Author: Nathan Carter
If you've travelled California's coastline, you're aware of how striking the contrast is between south and north. The warm, laid-back vibe of San Diego feels like a world away from the rugged, cold-water coastline of Santa Cruz.
In my opinion, Cornwall is not dissimilar.
The north coast has a menacing nautical history. Powerful Atlantic swells have shaped the coastline into a unique geological spectacle. The golden sand beaches of further west are replaced by jagged, boulder-strewn coves, fringed by staggeringly high cliffs. Many a ship found its final resting place amidst the blackened rocks, having missed the relative safety of the harbours at Boscastle, Port Isaac, or Bude.
The historic surf town of Bude has a reputation for waves of consequence. The infamous point breaks and reefs have been spoken about in hushed tones for decades, with a dedicated crew of chargers waiting for the deep Atlantic swells to light up some of England’s heaviest surf spots.
Alongside the more famous world class breaks, the Bude area has a network of off the beaten track coves and quiet corners, offering up classic surfing conditions. Some are hidden in plain sight, while others require a little more effort. With the right swell and wind combination, intrepid surfers can score great waves.
If you are prepared to carry your surfboard over the cliff paths and down the goat tracks, chances are you will find a peak all to yourself! And if that sounds like bliss, check out this local's guide to little trodden surf spots in and around Bude.
We’re starting things off with one of the more obvious surf spots on this list. A few miles north of Bude, Duckpool is by no means a secret spot, however, it is one of the most relaxed places to surf in the area. The landscape provides a genuine sense of adventure, not least due to the imposing 100m high “Steeple Cliff”, which offers shelter from northerly winds.
This National Trust beach is not surfable at high tide, but you can find fun waves at other times. At low tide the beach is a stretch of sand offering great banks with hollow, albeit short rides, while the incoming or outgoing tides occasionally have rights and lefts breaking off the rocks. Duckpool is well known as a swell magnet, sometimes having a rideable wave when the other Bude beaches are too small.
The currents are often strong and will catch you out if you don’t keep your wits about you. The beach also “maxes out” above 3-4 feet, creating hectic conditions.
Warren Long Beach & Warren Gutter
With Warren Long Beach & Warren Gutter we are dipping our toes into a slightly more “off the beaten track” surf spot. Located between Duckpool and another National Trust beach, Sandymouth, Warren Long Beach is only accessible between low and half tide. If you plan to surf here make sure you are well aware of the tide times as many people have been cut-off over the years.
Park up at Sandymouth and access the beach via the footpath, heading north past the incredible rock formations and along the vast stretch of sand.
You will often find Sandymouth full of surfers but the further you head along Warren Long Beach the more the crowd thins out.
This is one of the best surf spots in the area due to the unique combination of maximising the smaller swells, but also handling larger waves when the banks are perfect. On its best days, Warren looks more like a French beach break than an off the beaten track surf spot in Cornwall!
Heading south towards the Bude town beaches, you'll find a proper hidden (though fickle) gem called Maer Cliff. Northcott Mouth is a popular National Trust beach that is often full of surfers, bathers, and other beach lovers. While Northcott has great waves, they can get a little busy and a short walk away from the crowd can pay dividends for adventurous surfers.
Depending on the sand conditions this cove will offer up anything from punchy beach break waves to semi reef break peelers.
Ideally you want to surf Maer Cliff on an outgoing tide, arriving an hour or two after high (varies according to the size of the tide). Perfect conditions would be a neap tide and 3-foot waves.
Leave your car in the National Trust car park, and make sure to drop a few coins into the honesty box before heading south along the track. Walk past the incredibly situated cliff top house and follow the coast path. Keep your eyes peeled for a “goat track” that meanders down the cliff. Be careful with your entry and exit points.
Traffic Lights is the perfect example of why surfing in Bude is so amazing. Located just North of the main town beaches of Crooklets and Summerleaze, this off the beaten track surf spot is a part of the low tide stretch of sand that reaches all the way to Duckpool on the biggest spring tides. However, at the right stage of the tide and the right swell this cove is one of the most fun and quietest places to surf in town.
Park up at Crooklets beach and spend a minute watching every type of surf craft being ridden by pros and beginners alike. Head north on the coast path and either walk down the track just on the other side of the Crooklets headland or the “goat track” a couple of hundred metres further North (be very careful if the ground is wet under foot!).
Check Traffic Lights from ¾ high to ¾ low tide and who knows you might just ride some of the best waves of the day, a stone’s throw from the hordes of locals and tourists.
Upton is an often-overlooked stretch of the Bude coastline located between the town beaches and the famous Widemouth Bay, that can serve up a wide variety of surfing conditions. The beach is usually very quiet due to the mini mission that you need to undertake to access this off the beaten track surf spot.
Parking is extremely limited, but if you are respectful and considerate there are a couple of laybys with room for a car or two, just make sure the farmers can access their fields from the road!
The steep cliff path brings you down to a pebble ridge and an intimidating expanse of rocks, however, at low tide the beach has a beautiful stretch of sand that (occasionally) has great banks!
Upton is a perfect spot to escape the Widemouth crowds and hang out for the day.
Bude is the classic Cornish surf town with a multitude of surf spots that appeal to every type of water sports enthusiast. From the gentle peeling harbour waves of Summerleaze, to the pounding reefs of Widemouth Bay there is truly something for everyone to enjoy.
Bude also has plenty of opportunities to escape the crowds and score memorable sessions amongst breath-taking North coast backdrops. I hope this list of the best off the beaten track surf spots in and around Bude helps you in your search for perfect waves.
Nathan Carter is a surfer from the far north coast of Cornwall. He grew up in and around the ocean and, despite travelling the world in search of perfect waves, has always found the allure of the rugged Atlantic coastline too strong to stay away. Nathan is a professional writer and editor, specialising in surfing and sustainability.