Walking barefoot on a sandy beach, basking in the sun, jumping into the soothing warm water for a long surfing session, that sure is comforting. But where’s the challenge? Spending up to an hour struggling to get into that tight wetsuit, bone-chilling water splashing your face, getting rained and snowed on, that sounds like much more fun!
Many warm-water destinations have become seriously overcrowded. Luckily, where there’s a swell there’s bound to be a wave worth hitting, even if it is a bit too close to the North Pole. So say hello to cold-water surfing, the final frontier. Wetsuit technology is crossing new boundaries, making it possible for surfers to plunge right into some of our planet’s most freezing-cold waves. If you’re feeling up to the challenge, here are some of the world’s most spectacular cold-water surfing destinations. You can leave your flip-flops at home!
Cold-water Surfing in the UK
Surfing Cornwall, UK - Photo by Eloise Roberts
The UK sure has its fair share of surfing spots, but I must warn you that they do require a sturdy wetsuit. Porthleven is a picturesque coastal town in Cornwall, a small peninsula in the southwest UK with over 30 surfing spots. When the swell arrives, this is where England’s surfing community flocks. However, this reef break is reserved for experts only. Cornwall’s Polzeath Beach is a gentle beach break that gets consistent swell, excellent for beginners looking to get acquainted with cold-water surfing. Sennen Cove and Praa Sands are great for intermediate surfers.
Surfing Pembrokeshire, Uk - Photo by Felix Cohen
Scarborough in Northumberland has plenty of breaks worth exploring. Pembrokeshire in Wales gets swells from the South Atlantic and becomes a cold-water hotspot during winter months. Here, Tenby has a break that’s just perfect for beginners, and St Bride’s Bay, Freshwater and Manorbier get consistent swell almost all year round.
On the north coast of Scotland, Thurso appears to be a quiet old town. Wait until you get to the shoreline! Thurso East is considered Europe’s best right-hand wave, a massive reef break that can swell up to 15 ft (4.5 m). If you’re looking for gentle waves in Thurso, you’re in for some disappointment.
Bundoran Beach, Ireland - Photo by Andrew.
Cloudy, damp and chilly. That’s Ireland for you! But you have to admit that the dramatic rugged coastline carved by the North Atlantic does have its charm.
Surfing Ireland - Photo by discover enniscrone
Bundoran is only a few hours’ drive from Dublin and is considered one of Europe’s best surfing destinations. It’s a surfing mecca, and that’s no understatement. Displaying consistent 10-foot (3 m) waves, Bundoran counts three world-class big-wave spots some 10 miles (16 km) from each other. There are beach breaks with long barrels as well as treacherous reef breaks only the experienced know how to tame. The neighboring Rossnowlagh has plenty of leaner waves and gentle beach breaks for beginners.
Surfing Pichilemu, Chile - Photo by Mauricio Arriagada
The last time I checked, Chile was in South America, right? So what does cold water have to do with it? Well, Chile’s coastline is exposed to a chilly current coming from the Antarctic, which makes it a world-class cold-water surfing destination. Stretching from the Atacama Desert all the way to Patagonia in the south, there are hundreds of miles of good surf to hit – point breaks, beach breaks, you name it! And the swell here rarely goes flat.
The breaks at Pichilemu offer a wide variety of waves, excellent for beginners and pros, at the acclaimed beaches of Punta de Lobos, Playa Principal and Playa Infiernillo.
Vancouver Island, Canada
Surfing Tofino, Canada - Photo by Rachel Patterson
Bathed by the Pacific, Vancouver Island’s west coast is the surfing capital of Canada. Tofino and Long Beach are the most famous surfing spots on the island and are only a 20-minutes’ drive away from each other.
Surfing Tofino, Canada - Photo by Skye Chilton
Tofino is a laid-back holiday town surrounded by lush rainforests, which has fully earned its nickname – the Cold-Water Costa Rica. Some 21 miles (34 km) of beach breaks await surfers all year round, receiving constant swell from the North Pacific. Here, Chesterman Beach is the place to go if you’re a beginner surfer.
Kitesurfing in Norway - Photo by Stian Olsen
Wild, rugged, unusual, Norway’s west coastline is as visually stunning as it is chilly. And did you know its coastline is the second longest in the world, much longer than that of the United States of America?
Hoddevik is a small fishing town on Norway’s west coast, an exotic destination with white sand beaches and wild scenery. There are waves for every level and taste, and the mellow waters here make the destination also suitable for stand-up paddle boarding and longboard surfing.
Surfing Lofoten Islands, Norway - Photo by Michel Olsthoorn
Lofoten Islands in the far north of Norway is an archipelago within the Arctic Circle. The best waves reach these coasts in winter, when the days are short and freakishly cold. The good news is that the locals have become accustomed to the flocks of surfers visiting their towns, and prepare outdoor hot tubs surfers can jump into after each session. Here, Unstad is the most renowned spot, with a fast left and right hand point break and deserted beaches you can have all to yourself. There are plenty of other places on these islands that have yet to be explored.
Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia
Surfing Kamchatka, Russia - Photo by Tania Elisarieva
The Kamchatka Peninsula is an exposed and unexplored piece of coastline in far east Russia. For adventure-seekers, this is an open invitation. Wild and remote, getting here is a bit tricky as there are hardly any roads connecting the rest of Russia to the peninsula. A 4X4 will come in handy. A helicopter is even better.
Surf’s up all year round, but unfortunately, the best waves hit in winter when the coastline is covered in snow and the water is literarily freezing. The most renowned surfing spot is Khalaktyrsky Beach, a magic realm of frozen beauty, dotted with volcanoes and hot springs.
Surfing Iceland - Photo by Kris Williams
The volcanic scenery, endless glaciers and lunar landscape are enough to get any nature lover and travel enthusiast to come to Iceland. Surfing is another great reason. With beach breaks, reef breaks, point breaks and quiet beaches, the island is a surfing gem with huge potential waiting to be tapped.
Surfing Iceland - Photo by Zumpano Reps
Iceland’s capital is not exactly a surfing location, but it is the starting point. There are plenty of spots to hit just outside Reykjavik. Surf’s up all year round. In summer, you get 24 hours of sun to ride. How insane is that? The best swells come in winter, though, so you’d better grab the thickest wetsuit you can find. The most renowned spots are Þorlákshöfn, with a powerful right-hand point break with waves ranging between six to 13 feet (2 to 4 m), and Grindavík, a fast and hollow right-hand point break.
If you’re used to catching waves in Hawaii, then cold-water surfing is a big change of scenery. Make sure you pack a down jacket and warm boots to wear on the beach – although only at sea level, it will be as cold as the peaks of Himalaya. And just as adrenaline-packed too.
Surfing in warm waters not exciting enough for you? Take things to the next level with a surfing holiday in the UK and find out what you’re really made of!