With easy access from the M4 motorway, the waves of Porthcawl's beaches attract lots of visiting surfers, but you'll also find a strong local contingent and even former Welsh, British and European surfing champions.
Porthcawl straddles a unique stretch of water with one of the largest tidal ranges in the world so it pays to get some good local knowledge before you paddle out.
Rest Bay beach is Porthcawl’s main hub for surfing and arguably one of the best places to surf in Wales with consistent waves throughout the year. It’s a family friendly, Blue Flag beach with lifeguards on patrol throughout the summer months and the long sandy beach is suitable for all levels of surfing; from kids jumping on their first bodyboards, to more advanced surfers when the waves get bigger.
It has a vast tidal range and swell needs to push over offshore sand bars before registering as surfable waves on the beach. As a result, waves can build suddenly from 2 ft to overhead in a matter of hours, so it pays to keep a tide table handy. On windier days the beach is increasingly popular with kite surfers who take to the skies here to enjoy the windy conditions and jump the waves. Rest Bay needs to be avoided at High Tide.
Porthcawl Surf School is located above the beach in Rest Bay Watersports Centre, next to the pay and display car park. The award winning, WSA accredited surf school and hire centre has knowledgeable, highly trained, qualified and professional local surf instructors who can provide everything you need; including wetsuits, surfboards, bodyboards, SUPs etc and you’ll be popping up to your feet, in no time. And if you can already surf, then you can hire whatever gear you need.
The watersports centre has excellent shower and toilet facilities, and if you’re feeling peckish you'll find Rest Bay cafe bar on the ground floor and a restaurant upstairs where you can enjoy food and an après surf drink. It’s the perfect spot to relax and soak up incredible sunsets, with Instagrammable views across the water to Somerset and North Devon.
Either side of the main beach you’ll find plenty of rock pools to explore and some amazing rock formations. The left hand side of the beach, known locally as ‘Cove’, is a great place for a spot of sea glass hunting with the kids.
A smooth accessible coastal path and boardwalk runs either side of the beach taking you either into Porthcawl or west towards Pink Bay and Sker Beach. It’s perfect for strolling on with a buggy, kid’s scooters or for running and cycling and if you’re feeling fit, there’s also a 5km Park Run every Saturday morning.
Sker Beach and Pink Bay
The most westerly pair of Porthcawl’s bays and beaches are Pink Bay and Sker Beach, both dog friendly year-round.
A 10 minute stroll along the boardwalk from Rest Bay is Pink Bay, a tranquil place filled with quiet coves and shingle bays, far away from the summer crowds. On the way you’ll pass Royal Porthcawl Golf Club, one of the best Links courses in the world with a long history of prestigious tournaments. Nearby you’ll also find the picturesque, championship Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club hugging the dunes and nature reserve near to Sker Beach.
Sker Beach is long and quiet with a pronounced pebble bank backing onto Kenfig Nature Reserve; a haven for wildlife, where you'll find many rare species of plants and animals including the rare Fen Orchid, and visiting migratory birds around the lake and reed beds.
The surf can be excellent at Sker Beach but generally not suitable for beginners, as the waves and rips can be very powerful. As autumn moves into winter, the sea cools and the size of the surf increases considerably and is better suited to more experienced surfers as the waves and rip currents can be fierce. The nearest facilities are a mile away, through the sand dunes of the nature reserve.
Coney Beach (Sandy Bay)
If the wind and waves are strong then Sandy Bay, or Coney Beach as it’s more widely known, offers a more manageable, sheltered beach day, nestled in against the harbour from the buffeting SW winds. This long, sandy bay has long been a popular destination for families and there are plenty of cafes and takeaway food stops along the back of the beach where you can enjoy a drink and a bite to eat with views over the coast towards Ogmore Beach. Coney Beach should be avoided at low tide though.
The beach has lifeguards throughout the summer and the surf at Coney Beach is generally smaller than at Rest Bay. As a result it’s a popular spot for learners and longboarders with smaller waves towards the harbour wall. It’s a pretty unique backdrop with the fun fair rides of Coney Beach Pleasure Park spinning in the sky above.
In late September Coney Beach and the rest of Porthcawl turns into ‘Graceland’ as thousands of ‘Elvies’ arrive for the annual Elvis Festival. It’s a fun-packed, fancy dress weekend, with ticketed professional impersonator competitions taking place in the art-deco pavilion.
Families can also enjoy a safe, sheltered beach at Trecco Bay beach. With plenty of good shelter from wind, there’s rarely any surf here but nearby Trecco Bay Holiday Park provides a good base to stay. There's plenty of wet weather entertainment on offer, including a large swimming pool with slides, and an outdoor splash park and kid’s play area.
Tucked in around the point from Trecco Bay is Newton Beach, which is dog friendly year round. The pronounced headland provides shelter from the prevailing swell and wind, and the low tide currents can easily put people at risk, so it's not considered suitable for surfing.
Newton Beach is located next to Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve, home to the second largest sand dunes in Europe and the highest dune in Wales, known as the Big Dipper. If you're in need of a surf fix here, you could always try sand surfing instead!