sands' surf schools were the first to be granted Centre of Excellence status by Surfing GB, as well as winning Gold Awards from Green Tourism. Other hot spots are Bigbury on Sea with its great surf school, spectacular Bantham and vast Woolacombe Beach.
This may not be the obvious place to surf, but Guernsey can be a decent alternative to Cornwall in high season, when you'll struggle to find slots at the top surf schools. Its stunning, wide and clean Vazon Bay has shallow waters perfect for learning to ride the waves with young kids courtesy of Guernsey Surf School, which will swap over lesson timings at no charge if the surf doesn't play ball. Read our feature on a family surfing break on Guernsey.
The Wave, Bristol
Using Wavegarden Cove technology to provide more than 1,000 waves every hour, this inland surf destination in Bristol offers consistent, safe surfing including tuition for all ages. There's also a family-friendly café showcasing local street-food vendors and coffee-roasters.
Gower Peninsula, South Wales
This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty projecting into the Bristol Channel has some of the finest surf in Britain in beaches and bays such as Langland, Caswell, Oxwich, Rhossili and busy Llangennith with its surf-equipment hire. Most are sheltered, meaning they're best experienced in autumn and winter.
With more than 50 glorious, unspoilt beaches, Wale's southwestern corner is a prime spot for surfing. One of the best places is Newgale, a southwest-facing, golden-sand Blue Flag beach stretching for 3km, with lots of parking, summer lifeguards and a surf school. Other good surfing beaches in Pembrokeshire are Whitesands, Freshwater West, West Dale and Marloes. Read our feature on a family camping and water-sports break in Pembrokeshire.
Visit Adventure Parc Snowdonia, North Wales
The first inland surf lagoon in the UK has a stunning backdrop of Snowdonian forests and mountains and the technology to deliver a variety of wave profiles to suit everyone from beginners to pros. Tuition is available too. A more recent addition is Adrenaline Outdoors, with one of the world's longest artificial caving courses, climbing and racer walls, leaps of faith, extreme slides, a netted aerial assault course, high-rise bag-jumps, a parkour floor trail, ‘freefall’ jumps and a tandem zip-line across the surf lagoon. You can stay on-site in glamping pods, or a Hilton hotel and spa are due to open in the not-too-distant future.
Cayton Bay, Scarborough, Saltburn, Bridlington and Whitby may not be hip, but they all have their retro charm at the same time as being part of one of Britain's best and most under-the-radar surfing coasts, where the unique geology makes for spectacular conditions on the water. Nearby accommodation includes camping and glamping sites, seaside B&Bs and cosy lodges and cabins such as those offered in nearby Dalby and Cropton forests by Forest Holidays, with a special discount for our readers. The area also has some great bike-trails for when you're not out on the water.
Scotland is another place where surfing comes into its own in the colder months, offering bigger swells, more consistent waves and cleaner surf that's easier to ride whatever level you're at in autumn and winter. Cockburnspath/Pease Bay on the North Sea coast between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh is known for its incredible reef for pros and its good beach breaks for all abilities. There's tuition at nearby Belhaven Beach. This is also a good spot for sea-dives and sea-kayaking, while nearby Foxlakes Adventures offers wake-boarding, an over-water high-ropes course and Segways.
Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
This island archipelago in the path of the Atlantic lows and depressions offers exceptional waves and consistent quality surfing; from September to April, expect hard-core conditions. The pollution-free beaches are often deserted, while the sea itself is surprisingly warm thanks to the North Atlantic Drift Current (up to 16°C in summer and down to 9°C in late winter).
County Cork, Northern Ireland
Blessed with some of the UK's loveliest beaches, West Cork is a great place to catch a wave. With families, head for the 11km-long picture-postcard idyll of Inchydoney with its white sands and cobalt waters. Other good-looking spots to refine your pop-up are Barley Cove, Garrettstown and Castlefreke.
See more of our hand-picked UK active family holidays.