Review of a beginners surfing lesson in Cornwall

Cornwall is well known for its surfing, and J’s aunty Nik and I were really keen to have a go. Having researched surfing schools online, we picked Harlyn, who had great reviews and operated from Harlyn Bay. Another plus was the competitive price, £38 for a 2 hour lesson including wet suit and board.  As it was something we definitely wanted to do, we booked our lesson in advance.

Mr N, J and J’s Grandma settled themselves into a sheltered spot at the top of the beach, and armed themselves with cameras to capture Nik and I falling head first into the ‘soup’.

After getting in and back out of a couple of soggy, sandy wetsuits – easier said than done, – we found ones that fitted and headed to the beach. Our first task was to carry our surf boards further towards the sea. These boards are surprisingly bulky and heavy. Nik and I ended up carrying our boards between us, one under each arm to share the weight.

Our instructor, Ollie, explained health and safety stuff, then led a warm up which included a light jog up the beach. I was exhausted already!

After some instruction, it was time to get our surfing feet wet. As you can expect, the water was pretty cold – I was grateful for the snug wet suit which kept me fairly warm.

As it was quite windy, some fairly big waves were being generated. Ollie helped us to position our boards and wait for the right wave. This is important – it’s better apparently to be patient than to just jump on and go. Once Ollie felt there was a good wave approaching, we had to jump onto our boards and lie flat, making sure we were balanced – imagining there was a line running down the middle of the board and keeping straight based on that. Ollie would then instruct us to ‘paddle’, meaning doing big powerful strokes in a similar style to the front crawl, and he’d push the backs of our boards as the wave reached us. The aim was to get some momentum going and then let the wave takethe board forward.  It was tricky to stay straight on the board, whilst frantically paddling and being pushed from side to side by the swell of the water, but it was really quite exhilarating when catching the wave right.


Catching a wave

I found it quite difficult to manoeuvre the board back around and walk back into the waves to the starting point. Walking through water is difficult at the best of times, let alone when carrying a hefty surf board and being knocked constantly by crashing waves. You really do have to be fit to surf!

After a while of practising catching waves lying down, it was time for the lesson on standing on the board. This was sensibly conducted back on the safety of the beach. In theory, standing up is quite simple – moving quickly from lying, to a kneeling ‘box’ position, to jumping up into the standing stance. Trying this in the water was not so simple.

I managed to get to kneeling a couple of times but was never quick enough to progress to the standing stance. Nik managed it once before falling off!

A word of warning about surfing – not holding the board right when trying to manoeuvre in the water can be dangerous. It just takes a strong gust of wind combined with a wave to catch the board and knock you over or more seriously, to hit you. I found this out the painful way. When trying to turn the board, I wasn’t quick enough before a wave hit. I put this down to tiredness as surfing is exhausting. The middle of my board was fully facing the wave, and was across me, rather than the end being pointed towards the water which makes it easier to manage. The strength of the wave knocked the board straight into my cheekbone. It would have hurt a lot more had I not been so cold (my face felt slightly numb at this stage!).

I was knocked off balance and right into the soup.

After this, as it was close to the end of the lesson, I wisely decided to retreat to the beach. Luckily, it turned out that I hadn’t done any damage and I didn’t even get a bruise. Lesson learnt for next time!

Despite this, surfing was a fantastic, if exhausting experience and I’d recommend it to anyone with a good level of fitness. Harlyn Bay is a great place to try, as it’s a safe and pretty sheltered beach, and Harlyn Surf School has a great reputation – our instructor
Ollie was great, and we got the most out of our 2 hour lesson.


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