Fistral is rainy today, but the air is warm and the surf is beautiful as it pulls out the tide, leaving a vast stretch of brown, glossy beach. The water churns regular rolling whitecaps, just perfect for the new surfer. Since it’s early in the morning, there are only about two other surf schools out on the sand. Later, the water will become totally congested with groups of wannabe surfers – and some pros too.
I have brought my 7 year-old daughter and her friend to Fistral beach in Newquay, Cornwall for their first surf lesson, while we are on holiday in the SouthWest of England. There are hundreds of surf schools in Cornwall, and several to choose from on Fistral Beach. We decided to go with Surf Sanctuary, a private surf school that runs out of The Headland Hotel.
The Headland, set on a cliff overlooking the beach, is arguably the finest luxury family hotel in Newquay, and the filming location of the 1990 film, The Witches. Surf Sanctuary is tucked away in the basement of the hotel, overlooking the beach. Owned by Veteran surf pro, Dom Moore, the school offers bespoke and group sessions in surfing, kitesurfing, standup paddle and ocean confidence training.
Our instructor is 19-year old Betsy, who has lived in Newquay most of her life, and has been surfing since she was 14. After spending 20 minutes helping the girls shimmy into wetsuits (boards, wetsuits and rash vests are all included in the price of the lesson), I watch the group of kids carry their surfboards down to the beach, under Besty’s instruction.
On land, the children learn how to paddle a board, and then get up to standing. They remember the steps: 1. Chicken wings (elbow up, thumbs under the armpits), 2. Arch up (arching your back, ready to move to standing), 3. Onto one knee…then 4. Up!
The surf lesson is two hours long: one hour on land, one hour in the water. To give the girls some independence, I leave the shore and indulge in a traditional “bacon buttie” at celebrity chef Rick Stein’s beachfront restaurant, Fistral. Paired with a steaming mug of tea, I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious this sandwich tastes, on a drizzly summer morning.
Once in the water, the girls are up on their boards surprisingly quickly and surprisingly often. From time to time, Betsy guides their boards through a swell, increasing their chances of success. The feeling of accomplishment is apparent every time the girls successfully catch a wave… but even the wipeouts are followed by a grin.
Betsy tells me that in terms of physical exertion, surfing is different from any other sport. “We’ve had some really fit army guys down here in the past, and they struggled”. With surfing, you are breathing irregularly, and even holding your breath some of time, so it’s a completely different type of exercise than something like running. New surfers exhaust quickly.
And indeed they do. After two hours, my daughter and her friend are totally flattened. And completely exhilarated. And I am bursting with pride. My seven year old can surf!
We return to the basement of the Headland Hotel, where Surf Sanctuary has piping hot showers and clean changing rooms. I note that Dom’s office has a guitar in the corner. “We bring that out sometimes”, he says, “in the dull moments”. He pauses. “But actually there are no dull moments”.
The office walls are adorned with a variety of certificates: a criminal records check, clearly displayed, and various lifeguarding and surf instructor qualifications. Dom is specially trained in paediatric first aid and can be found blogging about beach and surf safety – another good reason to choose Surf Sanctuary.
There are also a couple of skateboards hanging around. Dom explains that these are for when people begin to learn how to turn (a skill the girls aren’t quite ready for). “Learning to surf in the water is like learning to dance on a wobbly floor”, says Dom, “you need to do everything on dry land first”.
Surfing is awesome, no matter what your age or experience, and at Fistral beach, you can do it any time of year -even in the dead of winter! Surfing is great for teens: local Cornish studies like The Wave Project have proven its benefits on adolescent health and well being. Finally, surfing can open up a world of related opportunities like kite-surfing and Stand-Up-Paddleboarding (SUP).
We definitely recommend surfing while you’re in England, and there are certainly plenty of opportunities on the Cornish coast. But wherever in the world you decide to find your surf-legs, be safe – and have fun!
Want to Surf on Fistral Beach?
Headland Hotel: http://www.headlandhotel.co.uk
Surf Sanctuary: http://www.surfsanctuary.co.uk
Fistral Beach Surf Cam: http://www.headlandhotel.co.uk/explore/fistral-beach-surfcam/
Rick Stein’s Awesome Restaurant: https://www.rickstein.com/eat-with-us/fistral/
All photos by Helen Earley, unless noted otherwise