When you think of surfing what comes to mind? That age old song by the Beach Boys about the good ol’ USA? Tropical beaches in South East Asia? Tanned surfer guys with Ozzy accents? I’ll bet a Welsh seaside town didn’t feature very highly in that list did it?
I know, Wales – or Britain in general for that matter – isn’t very well known for surfing. The stereotypical image of almost perpetual rain, grey skies and freezing oceans generally doesn’t do much to dispel that image either.
But Wales has been keeping a secret from the world for a very long time, the stunning Gower coastline and the picturesque stretch of water along Caswell bay in Swansea is actually a surfers paradise! And with the Gower peninsula being consistently rated as having some of the best beaches in the world, and even the Telegraph naming the Gower as one of Britain’s surfing hotspots, the genie is very close to being let out of the bottle!
Now I love adventures activities and adventure sports, and one of the best things about travelling for me is the opportunity to not only participate in some of the most amazing activities I can imagine, from mountain climbing and canyoning to jungle trekking and zip lining, but also to add even more strings to my bow by constantly trying out new things and learning new skills. So an invitation to try out surfing was never going to be passed up!
Especially when I got to do it on one of the most spectacular coastlines in Wales.
Caswell bay is a popular family beach just a short distance from Swansea, with a long, soft sandy beach and blue flag status for the quality of its water and coastline. The whole area has a very traditional British seaside town feel to it, the old world elegance of the beach huts and ice cream parlours at the nearby Langland bay is still evident, but it also has a more bucket and spade seaside feel to it too, with a small, unobtrusive cafe and tea room just off the beach. The sand is soft and clear and the waves are excellent.
Hardly surprising then that the bay has actually been quite famous amongst professional surfers for decades now, with the nearby university offering courses in water activities and adventure management! They’ve been hiding a massive secret from us non surfing travellers for decades!
I arrived into Swansea at lunch time, and not wanting to waste any time I headed straight for the beach and the small hut that was the home of the Surf GSD school. Of course, being British summertime it was overcast with an occasional drizzle and the sun had inexplicably disappeared on a holiday of its own, but I didn’t let that stop me.
I was excited to get my very first official surfing lesson.
I had unofficially tried surfing once before, without a proper lesson of course – on Tioman island in Malaysia – but found out very quickly that being generally Godzilla size by Asian standards, having absolutely no experience, no grace and a complete and utter lack of balance wasn’t a great mix for surfing! I spent more time in the water than anything else and to be perfectly honest my first surf experience was mostly just swimming alongside a borrowed surfboard!
But with the seriously patient and expert help from the guys at Surf GSD, I not only managed to get a spot of surfing in the waves of this rugged Welsh coastline, but I even managed to stay upright!
For a little while, at least.
I still spent half my time in the water!
Surf GSD is the only surf school licensed to run surf lessons and courses in the area and is one of the premier Surfing Great Britain approved surfing schools, so I was genuinely pleased to be getting some real advice from the experts this time.
My instructor Tom was waiting for me when I arrived, and I found him staring wistfully out at the ocean as if all he wanted to do was get out there. After seeing the look in his eyes before he saw me I have no doubt that is exactly what he wanted! And it may sound surprising but that really filled me with confidence that I was with someone who knew what they were doing.
I was kitted out with my wetsuit first, and this is perhaps the only small criticism of the place that they need better changing facilities. A big man getting into a wetsuit is not the most graceful of things! But that was soon forgotten and I jogged back to the surf hut for my board. I originally had reservations about this, as in my ignorance I asked if someone my size was suitable for surfing, but those questions were soon dismissed as a huge beast of a board was pulled out. A ten foot surboard that even Alun Wyn of the Welsh International Rugby Team used! Apparently big guys can surf!
My instructor was excellent and seriously patient. He was a surfer right down to his core and excellent at it, and had just finished his own gap year surfing around the world, so even though I’m not a natural surfer we still had plenty in common. It really does make a difference having an instructor who is passionate about what they are teaching you. He took me through everything I needed to know before letting me loose on the waves, spending a good chunk of time practicing moving about on the boards on the sand itself.
Unfortunately I was told I couldn’t count this as part of the time I was stood up on the surf board, and was eventually let into the water.
And it was exhilarating!
Despite the lack of any large waves, we still got a few decent ones coming through, and after a few tries (and more than a few falls), I managed to jump up and stay balanced for a few seconds. I still maintain if the wave had been a little bigger and I had been going a little faster I could have stayed up for a bit longer!
My instructor may disagree but I’m ignoring him on that point!
One thing that surprised me was just how physical surfing was. I knew of course that it would require some degree of fitness, but was genuinely impressed at the upper body and core workouts I got from the experience as well as a fair cardio workout. Since staying fit and healthy on my travels is something I always try and do I was genuinely impressed with this.
I had an awesome afternoon on what is genuinely a stunning beach, and even if you have never tried surfing before, I urge you to at least come and give it a try. If a big guy like me can do it, then no one has any excuse!
I may not be very good yet, but this one lesson has improved my skills a damn site more than they were before, and has given me the bug enough to want to try it again! I’m sure with another lesson or two I’ll be looking like a pro out on the waves! For a few seconds at least before I fall in again.
I know now that wherever my travels take me next, I’m adding surfing to my list of things to do once I get there! And if I’m ever back near Swansea in Wales, I’m certainly coming back here for another lesson!
Because that at the end of the day is what travel is all about. The experiences you gain along the way. And surfing is certainly an exhilarating one!
Did you enjoy this article? Have you ever been Surfing? Would you like to try? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.
This article was written in partnership with Visit Swansea Bay and with activities provided by Surf GSD. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.