The top Great British water sports

Coastal, Activity, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Ruth on 19th October 2021

Water sports

We all know that getting active is essential for our health, and it’s also been proven that spending time in ‘blue spaces’ such as lakes and the sea can improve our mental wellbeing. So, are water sports the perfect activity to stay healthy, both in body and mind?

With thousands of miles of coastline, not to mention the myriad lakes and rivers, Great Britain has so many options for taking part in water sports. From conquering the waves on a surfboard to cruising along a river in a kayak, taking to the water allows you to experience our country’s beautiful natural scenery up close, and also brings a wide range of health benefits too – including improved fitness, reduced stress levels and an increased sense of wellbeing. 

We’ve rounded up the best Great British water sports - what their potential benefits are and where you can try them for yourself - to inspire you, regardless of fitness level or ability, to get in the water. And if you're looking for a holiday as close to the water's edge as possible, click the button below to see our fantastic coastal cottages. 

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Surfing info


Surfing is one of the top Great British water sports, coming a long way since 1929 when the first wave was ridden on a wooden longboard in Newquay, Cornwall. Now there are an estimated 500,000 surfers in the UK, and this number is growing – and it’s never too late to learn; there are surfers who begin almost as soon as they can walk, those who don’t pick up a board until their retirement, and so many more in between! Plus, it’s relatively easy to begin as all you need is a surfboard, some good waves and a knowledge of how to stay safe in the sea - although tuition from a good surf school will mean you’ll get up and riding a bit quicker. There are many great places across Great Britain where you can surf; take a look at our guide to find out more. 

While surfing delivers some undisputable physical health benefits such as increased endurance and stronger muscles in the upper body, many return to the waves again and again for the mental and spiritual benefits the sea brings. Surfing is akin to yoga on a board, where you find a state of flow as you become one with the wave. If you think that sounds a bit too far out, don’t dismiss it until you’ve tried it – chances are, you’ll be hooked on the first wave!

SUP info


Surfing’s more chilled-out cousin, stand up paddleboarding (SUPing) involves standing on a giant board and propelling yourself along the surface of the water via a long paddle. It can be a little tricky to get your balance, but once you’ve steadied yourself, this is one of the more accessible water sports activities you can try. The longer and wider the board, the more stable you’ll feel, and it’s not uncommon to find boards at least 14ft long. If you’re thinking that sounds like a bit of a challenge to transport to the nearest lake or river, don’t worry – many are inflatable, making it easy to take to the water.

Stand up paddleboarding is most commonly undertaken on calm bodies of water where a gentle cruise can become extremely meditative; listen to the gentle splosh of the paddle in the water and look out for the nature around you, from tiny birds in the air to larger creatures like fish and otters under the surface of the water. Don’t be fooled that it’s a gentle day out, though – paddleboarding actually offers a full body workout, as almost every muscle in your body works to stabilise you on the board. However, you can always take it up a notch by getting into some surf – big wave SUP is a sport all of its own!  

Kayaking info


Kayaking is another brilliant way to explore the miles upon miles of Great British waterways under your own steam, giving you the flexibility to veer off the well-paddled path to discover hidden coves and see the coastline from a whole new vantage point. The southern coast of England and its tranquil waters is one of the best places for a kayak adventure, however the calm rivers and lakes across Great Britain also make for a brilliant day out.

While both kayaking and canoeing are watercraft that are powered by oars, there are a few slight differences – in a canoe you kneel forward and paddle with one oar, whereas kayaking involves sitting with your legs out in front of you in a closed deck craft and paddling with a double-bladed oar. Whether kayaking or canoeing, you’ll need to get a permit from the relevant waterway if you’re exploring on your own watercraft.

Great British Coast

Sailing info


Sailing is almost as old as the seas themselves, with mankind traversing the world by boat for centuries. The sport is still as exhilarating as ever, whether you wish to learn the skills of managing a ship yourself or simply want to sit back and relax on a chartered boat trip as you soak up the scenery. Whichever you choose, you can plan a voyage to uninhabited islands, a cruise around the coastline or a sedate sail down a river.

Our country has an incredibly rich sailing heritage, so if you want to connect with that and learn the ropes for yourself, there are many places across the country where you can get some hands-on experience. From day-long yachting experiences to more extensive qualifications, once you get in the boat, you’ll realise there’s nothing quite like the freedom of being able to take to the seas – plus it’s a really great way to focus the mind and improve concentration too. Find out about the best places to enjoy sailing as well as where to catch the many national sporting events around the UK in our useful guide. 

Kite surfing
Kite surfing info

Kite surfing

One of the more extreme water sports in the UK, kite surfing involves being strapped to a kite which pulls you along while you’re simultaneously attached to a small surfboard. If it sounds complicated, it’s because it is, but once you’ve got the basics, the progression in this sport can be extremely quick. Plus, it’s a brilliant way to make the most of the inclement British weather!

As there are so many elements to master, it’s best to get some instruction from a good kite surfing school – there are many across the UK. You can cruise along flat stretches of water, at one with the wind, or visit a British beach to take to the waves and throw in some tricks too. Or perhaps you’ll want to use the wind to boost your speed and get some serious height – the world record for the highest kite jump currently stands at 28.6 metres! Once you’re up and riding, you’ll be getting stronger, fitter and perhaps even happier as extreme sports are shown to boost endorphins – what’s not to like?!

Windsurfing info


One of the most popular water sports in the UK, windsurfing combines surfing and sailing and was first pioneered by Polynesians, hundreds of years ago. It was developed in the 1960s to become the sport we know and love today, which, unlike surfing uses the wind for power rather than the waves. This gives the sport enormous versatility and means you can take part whether you’re on a flat lake or in huge surf.

Windsurfing combines the know-how of using the rig with the balance of staying on the board and will really develop your fitness and strength. You’ll begin on a large board with a smaller sail and gradually progress until you may be able to do tricks like aerials and 360s. There are many places across the country where you can learn the basics and it makes a brilliant holiday activity.

Wake boarding
Wake boarding info


Perhaps one of the fastest water sports, wakeboarding involves being towed across the water while standing on a board, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles an hour and doing tricks at the same time! This extreme sport is brilliant for those looking for an adrenaline boost, and best of all, you don’t even need to live near a body of water to try it as there are many wake parks that can be found all across the country.

Combining the skills found in water skiing with other board sports like snowboarding and surfing, wakeboarding may look tricky but it’s actually one of the easiest water sports to pick up. Many of the wake parks across the country have beginners’ areas where you’ll be pulled across the water by a cable. Once you’ve mastered the skills, you can progress to jumps and tricks, building full body strength and improving your coordination at the same time!

Enjoy a Great British coastal holiday

You don’t need to travel abroad to enjoy golden sands, turquoise waters and delicious food and drink. There are so many brilliant places to holiday in the UK, whether you choose a traditional fishing village in Cornwall or an island break in Scotland. Wherever you want to holiday, stay close to the coast with our collection of coastal cottages across the UK. Take a look at the complete collection by click the button below.

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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.