Four of Europe’s best surf beaches to catch a wave

There’s no need to head off halfway around the world to indulge your surfing passion or work on upping your skills. When you know the right spots, Europe has plenty of waves to challenge and exhilarate even the most experienced surfer.

1. La Grande Plage, Biarritz, France – For beginners

The soft, sandy landing at La Grande Plage in Biarritz is perfect for beginners. Unsplash

Biarritz’s main beach has fairly gentle, reliable waves of the beach break variety in high season, although they can pack quite a punch at other times of the year. Beach breaks are long and gentle, breaking over a sandy bottom. This makes them safer than reef breaks because the soft landing is less likely to cause injury if you do come off your board.

There are plenty of surf schools to pick from and learners gain the added advantage of watching more experienced surfers as they ride the waves. It might be more synonymous today with a certain glitzy glamour, but Biarritz is also the birthplace of surfing in Europe.

During the filming of The Sun Also Rises in the 1950s, visiting crew members from the US were keen to test out the waves, and the initially bemused locals soon followed suit. Naturally, La Grande Plage is pretty busy during the summer months, but this is the best time for newbie surfers to dip their first toe in the water.

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2. Achill Island, Ireland – For intermediate surfers

Ireland might not be the first place you think of when it comes to surf beaches but it has some gems. Getty via Canva

Most of Ireland’s surf beaches are best left to the experts, but Achill Island off the coast of County Mayo stands out as an exception. Here, you can move on to point breaks: intermediate level waves that break along a rocky point and result in long, friendly, single-direction waves. They usually have an open face, just the thing for riding down the line and practising turns.

Essentially, if you know how to catch a wave, and you can stand up on the board without toppling and ride it in a straight line to the beach, you may be ready for Achill Island. The prize is its magnificent 3km beach at Keel. There’s even a long grassy ridge between the car park and beach so you can find some degree of privacy before and after your session. There are plenty of other activities for any non-surfing friends, who can enjoy the great outdoors with hiking, biking and bird-watching galore.

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3. Tinos, Greece – For intermediate surfers

There is easy access to the line up at this magnificent beach on Tinos . Getty via Canva

The tranquil waters of the Aegean Sea may not be best known for surfing swells, but that’s exactly what the beach at Kolimbithra on the north side of the island offers. Between two long peninsulas, and the prevailing Meltemi winds in July and August keeps those rollers coming in, making it a hot spot for intermediate-level surfing.

The waves tend to be beach breakers – these ones hold their left-wave riding conformation for a long way, breaking on a sandy bottom. What makes them better for intermediate surfers is that they’re big, shaped by a wind of 5 Beaufort on a good day.

Another attraction is the easy access to the line-up point, the result of a natural current that gets you there in super-quick time. You can combine your surfing holiday with more traditional Greek island attractions. Lounging on quiet sandy beaches in picturesque bays is always a good idea. You could also watch herds of mountain goats on the higher peaks, or visit the ancient monasteries and windmills. The relaxed atmosphere of a traditional taverna is never a bad place to finish either.

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4. La Speranza, Sardinia, Italy – Advanced level

Ocean swell reaches Sardinia before it hits the Italian mainland creating some of the best surf beaches in the country. Getty via Canva

The west coast of Sardinia is a magnet for waves. The swell reaches the island before travelling on to the Italian mainland and as a result, it has many of the country’s best beaches for surfing.

While almost all the beaches along this stretch offer great surfing conditions, La Speranza is a mecca for expert-level surfers because it produces some spectacular right-hand tubes. These can reach double overhead height. Tube waves, or barrels, are something of a holy grail for dedicated surfers who describe the sensation of gliding smoothly through a churning tunnel of water as like nothing else in the sporting universe.

Barrel surfing is a great spectator sport as well, with the thrill of seeing the surfer disappear inside an enormous curling barrel only to re-emerge victorious as the wave subsides. Visitors who aren’t in the advanced surfing league can still enjoy the wild beauty of the Sardinian coastline, however. The cactus-covered hills sweep down to the sparkling sea, where maybe they can find some more restful beaches.

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Due to COVID-19, many of these beaches and their associated businesses have been temporarily closed. Please check official websites and read the latest government advice before making any travel plans.