Surfing: Places where catching a tube can be a lot of fun
Once you've tried surfing, you could be hooked for life – and the opportunities for learning the art of ruling the waves are wider than ever. Alf Alderson assesses the options, from Scotland to the Maldives
Wednesday 06 June 2012
What's the attraction?
There was a time when surfing holidays were the preserve of laid-back dudes with a VW campervan, bleached blonde hair and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude (usually the latter) to the nine-to-five grind. Times change though, and these days it's possible to catch the Tube into work on Friday morning and ride a "tube" into the beach on Friday evening. A surfing holiday can encompass everything from a weekend camping in North Devon, to a luxury "surfari" aboard a charter yacht in the Indian Ocean, and there are options to suit everyone, from "kook" (total beginner) to hard-core "shredder".
Some of Britain's wildest coastline and most consistent waves are to be found in the Outer Hebrides – and it's not as cold as you might expect, thanks to the Gulf Stream. If you're looking for a real surf adventure in the UK, the empty golden beaches, jade green waters and powerful waves of Lewis and Harris should fit the bill. Stornoway-based Hebridean Surf Holidays (01851 703088; hebrideansurf.co.uk) offers basic accommodation from £20 per person, and surfboard hire for £10 a day. Learn-to-surf lessons in "secluded and sheltered" locations start at £30 for two-and-a-half hours.
The really wild west
Vancouver Island in British Columbia is the home of the laid-back town of Tofino, which is at the heart of the burgeoning Canadian surf scene and has such good waves it hosts major international surf contests. The coastline is fringed by rugged mountains and forests populated by bears, cougars and wolves, so if the surf goes flat there are plenty of adventures waiting. Cox Bay Beach Resort (001 250 725 2600; coxbaybeachresort.com) offers packages from C$259 (£161); flights from Gatwick or Manchester to Vancouver cost £328 with Canadian Affair (020-7616 9184; canadianaffair.com).
Who said that?
"You're done, once you're a surfer you're done. You're in. It's like the Mob or something. You're not getting out." – Kelly Slater, world surfing champion
"There's no sport I know of that has all the ingredients of pure enjoyment that surfing does." – Peter Cole, pioneering wave rider
"It's a sunny day, waves are peeling off, my surfboard is in the back of my car... damn, I love it!" – Chris Isaak, musician and surfer
"I have never seen snow and do not know what winter means." – Duke Kahanamoku, Hawaiian surfer
Surf with the stars
Closer to home and considerably warmer than anything around our shores, Les Landes coastline in south-west France has the best and most consistent beach break surf in Europe.
If you visit in late August and September, you'll see the world's best surfers tearing the waves apart when the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Surf Tour hits the area (aspworldtour.com).
You can even surf with the pros if you book into the Quiksilver Pro Surf Camp, based in a beach villa in Hossegor, through Surf Holidays (020-8144 9950; surfholidays.com).
From €994 (£800) per week, you can enjoy luxury accommodation and daily coaching sessions from the likes of the Portuguese surf star Tiago Pires and the former world ladies champion Lisa Anderson.
Just cruising, dude
Perhaps the ultimate surf holiday is a surf yacht charter, although you'll need to be confident surfing shallow reef breaks.
The Maldives is a popular destination, with peak surf season in July and August, when you can expect to find aquamarine waves of head height and above breaking flawlessly over coral reefs in front of palm-fringed atolls. Add Indian Ocean water temperatures of 28C and for most this is as good as it gets.
The Princess Rani (00 32 472 863 698; bit.ly/MalSurf) costs from $198 (£132) per person per night, or $2,750 (£1,833) per night for exclusive use. This includes full board, surf guide and support boat. Flights from the UK are not included.
Costa Rica is one of the most user-friendly tropical surf destinations, with warm water, consistent year-round swells and a range of quality waves, from forgiving beginner's breaks to challenging, world-class reefs and points. You'll also want to visit the interior and its incredible rain and cloud forests with monkeys and tropical birds. Tamarindo 360 Surf Lodge is based in the eponymous town on Costa Rica's Pacific coast and was made famous by the cult surf movie Endless Summer – enjoy your own endless summer there with Errant Surf (020-8133 6438; errantsurf.com), which offers packages from £449 per week including daily trips to the best spots. Flights not included.
Keeping it local
The coast of North Devon is one of the most convenient places to hit the surf for anyone living in the south of the UK, with consistent waves and relatively "warm" water. It can get busy at popular surf beaches such as Croyde, but the huge strand at nearby Woolacombe is roomy enough to disperse the crowds – if you don't mind walking for a few minutes, you'll have little trouble finding an empty wave or two. Former European Ironman champion Nick Thorn (01271 871337; nickthorn.com) runs a surf school on Woolacombe Beach for all levels of ability with prices from £30 per person for a two-hour lesson.
"What's not to like about a surfing holiday? You're doing something outdoors, in the sea, feeling fit and healthy. You may well see marine life like seals and dolphins. You'll be experiencing the bliss that comes of riding unbroken waves. My last surf trip was to Hawaii and it left me feeling stoked."
Alex Wade, whose book 'Amazing Surfing Stories' will be published in August (£14.99; wiley.com)
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