Surfing in the UK: autumn and winter

Beaches, Coastal, Watersports

Posted by Clare on 13th November 2020

Waves crash theatrically on the empty beach at Croyde as I stroll, coat pulled tightly around me, breathing in the fresh winter air. The sun is low in the crisp blue sky and as I walk along the sand, alone but for a couple walking their dog at the far end, I enjoy the sound of the waves and salty smell of the sea.

Somewhere out there among the breakers my partner sits on his surfboard, poised, ready to catch the next wave. As a dedicated surfer’s girlfriend I’ve seen beaches in all weather, from the scorching sunshine and balmy evenings of summer, to the chilly depths of winter when the sun slips down beyond the horizon at four in the afternoon.

Surfing in autumn and winter

As I grasp the camera in my gloved hands, I glance back at the beach café which promises a thawing hot chocolate and think how lucky I am to be one of only a handful of people enjoying the beach on this beautiful winter’s day. I focus my attention back on the surf just in time to see my boyfriend's hooded head pop up as he catches a clean right hander.

Read our guide to surfing in Great Britain

He always says you’re not a true surfer unless you go out in search of winter waves. While the summer tourists are tucked up at home, the beaches belong to dog walkers and surfers. There’s a community feel among the wetsuit-clad beachgoers, striding down the beach with their boards, sharing a sense of urgency and ‘stoke’ for the winter surf.

Of course, these guys wouldn’t be out if it wasn’t worth it. But why are autumn and winter the best seasons for UK surf?

Who better to ask than Peter Robinson, founder of the Museum of British Surfing, a registered charity, in Braunton?

The Museum of British Surfing

Spurred on by his research which unveiled an incredible selection of stories from 230 years of surfing history, Peter donated his personal surf heritage collection for future generations to enjoy and opened the museum at its new permanent home back in 2012 and it's still going strong. Within three months of opening, the museum received a national museums award for the best collection put together on a small budget.

Through engaging exhibitions, the museum tells the story of surfing and surfers past and present with an outstanding collection of surfboards, literature, memorabilia and photographs.I interviewed Peter with the summer sun flooding in through the window, but the focus of our conversation soon turned to the sensational winter surf. The seasoned surfer explained that large low pressure systems out in the Atlantic during the autumn and winter result in consistent swells hitting the coast which render the surf best between September and March.

Museum of British Surfing

Surfers from all over the country travel down during this time, often for extended periods, to make the most of the waves in the South West. 

I asked Peter if Devon has always been a surfing hot spot, “We know that surfing has been enjoyed in North Devon since the 1920s at least. The earliest pictorial evidence we have is from 1926, back when people would usually ride wooden bodyboards. Some people experimented with stand up surfing, but it wasn’t until the 1950s and into the 60s that the modern style of surfing came over from the USA, Australia, Hawaii and South Africa.”

It was during this period, too, that the surfing industry really began to flourish and Braunton found itself as one of the main centres for surf business from the 1960s onwards. The wide variety of nearby beaches including Saunton, Croyde, Putsborough and Woolacombe, offer everything from challenging fast waves to mellow surf. As its popularity grew, Braunton attracted surfers and businesses alike.

Where to surf in Devon

“Surf shops and wetsuit producers began popping up, with Tiki and Second Skin being a couple of the most well-known. Braunton now has the biggest concentration of surf shops outside of Newquay,” said Peter.

Over the years, companies such as Second Skin have developed wetsuit technology, meaning that year-round surfing is now not just for the hardy. Wetsuits are warmer and more flexible than ever before and winter surfing has become more accessible for all. Boots, gloves and hoods are an essential part of the winter kit and can be rented from surf schools and shops all along the UK coast if you’d like to have a go yourself.

Great British Coast

Surfing in autumn and winter

surfing in the UK

“Off-peak is a peak time for surfing,” Peter explains. “The best way for beginners to get started is to find a Surfing GB accredited surf school and get the basics under their belt. It’s important to learn not only the technique, but also about surf safety and a respect for the sea. During the autumn and winter months when the lifeguards are off duty, the surfing community look after each other.”

While fewer surf schools operate after the busy summer period, many are still happy to take one to one or group bookings in advance. The fastest way to pick up the sport is individual tuition. The Museum of British Surfing has partnered with surf instructor Sarah Whitely to offer a ‘world exclusive’ museum tour and surf session package.

Although Devon is Peter’s favourite surfing haunt, there are good waves to be found all over the country. “The surf on the North Coast of Scotland could even be compared to Hawaii, the quality of the waves is excellent and surf is to be found all along the coast. Sometimes you may come across a nameless beach at the end of a lane and discover amazing surf. That’s the best thing about surfing in Scotland – there are some real hidden gems.”

Where to surf in Scotland

Surfing is a truly exhilarating experience and one which everyone should try at least once. It’s good for the health, for confidence and for the spirit and one of the best ways to make the most of the coast during the autumn and winter months.

For more information including opening times visit the Museum of British Surfing website.

Book your surfing holiday

Whether you want to head to the surfing Mecca of Cornwall or take on the Hawaii-rivalling barrels in Scotland, we have a wide range of coastal cottages close to the surf. Take a look at our full collection of coastal cottages below and start planning your next surf trip in the UK. 

Coastal cottages

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.