Surfing in North Wales
With cold water, prevailing onshore winds, a small swell window and fickle tide dependent spots, North Wales looks, on paper at least, like a terrible destination for the travelling surfer. Every north Walian surfer has had the “Imagine if Ireland wasn’t in the way…” conversation (and yes, Rhyl would be vastly improved with a few peaks out front) but Ireland is there and we must make do with the limited swell we get. On the positive side, the geography of the coastline in this area is varied and mitigates against the generally hostile wind conditions that prevail. There are numerous surfable spots with waves from mellow, beginner friendly, beach breaks to hollow points and boulder reefs for the experienced. The majority of waves are uncrowded in the depths of winter, with a hard core of locals keeping the faith through the coldest months. Visitors will find the vibe very chilled as long as due respect is shown. The very good days here are infrequent so visiting surfers should be aware that the locals may have been waiting a long time for good conditions so bear that in mind if you strike it lucky. When the very good days do arrive there is very little to dislike about surfing North wales. The backdrop of Snowdonia is utterly breath taking and the beaches are unspoilt gems. There is no hustle and bustle of urban living and, without trying to sound too much like a stereotypical ‘surf dude’, the experience of surfing here is one of connection with the environment and the power and majesty of nature (Yeah I know, overdid it there).
I’m obviously not going to list a load of sensitive spots so this guide, whilst mentioning the well-known breaks, will merely give a general overview of the areas and how best to time your surf seeking forays. There is plenty of opportunity for exploration so if you’re adventurous, get some wellies and OS map and you may be justly rewarded. As a point to note, there is a noticeable difference in the size of waves in this area dependent on tidal conditions. On large tides the timing of your surf can mean the difference between head high perfection and flat. It really is that tide dependent. As a general rule, North Wales spots work around high tide. There are few exceptions to this and if you are to make the most of surfing the area you will be well advised to remember that ‘time and tide wait for no man’! An ideal swell direction for North Wales spots is from the SW as there is quite a narrow swell window. Large W swells do wrap up the Irish sea (often quite well) but swells from a NW direction will pass us by without so much as a wave (do you see what I did there?).
Porth Neigwl area (Hell’s Mouth)
Porth Neigwl is a four mile stretch of beach with Cilan head at the south end and Rhiw at the north end. The south end is most suitable for intermediate and experienced surfers with a boulder reef (known simply as ‘The Reef’) and a rock bottomed left that breaks next to the cliff (known as ‘The Corner’) providing the attractions. These spots get crowded with locals on good days and are often no better than some of the banks further north. The majority of the rest of the beach is shifting sand so the quality of these banks will change at any given time. The central part of the beach provides the most consistent waves in the whole of North Wales and is the best place for beginners and improvers. There is ample space to spread out and the waves are less powerful than elsewhere. Bear in mind that the south and central parts of Porth Neigwl are very exposed and should be avoided by beginners in strong (F6 and above) onshore winds. This part of the beach does not hold large swells well and anything over 6 feet becomes difficult and rips can be strong. Ideal conditions for this spot is groundswells up to 4-5ft with wind from N through to E.
The N end of Porth Neigwl (known as Rhiw) can be surfed on large swells and offers some protection from NW winds but the waves here are generally weak and banks ill defined. For the whole of Porth Neigwl, waves generally increase slightly on the dropping tide and often large spring tides can slacken the waves for a while right on high.
There are nearby beaches that work in much the same conditions as Porth Neigwl but they are less consistent and not as beginner friendly.
Pen LLyn North Coast
On very large swells, the north coast of Pen Llyn (Lleyn Peninsular) has several spots that can work. These spots are all fickle and can be pumping one day and flat the next in seemingly similar conditions. This is due to the swell period affecting the amount of ‘wrap’ that the swell has. The calculations required to predict the likely presence of a given swell at a given spot are likely to boggle the mind of a supercomputer so the best advice is to go early and search. Locals develop a sixth sense of where is likely to be good based on years of trial and error so don’t be disheartened if you hear the beach down the road from the one you surfed was gangbusters when you surfed two foot mush. My best advice here is if you see surfable waves, get in. Pen Llyn is vast and you can waste a lot of time and fuel searching for the pot of gold that might not even exist. That said, you may luck into the best surf of your life with no-one but you and your mate to tell the tale. The north coast of the Llyn provides shelter in winds from SW to SE and is therefore the go to area in the common SW gales that batter the region in winter.
Surfing on Anglesey is centred around the village of Rhosneigr with Treath Llydan (Broad Beach) and Traeth Ty’n Tywyn (The Usuals) being the go to spots. The swell is always smaller and less consistent on Anglesey than it is at Porth Neigwl and the tide two hours later. This means that if you check Anglesey and it’s small, you will have missed the tide at Porth Neigwl. If the forecast is for anything less than large surf, Porth Neigwl is always a better bet. Having said that, the beaches on Anglesey are very mellow and waves are weak which is ideal for newbies and longboarders/SUPs. There is understandably a large SUP scene in Rhosneigr.
There are fewer sheltered spots from the frequent gales on Anglesey than on Pen Llyn but there are some small bays that offer crowded and poor quality surf. I won’t name them as they do fill to bursting point but you won’t miss them if you look for the vans in the car parks.
There are a few surfable spots on the north and east coast of Anglesey in very rare northerly windswells and the quality of the surf at these spots is dubious to say the least, but it could be worth a foray in the right conditions.
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