There was a time, back in the days when surfing was still a genuine counter culture, when the only way to travel was to do it off your own back.
This was before modern surf camps and holiday services sprung up setting up plush resorts and guided tours, a time when surfers really were a free race, if you wanted to surf Europe’s best waves back then the only was to do it was load your car or van and go camping.
Now thanks to our over indulgence and attempt to make surfing main stream and not the alternative counter lifestyle it really should be, camping to surf is back. Why? Because it’s the best way to make the pound or Euro in your pocket stretch to that extra couple of weeks of getting pitted.
Surfing and camping was/is a right of passage, the great road trip from England through Europe to Morocco in a beaten up old Post Office van which spews oil out of the back or an old Ford Granada estate has to be experienced at least once in a surfers life.
Most of us don’t realise how spectacular our own nation can be when viewed from a tent or van
But before you embark on surfing’s equivalent of Homer’s Odyssey, we have a myriad of possibilities within our own islands, and most of us don’t realise how spectacular our own nation can be when viewed from a tent or van.
So we’ve pieced together some words of wisdom from the wealth of knowledge that lies in Wavelength’s grey matter, to help you ease into the life moving from field to field.
Choosing the right tent is paramount especially in our ‘changeable’ climate. Generally speaking the more room and comfortable your canvas home the better, by better, I mean there is more room to shelter from the inevitable bad weather and to at least try and keep dry in our nation’s inclement climate.
There are four tent designs and picking the right one is critical, so here are the pros and cons from ridge to geodesic.
Ridge tents are the traditional A frame affair, strong in a bit wind but lack the space of modern designs. Dome tents provide good headroom and general space, are dead easy to throw up in a hurry but the fact that they have the aerodynamic qualities of half a football makes them a little hairy in a spot of wind.
We love to spend our holidays in fields
Hooped Tunnels are strong and have plenty of space in them, tend to weigh a bit more but are good all rounders for even bad weather. Geodesic tents are virtually bomb proof, they spill wind easily and are ultra strong so are the business if you’re going somewhere wild.
As with anything, if you’re on a budget go for the best you can afford, remember it’s going to be your home so you don’t want to skimp, after you’ve had a good day of surf and the weather is iffy you want somewhere dry to get some rest.
Jeez, I could write a book on this one so won’t go on, but suffice to say there are number of different vans out there, the bigger the van the better until it stops fitting down those narrow tracks and need the GDP of a small nation to fill up the tank. A Winnebago is the ultimate, but if you can only afford an old AstraMax it doesn’t matter, put racks in for your board and a stinky mattress and you’re off.
The Cooker needs to be good, nothing more annoying than having a crappy little burner when you’re starving after a day of six foot Thurso.
I spent a couple of years living out the back of an old Astra Max
Good Knives, camping is pretty much the only chance you get in life to carry a good blade, unless you’re a hoodie wearing gent in sarf London of coarse. Get a blade that is sharp and will be able to cut everything from mushrooms to rope, you may think it over kill but I guarantee you will get a load of use out of a well balanced piece of metal.
Get a decent sleeping bag; they come in four flavours from one season to four, four being the warmest. Generally for a UK summer a two or three is perfect but you never want to be too chilly. Finally make sure you’ve got a surfing guidebook with you, not just for knowing where the waves are, in fact it could be more fun to find the surf yourself, but more due to the fact their covers make excellent roaches.
Where to go
So you’re hooked up with a sick tent, sleeping bag and the finest Ramboesque blade money can buy, it’s then all about where to go. Now we’re a weird bunch in Britain, we have a crappy moist changeable climate un-yet we love to spend our holidays in fields. Because of this we are a nation crammed with campsites, which is bloody good news for us surfers, so here’s rundown of some particularly well-placed ones. We’ll start way down in the west of Cornwall and roll on north.
Trevedra Farm Caravan and Campsite – A beautiful family run campsite nestled just back from the cliffs above Gwenver near Sennen Cove. It’s a quiet spot, ideal for a family surfing holiday as a pose to a bunch of raucous lads on a surf trip. There is facilities on site for food. The waves at Gwenver pick up a lot of swell and the beaches around St Ives are only a short drive north.
