Surfing in Devon: an expert guide

Every year thousands of people go surfing in Devon and it’s one of the things Devon’s best known for. Many of those hitting the waves are experts, and many more are beginners who take the opportunity to have a few lessons from an experienced surf instructor or surf school. But where’s best to go, what do you need, and who can take part ..?
We spoke to Darren Burrett, head coach at his surf school Surf South West, who gave us some expert advice.

Surfing in Devon expert guide m

Surf South West runs two surf schools in North Devon, on Croyde Bay and Saunton Sands. They were the first surf school to be awarded ‘Centre of Excellence’ status by Surfing GB, the sport’s governing body, and were presented with a Gold Award from Green Tourism for their commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness.

surfing devon Surf south west darren burrettHow did you come to be a surf coach, Darren?
I was born and brought up in south Devon and learned to surf on both coasts. My coaching career began during an extended surf trip around the world, where I gained surf coaching experience and qualifications in Australia. My first coaching job was teaching aussies to surf on the beaches on Queensland for the Australian Surfriders Association, and then after returning to Devon I founded Surf South West in 1996.

What’s the attraction of surfing for you?
For me it’s the pure thrill of racing along a wave and being outside in a natural environment. We’re fortunate here in Devon to have some of the best beaches in the UK. The other attraction of surfing is that you never reach a point where you feel that you have mastered it; there are always new challenges and new waves to surf.

Why is Devon particularly known for its good surf, and surfing scene?
Well, we have plenty of coastline so that obviously helps and our exposure to the Atlantic means that the surf is very consistent. We also have a wide variety of beaches that have different waves breaking in different conditions of tide and wind so this offers a wide variety of options for keeping the surfing experience fresh. These factors are exactly what surfers are looking for, and so over a few decades many surfers have located here to be close to their passion, which this has resulted in the vibrant surfing scene.

Tell us about your favourite spots for surfing in Devon?
Surfing in Croyde North Devon s
Croyde Bay: My favourite, as it’s my home beach and has very consistent waves that on the right day can be as good as just about anywhere in the world.

Bantham: South Devon’s most popular surfing beach. It picks up any available Atlantic swell travelling up the English Channel and is  a spectacular setting.

Woolacombe Beach: The first place I stood up on a surfboard aged 14 – I was instantly hooked. It’s a popular North Devon beach but has miles of beach to soak up any crowds.

Saunton Sands: Miles of beach again and a fantastic spot for beginners and surfers that enjoy riding longboards. It’s the place to head to if you’re looking to catch some long waves.

Putsborough Beach: This sheltered spot behind Baggy Point can offer fun waves when it’s too windy or rough elsewhere. It’s a popular winter option for local surfers.

Can anyone take part in surfing?
Surfing is an activity that anyone can try, and you don’t have to be super-fit – all beginner sessions take place close to shore in waist-depth water.  We’ve taught all ages and abilities to surf, and this summer had three generations of one family surfing with us aged from 9 to 75!

Surfing in North Devon CroydeWhat are your top tips for beginners – and for non-beginners wanting to improve?
The best tip for a beginner is to start with lessons at a Surfing GB approved surf school. This means you’ll get professional instruction and learn correctly and safely. There’s a lot to learn initially, and the speed of progress can be slow unless you’re taught a few correct techniques. All instructors have a few magic tips that can really make a difference.
For non-beginners wanting to improve it’s a case of ensuring that you have a surfboard designed for your ability level – and then keep practising. You have to put in the hours and surf all year round, so having a good winter wetsuit helps! Of course, if you want to improve a bit quicker, a few extra coaching sessions are always recommended.

What equipment do you need – can you hire it all?
The great thing about surfing is that all you need is a surfboard and a wetsuit. These can be hired at most surfing beaches in Devon and are always supplied as part of a surfing lesson. Once you’ve mastered the basics most surfers buy their own gear and there are a wide range of surf shops along the coast that can guide you in your first purchase.

What do you have to think about safety-wise?
Safety knowledge is an essential part of surfing and the most important rule is to never surf alone: always make sure there are other surfers around. If you’re new to the sport it’s important to take advice from beach lifeguards and local surf schools as they’ll know the local conditions. All surfing beaches can have dangerous conditions under certain weather and tide combinations so it’s important to know your own limits and if in doubt – don’t go in.