Adventure Ideas England

Surf Woolacombe Bay, the Golden Coast of Devon

Body Boarding
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Surf Woolacombe Bay, the Golden Coast of Devon

There are many reasons to visit Woolacombe on the Golden Coast of Devon. And yet there is really only one. The Surf. OK, the Devon swell might not have the panorama of Hawaii or Bondi, but it does have the drama. It may not be hot, but it is without doubt, cool. And if you’re looking for a family friendly UK surf break and surf lessons, then I think you’ll find there’s something for every age in this watery playground. So, let me explain why you should surf Woolacombe Bay…

Woolacombe. Image Woolacombe Tourist Information

The sands and surf of Woolacombe. Image Woolacombe Tourist Information

Surf’s up kids

Yes, I know your older kids would probably rather eat sand sandwiches than see you out in public in a wetsuit. But if you get them over that barrier you’ll all find learning to surf together is one of the most bonding things you can do as a family. It’s a complex, dynamic skill to master yet hugely enjoyable for a beginner, and the kids will love leaving you shivering in the shallows while they splash about on or in the waves. We’ve taken a few surf lessons and surfed with our children in the UK and Portugal, and each time the air was filled with laughter and the squeals that accompany our small successes. Oh, and the sound of me choking. Well, we can’t all be Pamela Anderson can we?

Family Surfing

Family Surf Lesson. It’s not all about standing up… at least that’s what we told ourselves.

Surf Woolacombe Bay

If you’re looking for a place in the UK to learn to surf as a family you can’t beat Woolacombe. While the royals and the rich flock to Rock and Newquay in Cornwall, families head to the Golden Coast of Devon. Why? Well the range of surf schools, the affordable accommodation and the proximity to a clutch of great beaches might have something to do with it. And of course the great Atlantic swell.

Woolacombe itself has several beaches, some more secluded than others. Its main beach is three miles long, won the England for Excellence Award and is the only Blue Flag beach in North Devon. Regularly voted one of Britain’s top beaches, the gently sloping west facing shoreline is well known for long breaking waves and classic surf conditions. People have been coming here to surf since the 1960’s and it hosts a number of European surfing events every year. Not that you need to be at that standard to surf there.

If you fancy exploring, there are many stunning beaches within a short drive of the town that offer various grades of surf. If you’ve a teen in the family, they might be interested to hear that Made in Chelsea’s Andy Jordan was teaching at nearby Croyde this summer.

Back to Surf School

If you’re beginners at riding the swell, then you’ll make progress most quickly if you all go back to school and get some surf lessons. There are a huge range of surf schools catering for would be wave riders. Here’s a couple of popular ones worth checking out if you’re looking for surf lessons in Woolacombe Bay:

The Nick Thorn Surf School offers surfing tuition morning, afternoon and evening at a beach front location a short walk from Woolacombe village. It offers mid week specials if you aren’t reliant on holidaying in peak times.

The Woolacombe Surf School, based at Golden Coast Holiday Park, offers surfing lessons for anyone over the age of eight with half day specials beginning at £25. Their intermediate courses come with video coaching.

Woolacombe Surfer Image by Stuart Webster

Woolacombe Surfer. One day this could be you! Image by Stuart Webster 

Advanced surf lessons in Woolacombe

There are also options for experienced surfers looking for coaching. H2Outdoor offers advanced and improver  surf lessons at three different locations on the Devon coast including Woolacombe Bay. You can hire wetsuits and board from them. Or you can grab some lifeguard training if you qualify for it and are feeling heroic.

At the advanced end of the spectrum, world class surfer Andrew Cotton offers surf lesson at Lyndon Wake Surf School in Croyde. You may remember Andrew from his Newsnight appearance where Jeremy Paxman quizzed him about surfing the world’s biggest wave in Navarre, Portugal.

Surf lessons on a Surf Simulator

If you’re not sure about the open sea, then a good place to dip your toe in the water (or your kid’s toe) is the Wave Surfer at Woolacombe’s Golden Coast Holiday Park.  A thin sheet of water just a few inches deep flows over a stationary wave so you can carve, turn and ride safely. Or at least try! Just about anyone can ride (from age 8 up, 6-7 by arrangement), and there are instructors on hand to give you some tips on technique or a nudge in the right direction. It’s a good place to practice your basics in a controlled environment and the hour long slot gives you plenty of time to try out new moves or just stay upright, depending on your level. And it is heated to 28 degrees so you won’t get cold. When we last checked the cost to ride the Wave was £20 for an hour session for guests and £25 for non residents. Anyone who isn’t keen on having a go can watch from the bar.

Golden Coast Accommodation

There’s lots of accommodation around Woolacombe Bay to suit all budgets,ranging from camping to B&B’s to up-market hotels. If you’re looking to save money to spend on your surf school then Woolacombe’s Golden Coast Holiday Park also offers great value stays for surfing families. You can choose to stay in caravans, lodges, villas, apartments or bring your own camper-van or tent, depending on your budget and the style of break you prefer. Golden Coast is one of four Woolacombe Bay Holiday Parks, all close to Woolacombe beach and if you stay at one of their parks you can use the facilities of all four.

Woolacombe Wave Surfer

Woolacombe Wave Surfer at Golden Coast Holiday Park.
Photo by Guy Harrop, via Woolacombe Bay Holiday Parks

Other surf related activities

Of course there’s not much surfing without surf and that can’t be guaranteed. But, if the surf is staying away there are a few other things you can do that don’t stray too far from the sport. Stand up paddle boarding is one of the fastest growing water sports in the world. It is also a perfect activity for those days when the water is flat and you can enjoy the peaceful sensation of propelling yourself along the water. Nick Thorn Surf School was one of the first companies in the UK to introduce the sport. Instructors guarantee you will be able to paddle board by the end of your first lesson. They can teach you as a family as long as there are at least four of you.

For families with tots, a secluded cove at Barricane Beach (nicknamed Shell Beach) has white sand from crushed shells. Grab a boogie board and some arms bands and let the kids play at surfing in the shallows while you pretend you are in the Caribbean. To get you further into the mood there’s curry on offer from the beach café in the evening.

On a day when the weather is not very Caribbean, head to the The Museum of British Surfing. It is only seven miles away in Braunton and you’ll be able to see what a real dude in a wetsuit looks like.

Woolacombe. Image Woolacombe Tourist Information

It’s not all surf on the Golden Coast of Woolacombe Bay. Image: Woolacombe Tourist Information

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.

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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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