Newquay has a plethora of campsites but not all are surfer friendly. Probably the best in the area is Trevelgue, which will take groups of surfers and is handily placed for Watergate bay and the party scene in Newquay. It’s also home to Run to The Sun for all you Volks fanatics.
Just outside Newquay west is Rose Cliston, another group friendly site it is a bit of a walk to town or a short taxi ride to hit the party scene. Both sites are close to a bunch of waves from Perranporth to Fistral and are aimed squarely at the younger surfer who wants a good time.
Just outside Newquay on the Quintrell road is Hendra Holiday Park, this is a much more family orientated site with an emphasis on excellent onsite facilities and a world class camping experience. It’s handily placed for Newquay and the surrounding beaches and is a perfect place to say for the surfing family.
Bude has a much wilder edge to it than Newquay; it still has a bit of night-life but has a much more country feel and more variety of surf. It’s hard to single out one site in the area, a quick google search will give you over 30 options from family orientated sites to rough farmers fields. What the area does have is a lot of beaches, the town beaches of Bude and Widemouth Bay get packed but it’s easy to find a bit of solitude at places like Sandymouth.
North Devon, especially around Croyde and Woolacombe is a favourite for surfers and campers a like, and hence has a stack of good sites where you can throw up your piece of canvas. A lot of are surfer friendly although several wont allow single sex all male surfing/party heads into sites so check out the conditions online before you load up to go. In both Croyde there is the legendary surfer hangout of the Thatch.
Wales, the options are endless but a particular favourite is Hillend Camping Park at Llangennith. Situated right on one of Wales’ most popular beaches Hillend is a very popular site with surfers and a perfect base for a Gower expedition, you’ve also got PJ’s excellent surf emporium just up the back as well for all your wave riding needs.
The rest of the Welsh coast west has a bunch of sites, many close to beaches and some particularly spectacular sites in Cardigan Bay, although the consistency of surf tends to trail off into summer.
The East coast is pretty inconsistent in the summer so a camping trip the North Sea coast when the weather is good is always going to be a bit hit and miss. However there are plenty of camping options from Northumbria to Norfolk, check the site at Cayton Bay just outside Scarborough for a place to pitch on one of the East Coast’s more consistent beaches.
A summer camping trip in the UK can mean one place for a lot of surfers and that’s northern Scotland. Long days, short nights and often some form of swell even on the quietest of Atlantic Charts. There also happens to be one of the best campsites in the country if you’re a travelling surfer. The site in the middle of Thurso looks straight into the barrel at Thurso East and is handily placed on the road west for when the swell drops, and is a short walk from the town.
If you’re a committed camper it’s also well worth while joining the Caravanning Club of Great Britain, It’s ok it doesn’t automatically mean you have to clog up the arteries of our transport system with you slow moving detritus, but it does mean you get access to some really out of the way campsites. You get a map of all these sites locations and I know of at least one that sits on a deserted left point break which no one ever surfs.
Shit I spent a couple of years living out the back of an old Astra Max when I went off surfing and rarely got moved on, so what about roughing it? Well technically it is not lawful to chuck your tent up where you like or even park your van in a nice lay by or entrance to a field. But you know what? You can get away with it, if you’re clean and tidy and don’t take the piss.
It’s trickiest in places like Devon and Cornwall, both counties are keen to keep a nice clean image and camping rough is really frowned upon, especially on the beaches, so expect to be moved on by the fuzz.
Away from popular areas in other parts of the country it’s a little easier, especially in a van, but it’s not until you get up to places like Scotland where you can really go bush without fear of arrest. Although still not legal it’s less taboo and as long as you leave no trace it shouldn’t be a big issue.
So that’s it, grab yourself a tent, or a beaten up old van, don’t stress about the weather and go camping, one of the great things about being under canvas and a surfer is this: when the weather is crappy camping is a miserable experience, last thing you want to do is sit in a damp tent, so you surf more, no creature comforts or Sky TV like in a surf lodge, so what else is there to do but surf?
This article was originally published in Wavelength issue 182. Be the first to get our articles in print and online by subscribing here.