Fistral Beach in England’s Newquay has favorable surfing conditions year-round. // © 2016 Creative Commons user davehamster
Feature image (above): Fistral Beach has hosted several international surfing competitions. // © 2016 Creative Commons user dimmo
I definitely missed my calling as a surfer.
As a teenager, I played out long, dramatic “Blue Crush” scenarios in my head when I was at the beach. In my imagination, I was the surf champion of the Rockaways in Queens, N.Y., earning attention and accolades from all the dudes and dudettes who cheered me on during my morning of carving up the waves. But being blessed with two left feet and a crippling fear of falling have left my reality slightly different.
Today, my surf skills are better put to use buying Quicksilver apparel and Googling surfer terminology. But even though I’m stuck on land as an eternal klutz, I still delight in surf culture, which is why I was thrilled and perplexed to have stumbled upon Newquay, the surf mecca of England.
Actual, real-life surfers who dream of catching the perfect wave and chasing that endless summer have a long list of destinations on their bucket lists. It’s unlikely that England’s southwest coast is one of them. But it should be.
The town of Newquay in the English county of Cornwall is a haven for those looking to hang ten. And even if the call of the chilly North Atlantic falls on deaf ears, Newquay still has plenty to do for travelers who prefer to remain on dry land.
Perhaps the best-known surf spot in Newquay is Fistral Beach, which carries with it a strong reputation as one of the best beach breaks in Cornwall. Its Atlantic exposure creates gorgeous swells, and as a result, the beach gets consistently good waves year-round. This is one of the best places for beginner surfers.
Fistral Beach has played host to international surfing competitions for the past 20 years, and the Boardmasters Festival is now held here annually. But, alas, even with its stellar reputation and high volume of surf schools — such as Fistral Beach Surf Hire and Surf School and Quicksilver Surf School Newquay — I couldn’t be persuaded to pry myself off the safety of the sand and quite literally take the plunge. However, the blustery March air didn’t stop me from enviously ogling the surfers in shiny black wetsuits that charged the waves like slippery seals.
Other prime beaches in Newquay for surfers include Watergate Bay, Porth Beach, Lusty Glaze, and Great Western. For beaches a little more off-the-beaten-path, consider Towan and Mawgan Porth. More experienced surfers will want to test their watery chops at The Cribbar, a reef break known for its huge swells in autumn and winter. It’s considered Cornwall’s “big wave” location — novices need not apply.
After a day on the water (or if surfing just isn’t your bag) Newquay comes alive with gourmet eateries, bars, nightlife and beautiful hotels. The rugged coastline makes for dramatic and impressive ocean views. The city has gained attention from celebrity chefs as well, such as English culinary icon Rick Stein, whose Rick Stein Fistral serves an eclectic menu of Asian favorites such as pad thai, Goan chicken curry and vegetable “makhanawala” (gravy). But if it’s more the English fish and chips scene clients are looking for, they can rest assured that his menu has all the classics, from cod and haddock to sole.
Bush Pepper is another local favorite, serving modern Australian fare such as pork belly with chili and lime; sweet potato and spinach risotto; and quinoa and macadamia cranberry nut loaf with roasted potatoes. For a relaxed surfer vibe, travelers should head over to The Beached Lamb Cafe, where they can sip on mojitos in the Thai-style lounge and snack on vegetarian and vegan menu items.
There are a variety of hotel options in Newquay, but I checked into The Headland, which I recommend to any weary traveler who has felt the bite of the English winter air. The elegant yet comfortable historic hotel sits directly on a bluff overlooking the crashing Atlantic, which makes for gorgeous sunsets in the evenings. Check into one of the guestrooms or snuggle up in one of the separate private cottages that overlook Fistral Bay. The classically decorated hotel rooms are cozy, with electric fireplaces, deep soaking tubs and overstuffed furniture. The Headland’s highlight is its spa, a must for travelers in desperate need of indulgence. The Headland Spa is tucked beneath the hotel, with a hydropool and a salt steam room. There is also a full menu of massages and facials, as well as a full-service fitness center. Guests who want to try surfing should take advantage of the hotel’s prime location and its on-site surf school.
There are other wonderful luxury hotels in Newquay, but if travelers are surf-minded, there are specific lodges for their interests. These budget-friendly hotels are where you can find the best parties at night, when surfers have retired their boards after a day on the water. The Escape is the largest surf lodge in Newquay and is very popular with young travelers. Its highlights include its bar and in-house Thai restaurant. Berties Lodge is another Newquay budget accommodation. Attached to the lodge is Berties, a nightclub and bar, which is known to stay open late into the night. The lodge is also within walking distance of some of Newquay’s best bars and restaurants, and most important, its surf beaches.