What is Surfing?

Surfing FAQ

What is Surfing?

What is Surfing?

Surfing is the sport of riding ocean waves towards the shore whilst either standing or lying on a board. The ultimate goal is to ride along the unbroken face of the wave and tuck into the tube created, as the wave’s lip breaks, known as a barrel.

From our activity centre Located just 500 metres from the UK’s most famous surfing destination, Fistral Beach, we run an extensive selection of surfing lessons in some of the UK’s best quality waves. Whether you’re a complete beginner or professional surfer, Newquay Activity Centre has you covered with instruction suitable for all ages and surfing abilities!


what is surfing?

How are waves created?

For surfing, you need some swell! Storms and weather systems generate groundswells out at sea, which propagate outwards in all directions like ripples on a pond. The action of wind hitting the surface of water during these storms transfers energy from the air to the water, creating the free-travelling rollers that break as waves onto our beaches!

Three things affect the size and strength of ocean swells:

  1. Fetch – How far the wave has travelled
  2. Strength –The strength of the wind
  3. Time – How long the wind has been blowing for

When the swell gets close to the shore and reaches shallower water the waves slow down, increase in height and topple over themselves, reaching our beaches as breaking waves.

What types of waves are there?

Each wave will break with a different profile, but can be categorised as:

Spilling – These waves break slowly and gradually, with the lip of the wave gradually toppling down its face. These are long, mellow waves making them perfect to learn to surf on. Newquay is a great place to find them.

Plunging – Waves that plunge rather than spill are more powerful, exciting and steep, potentially resulting in a barrel if the winds and swells correspond! 

Surging – Surging waves are useless for learning to surf on, so be reassured that we rarely get them breaking on our coastline here in Newquay!

what is surfing

When did Surfing start in Newquay?

Having been central to the culture of tribes in ancient Polynesia, surfing was recorded for the first time in 1778 by Captain Cook, who’d sailed to the Hawaiian Islands and seen natives riding wooden boards in the surf.

But it was over 100 years later until surfing reached Britain’s shores, when two brothers surfed off the coast of Bridlington whilst on holiday in 1890 and another century before it was a cultural phenomenon.

When a famous Hawaiian surfer called Duke Kahanamoku won gold as an Olympic swimmer in 1912, surfing found itself published in newspapers and magazines all over the world. A few plucky Brits dabbled in the sport on homemade boards, inspired by the pictures they’d seen, but it was the arrival of four Australian Lifeguards in 1962 that hooked the attention of Newquay’s youngsters and Newquay surfing began! Their flair, cruising surf style, fashion and Beach Boys soundtrack gripped the town which saw a new breed of surfers ride up through the ranks into international competition and become shapers of progressive performance surfboards. Surf Lifesaving clubs were born and beach lifeguards soon patrolled popular beaches. Newquay had become the UK’s cultural hub of surfing and it remains so to this day.  You can learn more about the history of surfing in Newquay in this blog post.

What are the best things about surfing?

Newquay Activity Centre Surf Instructor, Dom Tatham tells us why he’s so stoked. 

“Surfing is just so much fun and you see improvements very quickly! I like that once you get in, you stop thinking. Surfing is the ultimate form of escapism, when you’re out there; you relax and forget about everything else. Nothing else bothers you but catching waves and when you do, the speed and flow with which you travel along a wave is exhilarating. It’s a sport for everyone.”

Why should I try Surfing with Newquay Activity Centre?

Surfing is an exhilarating and adrenaline fuelled activity that works wonders for your fitness and mental health. Having been recognised as a top centre for cultural activities, and awarded Centre of Excellence status by the ISA, our professional instructors will lead you through the basics of surfing techniques and provide extensive instruction from the sand to the water. As Trip Advisor’s Number One provider of outdoor adventure activities in Newquay, we’re also just 500m from the Sunday Times’ No.1 beach for activities, Fistral Beach. As a new Olympic sport for Tokyo 2020, there’s never been a better time to give surfing a go!

what is surfing?

What skills will we learn during a beginner surfing lesson?

  • Basic sea and beach safety: You’ll be taught the basics of how to keep yourselves and others around you safe whilst down on the beach and in the water, including how to identify dangers!
  • Wave selection
  • Tides
  • How to hold and manoeuvre the surfboard
  • Where to lie on the surfboard
  • How to paddle
  • 5 part knee method to standing up
  • Surfing pop-up
  • How to dismount the board safely

Check out our online guide to surfing.

If you catch the surfing bug and want to improve your surfing skills in a Private Surf Lesson, you’ll also focus on:

  • Paddling out into the line-up
  • Surfing etiquette
  • Catching green waves
  • Trimming along the face of the wave
  • Turning the board

Take a look at our online guides on:

How to stand up on a surfboard

How to paddle out when surfing

How to increase your wave count

How to surf bigger waves

How long is a surfing lesson?

Every surfing lesson is two hours long. After arriving at the centre, you’ll be provided with a wetsuit and surfboard. The two hours will begin when you’ve finished changing and are ready to hit the beach!

If you’d like to stay down at the beach after your two-hour lesson for the remainder of the day, you can book one of our Surf Lesson and Hire Days and keep hold of the gear.

We also offer hire of all our equipment. Check out our website for prices.

Is it safe?

All our Instructors are fully qualified Beach and Surf Safety Lifeguards and trailblazing ISA awarded surf instructors. They’ve undertaken extensive First Aid training and we endeavour as an Activity Centre to regularly train our staff so they have experience in all weather and water conditions. Every instructor must have years of personal experience in the water and we also work in close partnership with the RNLI presence on every beach to ensure your safety in and out of the water.

what is surfing

Want to find out more about how to become a surf instructor? Check out our guide to getting qualified!

