North Devon: the UK's first World Surfing Reserve

Beaches, Coastal, Watersports

Posted by Courtney Kelly on 13th May 2022

Waves for all forever

It is estimated that surfing in North Devon brings in over £50 million to the area every year and supports approximately 1,500 jobs. It is partly because of this deep-rooted surfing culture that in March 2022, North Devon became the UK’s first-ever World Surfing Reserve.

To date, there are 12 such reserves in the world, and only one other in Europe. Even more exciting is the fact that North Devon is the world’s first cold-water reserve, meaning the majority of its best waves arrive in the winter months.

As well as this being phenomenal news for the county as a whole, the hope is that it will act as a catalyst for other coastal areas of the UK and inspire them to target their own Surfing Reserve status. They too will then have their coastlines recognised, celebrated and protected, and will ensure there are waves for all, forever.

Paddle out to:

Carving a North Devon WavePhoto credit: N and M Drotography

What is a World Surfing Reserve?

A World Surfing Reserve is an international designation that acknowledges and celebrates an area’s surfing brilliance and gives the local community the power needed to develop and safeguard it for generations to come. The program was launched in 2009 in California by the Save The Waves Coalition with the sole aim of protecting surf ecosystems all over the planet. It has since gone from strength to strength.

Five things need to come together harmoniously for an area to be awarded surfing reserve status. A surf reserve needs to have good waves and it needs to have lots of those good waves. This could be a single break or, like with North Devon, a variety of different breaks that cater for all kinds of wave riders.

But it’s not only what’s happening in the water that counts. It’s about the region’s climate in its totality and by this we mean the scenery, the landscapes, the surrounding environment in general. These components, in turn, complement factors like the cleanliness of the water and the marine life that lives there.

Save the Waves Coalition

Once Mother Nature has taken care of these two elements, you need some human intervention. A strong surfing culture is required, a certain history and togetherness that revolves around surfing and shows that the people in the community care about the area, care about one another and have done so for a long, long time.

The next aspect that needs to be considered is whether those communities have benefitted from the surfing culture. Have people made money from it and do they depend upon it to make a living? Has it brought tourism to the area?

Lastly, you need people behind the management of the area; locals who respect the nature and culture of the area in question and would willingly become custodians of the place to protect it and ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations. This is what is called a Stewardship Council.

A surfer riding a wave and approaching some rocksPhoto credit: N and M Drotography

Who makes up North Devon’s Stewardship Council?

The Council is made up of all manner of groups and individuals. There are national organisations including Surfers Against Sewage, the Environment Agency, the RNLI and the National Trust; local organisations including the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere and the North Devon Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); national surfing organisations such as Surfing England and Surf Life Saving GB; local surf clubs; local tourism organisations; and local landowners and business owners.

There are also people who have advisory roles such as coastal experts from the University of Plymouth. These scientists can help the Council to understand why a wave breaks in a certain way so that measures can be taken to preserve it as long as is naturally possible.

A female surfer approaching a big waveMalibu, California, USA

An exhaustive list of current World Surfing Reserves

There are some truly iconic sites currently boasting this coveted status – reef and point breaks that any wave rider would jump at the chance to paddle out to during a decent swell. It’s just as well that we now have the North Devon Surfing Reserve though, as these 11 other locations aren’t too close to the UK. Have a look…

Considered by some to be the perfect wave, this long righthand point break became the 1st World Surfing Reserve back in 2009.

A beautiful coastline dotted with secluded bays and beaches, Ericeira was the 2nd World Surfing Reserve and has a number of enviable breaks.

The 3rd beach to receive this honour produces all three types of break (reef, point and beach) across its seven waves and always delivers a consistent wave.

This reserve sits within a protected marine sanctuary for double protection and lays claim to 23 waves along its 7 miles of coastline. Here you’ll find world-class breaks like Steamer Lane and Pleasure Point.

The first South American site to be awarded this accolade and 5th overall, Huanchaco has a clean and consistent lefthand point break.

Despite being a big wave venue, the point and beach breaks here are as good for beginners as they are for expert surfers. This spot, the 6th World Surfing Reserve, was approved in 2013.

Breaking in all conditions, this wave has been known to support rides of over 800m. It’s clear to see why this lefthand point break is one of the most iconic waves in all of Chile.

Stretching 10 miles north of the Queensland/New South Wales border, this famous section of Australian coastline offers up 13 waves, most of them world-class point breaks. You’ll find the wave rider hub of Surfer’s Paradise here.

The rainy season here promises hollow barrels breaking off the lefthand side and can climb as high as 10 feet. Located next to a state park, conservation is paramount in this region and the surf community puts this above all else.

Australia is the country with the most reserves and it’s clear to see why Noosa is their 3rd. Serving up a mixture of point and beach breaks, Noosa can be surfed approximately 300 days a year.

The last reserve to be awarded its status before North Devon and the first of its kind in Central America, Playa Hermosa is Costa Rica’s premier surfing hotspot and offers year-round beach breaks.

