Surfing lessons in St Ives

St Ives holidays often include lots of outdoor enjoyment on the beaches and in the sea. Whatever the weather, being in the sea can be exhilarating, renewing and heaps of fun. We booked our Director, Ross Sheppard, on a surf lesson with St Ives Surf School so we can share the experience with you.

How to book a surf lesson in St Ives

We booked Ross a group surf lesson with St Ives Surf School and it couldn’t have been simpler. Using their website, you are given the choice of a group or private lesson and you can choose the date and time that suits you best. We opted for a group lesson as it was considerably cheaper (£45 for two hours tuition) but on the day Ross had the fortune of being the only one in the group and so had a 1-2-1 two hour lesson, result!

You are invited to arrive 30 minutes before the start of the lesson to get fitted out in a wetsuit, get changed and be introduced to your instructor. At that point, if there is a large group of people, this is when the group is split into smaller sizes so everyone gets individual attention during the lesson.

The day of the surf lesson

Ross and I arrived together with our dog, a young border collie called Toast. Porthmeor Beach is dog-friendly during the day (see here for when dog restrictions apply) and so I thought while Ross had his lesson, Toast and I could have a play on the beach (optimistically also thought a sun bathe!). As we are local and weren’t staying in a self-catering cottage in St Ives, we parked in Barnoon car park which overlooks Porthmeor Beach. It is a long-stay car park (meaning you can park for more than 3 hours) given we had plans to have lunch at Porthmeor Beach Cafe after the lesson. The footpath that leads down the hill from the car park to Porthmeor Beach is short and offers tempting views of the beach and sea. Within a minute we headed down the sandy slope to where St Ives Surf School is based right on the beach. Ross had nipped down before me and Toast to get ready for his lesson and when we arrived he was already sat on the sand with Hamish his instructor.

Hamish is from Bondi Beach in Sydney and Ross felt he was in safe hands from the very beginning. Being born and raised in St Ives, Ross had dabbled with water sports but was pretty much a beginner when it comes to surfing. Hamish ran through the all important safety points first such as the different flags on the beach and what they mean, what are rip tides and what to do if caught in one, how to carry and handle the surfboard in and out of the water, and very crucially, what to do if you get into difficulty in the water and how to get a lifeguard’s attention. Thankfully, he didn’t need to warn Ross about sharks off Porthmeor Beach!

Did you know? The flag colours and meanings of the different flags on beaches are the same all over the world.

The lesson is broken down into two phases. During the first phase, Ross was shown, while still on the board on the beach, how to paddle and was taught how to see a good ‘surf-able’ wave approach and to paddle strongly to gain speed and momentum at the right point to catch the wave and then to continue paddling with the wave to increase speed. Still on the board on the beach, he was also introduced to the first stage of riding a wave but whilst still lying down on the board. Hamish described it as having chicken wings and pushing your torso upwards; think the cobra position in yoga! From this position you get to control the direction of the board and turning it left or right. With those basics covered, Ross and Hamish headed into the sea while Toast and I stayed wrapped up and warm on the beach. Did I say the weather that day was a mix of showers and was cold! Ross said the sea was actually surprisingly warm and Hamish remarked on how quickly the sea was warming up this Spring.

While Ross enjoyed himself in the sea, Toast and I watched the world go by with a delicious Yallah coffee served at the cafe on Porthmeor Beach which has had its outdoor seating area extended and (best of all) covered from the elements. While your loved ones play in the sea in the pouring rain and not notice it one bit, you can sit back, relax and enjoy some treats like cinnamon buns, croissants, flapjacks, hot food and the list goes on! There’s a small gift shop there too for a little bit of retail therapy. After our  warm drink, we took a stroll on the beach which was getting bigger and bigger as the tide receded. A group of men had been in the sea in just their bathers and were wrapping up warm to go back to their holiday cottage in St Ives for coffee and brunch (or even hair of the dog, who knows?) and the RNLI Lifeguard moved the rescue board and flags closer to the shoreline. We spotted Ross and Hamish finishing up the first part of their lesson in the sea so we headed a little closer to see what happened next.

Phase two of the lesson was to try and master standing up on the board and actually riding a wave. The term Hamish used was ‘pop up’ – for Ross who is 6ft 5″ – the concept of ‘popping up’ on a buoyant board on an agitated sea churning beneath seemed an ask but he was definitely game for a try! It was back onto the beach they headed where Hamish ran through the two ways of getting up to a standing position. It’s all about the paddle, paddle, paddle then the chicken wings and then the pop up. With this theory in mind, they both headed back into the sea for the remainder of the lesson which was an hour and a half.

There were a number of attempts that were a little funny to watch from the dry sand as the weather around me warmed up. Even in the sea Hamish was constantly giving Ross encouragement and directions on where to go, when to get on the board and when to start paddling. Hamish’s joy in seeing Ross pop up for the first time was contagious. Once Ross had mastered the feel of the board, the chicken wings and popping up, he was in his element and kept going back for more waves!

Towelled off, dry and hungry!

After the lesson ended, Ross changed in the cubicles provided at St Ives Surf School and returned the wet suit and bib. Hamish was very complimentary of how well he did and gave him tips on what to do next when he next visits Porthmeor Beach and when to time the best surf conditions with the tides. Boards and wetsuits can be hired from St Ives Surf School without needing to have a lesson.

After building up an appetite after a 2-hour lesson where most of which was in the sea, Ross and I headed to Porthmeor Beach Cafe for lunch. I had booked an outside booth a couple of weeks before (we recommend booking even if it’s not a holiday period as it’s very popular) where there are fleece blankets to wrap around your legs as well as heaters. There is a choice to sit on the terrace (which accepts dogs), inside or out in one of the booths with padded seats. We had dropped our dog back to the car and opted for a heated booth. The views are just magnificent and the food delicious; the best way to round off a morning of beach walking and surfing!

We hope you have enjoyed watching and reading about Ross’ surf lesson and find it helpful in booking your own lessons when you are next on your St Ives holidays.

Self-catering in St Ives has so many advantages given everything is on your doorstep; surf, boat rides, beaches, paddleboarding, kayaking, arts and culture, retail and fabulous bars and restaurants. For ideas on where to visit, things to do and places to eat, try browsing our St Ives Area Guide. We have a range of holiday cottages in St Ives from boutique smaller cottages and apartments to larger luxury holiday homes for families, so please do give us a call on 01736 806100 and we will be happy to share our recommendations with you.


Article written by Sam Sheppard

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