Perranporth: Surf’s up – and warm
Stars and Stripes June 6, 2007
PERRANPORTH — This is the quaint, tucked-away seaside village visitors long for: Everything is within walking distance, mountain and seaside vistas abound and curbside parking is, well, free.
And, to top it all off, this charming hamlet is smack dab in the heart of Cornwall’s burgeoning surfing scene with easy access to a dozen surf-friendly beaches within 20 minutes.
Surfing may well be more popular in southern Europe off the coasts of Spain or France, but this far-flung corner of Great Britain compensates for a lack of regular sunshine with surprisingly warm Gulf Stream currents, steady sets at both popular and less-frequented beaches and a “live and let live” attitude alien to most parts of the island.
The sport is gaining traction in a country where people are taking advantage of warmer temperatures by returning to English beaches considered undesirable only years ago.
Surfing instructor Ben Ford said every summer he’s busier than the year before, instructing a new crop of surfer wannabes on the art of the ride.
“It’s the whole idea of being by the sea and the sun, of getting away from work and everything else out on the water,” he said. “And it’s very rewarding when you do get up and ride a wave. People get addicted quickly.”
I came for a private lesson earlier in the year, when still-frigid Atlantic Ocean demanded a full-body wetsuit. But I also was greeted by unseasonably warm air temperatures and sunshine that made a few hours in the chilly seas bearably fun.
The lesson was divided between beach time — practicing getting up on the board several times — and water time — learning how difficult it really is to stand despite an 8-foot board and steady sets of 2-foot waves. It left me with a good foundation for future surfing outings.
Beach time also included a vital safety briefing, which included facts on how rip currents actually work and how beginning surfing should be done in tandem.
“Safety is always our No. 1 concern when we are in the water,” Ford said. “You’re far better off to be at a beach with a few more surfers or even lifeguards than to find some secluded beach off on your own. If something does happen in the water, it’s always better to have help around.”
Ford remained patient despite the cold that ultimately did bite at our well-protected skin, and I triumphed over Poseidon and got up after about an hour of failed attempts and less-than-spectacular wipeouts.
Ford was right: There is a certain escapism to standing atop the water on a board no thicker than a college textbook, hoping against hope to maintain the balance to ride it into the shore.
Cornwall is blessed with some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in all of England, with gently rolling hills yielding to hidden coves and lonely beaches around untold corners.
It’s a great place to camp, with dozens of picturesque sites dotted across the landscape, or to stay in a quaint bed-and-breakfast with a sea view. Either way, it’s a perfect time of year to travel to the far side of Britain where a welcoming sandy beach is never more than a few roundabouts away.
For those not inclined to drive at least six hours from the major Air Force bases to the south of England for the off-chance of actually learning to get up on a board, there exists a much closer alternative.
The Norfolk town of Cromer is widely regarded as eastern England’s top spot for surfers. While the water is not endowed with the same warm Gulf Stream that Cornwall enjoys, the North Sea beach does warm up enough in the height of summer for some seaside fun.
And it’s only 90 minutes from Mildenhall.