North Devon sunsetPhoto credit: Gordon Dryburgh

Why did North Devon get awarded this status?

Good waves? Check.

Beautiful scenery and a thriving ecology? Check.

Surf culture? Totally.

It is essentially these three factors that resulted in North Devon becoming only the 12th reserve of its kind in the whole world and its importance to North Devon surfing cannot be heralded enough. It will guarantee that the region’s waves and the ecosystems that produce them will be better protected than ever, with the guardians in the Stewardship Council taking on conservation roles similar to that of park rangers in our beloved national parks.

A surfer carving a wavePhoto credit: N and M Drotography

This also means that the surfers who use these waves the most will be given a greater voice when it comes to decisions that affect North Devon’s surfing beaches, working with the Stewardship Council to identify and eliminate threats to the waves. These dangers to the reserve may be direct, such as dredging and destructive coastal developments. Or they could be indirect in how they affect the surfing experience – things like water pollution, fishing gear and the impact of climate change.

But this historic recognition of North Devon as a World Surfing Reserve is not only important to surfers: if you’re a paddleboarder, a surf lifesaver, a wild swimmer or just someone who enjoys a beautiful coastal walk, this coordinated voice will be fighting for you and has your best interests at heart.

A surfer on a spray-filled wave in Woolacombe

The waves of the North Devon Surfing Reserve

With a sublime coastline stretching from the Hartland Heritage Coast all the way east to Lynmouth Bay, North Devon is spoiled when it comes to serene shorelines. The North Devon World Surfing Reserve encompasses 19 miles of this wonderous coast and includes numerous waves, starting at Saunton Sands just north of the Taw/Torridge Estuary and ending where Exmoor meets the sea at Lynmouth Bay. This variety of waves caters to beginners and experts of varying styles and the year-round swells produce consistent breaks compared to other surfing regions of the UK.

Whilst a trip to North Devon’s surfing beaches is likely the reason you’ll visit this area, it’s worth immersing yourself in the all-round surfing culture that is present in the towns and villages too. The national governing body of the sport, Surfing England, is located here, as well as the award-winning Museum of British Surfing. National surf brand Tiki and international sensation Dryrobe are also based in the large village of Braunton. Have a look at our local's guide to North Devon here.

Now let’s hit the waves:

The rolling lines of Saunton SandsThe rolling lines of Saunton Sands

Saunton Sands

The reserve starts at this huge, dune-backed beach where it’s sure to be busy. Fear not though as it is completely manageable due to the length of the beach. The slow peeling waves of this beach break are perfect for longboarders and due to the gentle nature of the surf, this is an ideal spot for beginners too. Don't skip arm day though, as the paddle out can be strenuous and lengthy when the waves grow in size.

A peeling wave at Croyde BayCroyde Bay | photo credit: N and M Drotography

Croyde Bay

One of the very best surfing spots in the UK, let alone Devon, Croyde Bay offers numerous waves to the more learned surfer. The point break at mid-low tide and the reef break at high tide will soothe your soul, but it’s the hollow low-tide barrels that will steal your heart. These latter waves are perfect for shortboarders and, on a good day, are some of the best in Europe. In the summer, smaller waves will mean an extremely busy surf spot.

The waves at PutsboroughPutsborough | photo credit: Rob Tibbles


Just past Baggy Point and at the southern end of Woolacombe, lies Putsborough. The shelter afforded by Baggy Point means that the beach break is shielded from the destructive south and south-westerly winds, but this protection does result in a smaller wave. Perfect for those who are just embarking on their surfing journey.

Long lines and beautiful scenery at Woolacombe BayWoolacombe | photo credit: Gordon Dryburgh


Just north of Putsborough is Woolacombe Bay, a 2-mile stretch of beach that affords all surfers plenty of room. This famous spot offers an exposed beach with a reef break that produces consistent surf and just like Saunton, it has long lined-up sets that are popular with longboarders. The most popular area of the beach is to the north where the village resides, but there are numerous left and right wave options as you move further down the shoreline.

Gentle, consistent lines at Lynmouth BayLynmouth | photo credit: Ester Spears


Move up and around to the northern coast of the reserve, and you’ll find Lynmouth Bay which sits adjacent to Exmoor National Park. This long, left-handed point break can reel for 300 metres or more, some of the finest in the UK. Unfortunately, due to its northern outlook, it is rather sheltered and rarely gets the waves locals know it can produce. However, if a westerly or south-westerly swell big enough comes in, the crowds come out.

Map of the North Devon World Surfing Reserve

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Stay in the North Devon World Surfing Reserve

Point breaks, reef breaks or just taking a break; if you’re looking for surfing holidays in North Devon, then we’ve got the surf shack just for you. From cottages right by the coast to larger abodes where you can store all your boards, come and see what makes North Devon so special and catch one of those world-famous waves whilst you’re here.

Ride a wave to your perfect North Devon cottage

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.