What are the best surfboards to learn to surf on?

We will provide you with foamy Swell surfboards to learn on during your lesson. Foam boards are buoyant, wide and stable making them perfect for beginner surfers looking to build their stability and develop the pop-up technique.  Check out our guide to surfboards.

Can you Surf in the winter?

Yes! Surfing is a year round activity, you can even surf your way into New Year! Take a look at our guide to winter surfing with Former British Champion, Johnny Fryer.

What equipment do you use for surfing other than a surfboard?

Wetsuits – You’ll be given a full body neoprene suit designed to prevent chill whilst submerged in water.

Coloured Rash Vest– It’s important for your instructor to be able to see you in the water, so a coloured rash vest makes your group visible!

During the winter you’ll be provided with some extra kit to help keep you warm on colder days!

  • A wetsuit hood
  • Neoprene gloves
  • Neoprene boots

For anyone wanting to purchases surfing hardware and equipment after their surf lesson, we’ve teamed up with The Boardroom and Rip Curl in Newquay to offer a 15% discount in both stores.

the boardroom newquay

What equipment do the instructors carry?

Surf Equipment

All our surfing instructors wear exactly the same equipment as you and will also take a First Aid Kit in case of minor injuries on the beach. In the unlikely even of a serious incidents occurring during a surfing lesson, the RNLI beach lifeguards will be on hand to respond and assist your surfing instructor.

Can I wear my own wetsuit?

If you have your own suit please bring it along but wait until you’ve spoken with our instructors before putting it on. Some wetsuits will be too thin for certain weather and water conditions.

What do I need to bring for my surfing lesson?

All you need to bring is your swimwear and a towel. We will provide you with everything else!

What time should I arrive for my surfing experience?

Please arrive at the centre at the start time of your session. This can be found on your booking confirmation email. There is no parking immediately outside the centre so please allow plenty of time to park and walk down to the centre on fore Street. Once there your instructor will welcome you.

What if I have a medical need?

If you have any medical needs, injuries or special requirements, just give us a ring and we can talk through how best we can cater for your needs during your surfing experience!

How fit do I need to be for surfing?

Surfing requires a basic level of fitness and it certainly gets the heart pumping, but you don’t have to be an athlete.

How well do I need to be able to swim?

We ask that everybody who takes part in our surfing experiences can swim a minimum of 50 metres. However, during a beginner session there is no need to go any deeper than waist depth water as you’ll be practicing in broken waves!

How far is it from the changing rooms?

From changing room to water’s edge is a 5-minute walk! You’ll make your way down to the beach as a group after changing in our centre.

Will my valuables be safe?

Lockers are available at the centre free of charge to ensure any valuable are safely stowed away whilst you’re down on the beach. There are also storage compartments available for the rest of your gear including clothes and shoes. Please note that any items are left at the guest’s own risk.

What is the age limit?

The minimum age limit for our group activities is 8 years old. However, we offer private sessions for every activity so no one has to miss out on Surfing in Newquay, Cornwall! All our instructors have years of experience working with children of all ages. We also offer family packages for every activity, and tailor each session to you and your child’s requirements. Check out the options here.

Can I watch if I’m not taking part?

The beach is only a 5 minute walk from our activity centre and easily accessible for those not wishing to take part in the surfing lesson.

What happens if I want to cancel my lesson?

Our cancellation policy is outlined in our terms and conditions.  If cancellation occurs 4 weeks or more from the activity’s start date then a full refund will be issued.  If the session is cancelled 2-3 weeks before start date then a 50% refund will be given.  Unfortunately if the cancellation occurs less than 2 weeks to activity’s start date then no refund can be issued. If the booking is changed more than 21 days prior to the Experience we will make every effort to change the requested booking. Less than 21 days prior to the start, no changes can be made.

Will you ever cancel my session?

We’re not afraid of some wind and rain, but Mother Nature occasionally intervenes and makes it impossible to run a safe session.  In the unlikely event that this should happen, we would endeavour to change the date of your session or offer an alternative solution.  If this were still impossible then a voucher would be issued for the value of the activity.

Am I insured?

All our sessions are fully insured and are covered in the price of the activity.

Do you do group discounts

Yes! Check out our discounts page for more information. We also do discounts for military groupsschools and families.

group discounts

Can I wear glasses in the water?

We strongly advice against wearing glasses in the surf in case they fall off! However, you will be able to wear them during the instruction part of the lesson on the sand. They can then be stored with our first aid kits on the beach whilst you’re practicing in the water.

How do I know if I’m improving?

Newquay Activity Centre is an official affiliate for the iAM BANDS scheme, an independent ability measure designed for use within sport. You’ll be measured on your surfing ability by our instructors and awarded your iAM ability level at the end of the session. iAM BANDS will be available from our centre for purchase.

Should I wear sun cream?

Yes! We ALWAYS advise that you slap on good slather of factor 30-50 water-resistant sun cream before taking part in one of our activities. You can also use a bit of zinc for extra protection.

wear sunscreen

How long does it take to become a good surfer?

Surfing takes a lot of practice to get the hang of, but once you’ve got the basic skills they’re easy to build on.

Can I book online?

Yes you can book directly via our website or you can give us a ring and we can take payment directly over the phone.

CALL NOW 01637 877722 and try one of the UK’s best coastal activities with Trip Advisor’s number one provider, Newquay Activity Centre!  Our lines are open from 8:00am until 10:00pm.

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