by Chris Weston December 11, 2020
South Cornwall is less well known for its surfing conditions than the more exposed North coast. However, on its day it can produce some of the best waves in the UK.
Surfing the south coast requires completely different weather conditions than those that light up the famous surfing beaches of North Cornwall. A few weekends ago the wind was blowing lightly from the north and there was still a small pulse of swell rolling in from The Atlantic, optimal conditions to head south.
For this particular wave-riding venture I'd armed myself with my longboard - suited to the small but clean waves forecasted. The south coast of Cornwall is protected slightly by the angle of the peninsula from any swell making its way in from the open ocean (especially outside of winter) so the waves here often end up being a bit smaller than the north coast.
Much of the south coast of Cornwall is completely protected from Atlantic swells by The Lizard peninsula and waves generally only make their way east of this in stormy conditions. With this in mind, we decided to head to the far south-western end of the county. De-touring off the main route between Helston and Penzance to check various spots that might be working, we finally settled on Praa Sands. On arrival, the buzz around the car park suggested there were waves, and on inspection of the beach there were, albeit small. Enough for a fun slide in the sunshine though so after meeting a couple of friends who live locally, we suited up and jumped in.
It was busy in the water, this happened to be one of the only places with clean waves this weekend and most of Cornwall's surfing population had descended on it! As we sat out the back eagerly awaiting the next set of waves, Olly - the skilled shaper behind 'Sempa Surf' who expertly crafted the board I was riding and was one of our companions that evening after a chance meeting in the car park - explained how he'd had a close encounter with a basking shark the previous week! Surfing and being in the ocean give you a lot of great wildlife encounters - I've experienced gannets diving, seals and dolphins hunting nearby, but a basking shark is still one I've still never had the privilege to witness!
The waves swept in periodically, rearing up to around knee high and breaking not far from the sand. We spent an hour or two riding these tiny peelers in the evening light, chatting surfboards and sharks.
The autumn evening made the car park changing routine a particularly chilly one, but once dried off the post-surf stoke always overcomes the effort of the trip and the shivers in the north wind.