Trail of the unexpected: Surfing in South Wales

Porthcawl's beaches offer excellent breaks and a friendly surf scene. By Alf Alderson

Back in the 1960s if you were a Welsh surfer the chances are you rode the waves around Porthcawl. The breaks at Coney Beach, Rest Bay and various lesser-known surf spots were the happening places during the Beach Boys-era when this stretch of coastline, along with Mumbles in nearby Swansea, was at the heart of the Welsh surf scene.

In his book The Surfing Tribe, which examines the history of British surfing, Roger Mansfield describes how the early Welsh surf scene influenced the sport throughout the UK, with local surfers such as Pete “PJ” Jones from Llangennith going on to become the British and European surfing champion in the 1970s. Linda Jones of Port Talbot was the British ladies champion 10 times.

Today, however, surfers visiting Wales invariably shoot straight past Porthcawl as they make a bee-line to the better-known and often more scenic surf beaches of the Gower or Pembrokeshire. That's a shame, because Porthcawl is just minutes from the M4. Given a clear run you can drive here from London in less than three hours, making this the closest stretch of coast to the English capital with consistent year-round waves. You can also get here from Manchester in little more than three hours, making it easily accessible for surfers from northern England. And while you may not get the natural beauty of beaches such as Llangennith or Freshwater West that lie further west, you get a cheerful, no-frills beach scene to go with surprisingly good waves.

I'm as guilty as anyone of overlooking the Porthcawl surf scene; I've lived and surfed in nearby Pembrokeshire for more than 25 years and yet here I am standing in the car park and checking out the waves at Coney Beach for the first time. Beside me is 33-year-old Ingemar Cressey, who the weekend before won the Welsh Senior Surfing Championships for the second year in a row.

Ingemar is a South African who married a Cardiff girl and became a naturalised Brit three years ago. He won South African titles and was sponsored by Billabong while in his teens, yet he chooses to forsake the world-class waves and warm sunshine of his home country for Welsh surf. For the past six years Ingemar has made a living from Cressey's Surf Academy, his peripatetic surf school which runs lessons on the local beaches. I ask him the obvious question: “Why surf here instead of South Africa?”

“I love the Welsh surf scene. The local surfing community is super-friendly and the atmosphere in the water is always great. Sure the waves are not as good as South Africa but they're better than people think. When we get surf here it's generally a lot better shape than in Cornwall, for instance – the point breaks especially are excellent.”

He also thinks the South Wales coast is ideal for novice surfers. “The waves aren't too big or powerful which makes them good for beginners. And because we have a variety of beaches to choose from there's almost always somewhere we can find a wave to teach on.”

Checking out the surf at Coney Beach is a far cry from doing so at my local breaks in Pembrokeshire – the quiet bays and cliffs of home are replaced by a promenade sporting a cheap and cheerful array of fish-and-chip shops, ice-cream parlours and a funfair.

Just along the coast Rest Bay also offers up good waves but the clear green waters I'm used to surfing in Pembrokeshire and Gower are replaced by a brown Bristol Channel swirl. However, this is simply sediment lifted from the sea floor by some of the biggest tides in the world; Rest Bay is in fact a Blue-Flag beach.

Today's waves could best be described as “small and messy”, but for learners these are easy to catch and not threatening, and even for experienced surfers there's fun to be had.

After our morning on Coney Beach, I munch on a doughnut before deciding to treat myself to a more upmarket dining experience a couple of miles inland at the award-winning Leicester's Restaurant, which is attached to the 16th-century Great House Hotel in Laleston. A bigger contrast with Porthcawl would be hard to find, because here we're in the heart of Glamorganshire countryside, all green fields and neat, tranquil villages.

Confit duck leg and roasted chicken roulade are not my usual après-surf fare, but I can live with that; and I can even live with a little shopping afterwards at the nearby Bridgend Designer Outlet, especially since it probably has more surf wear establishments per square metre than anywhere else in Wales.

The unpretentious Porthcawl surf scene is what surfing should be all about – fun, irrespective of the colour of the water or the backdrop to the waves. And the fine dining and shopping are a useful trade-off if you're travelling with someone who doesn't surf. In fact, it occurs to me that as a surf destination Porthcawl really does have something to offer everyone. Easy to reach, consistent waves, a friendly scene and plenty of options for non-surfers.

As Ingemar changes out of his wetsuit beside the promenade we enjoy a bit of banter with the nearby stallholders, who seem both amused and bemused by a South African surfer draped in a Welsh dragon towel. But I'm beginning to see why he never made it back to South Africa.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Bridgend station is served by Arriva Trains Wales (0845 606 1660; arrivatrains and First Great Western (08457 000 125; first

Surfing and staying there

Cressey's Surf Academy offers packages including surfing lessons, equipment hire and accommodation at the Vale Resort in Miskin from £65pp (07502 124 030; cresseyssurf

Shopping there

Bridgend Designer Outlet ( BridgendDesigner).

Dining there

Great House Hotel, 8 High Street, Laleston CF32 0HP (01656 657644; great-

More information:

Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum