Water Sports to Try in the UK (Whatever Your Ability)

Watergate Bay North Cornwall surfing area with tourists on the beach

Just in time for long summer days and the approach of the school holidays, guest poster Robyn is here to tell you about three of the best UK water sports to get involved in, whether you’re a complete amateur or you want to test your existing skills in a new location.

Whilst I went white water rafting years ago, and failed dramatically at windsurfing on a school trip, this blog post has reminded me there’s no age limit when it comes to trying water sports. Maybe it’s time to book those surf lessons after all…

Man in hard hat and life jacket under waterfall in Welsh mountains
How much fun does this look?! Gorge walking is all the rage. Credit: Proadventure.co.uk – flickr.com/photos/proadventurephoto.

As the weather in the UK heats up again (well, we have our fingers crossed, at least!), there’s no better time to get outside in the great outdoors and try something new, especially on the water. From England and Scotland to Wales and Northern Ireland, it’s the rivers, seaside and lakes that provide some of the best views around.

For those of you who crave adrenaline, the UK’s water sports scene really heats up in the summer, and you don’t have to go far to get your toes wet. Pack your waterproof mascara and your swimwear, then tick one of these options off the bucket list…

Surfer riding a wave off the Cornish coast on white surf board
Surf’s up in St. Ives, Cornwall. Credit: David Merrett – flickr.com/photos/davehamster.


Wherever you are in the UK, surfing spots aren’t too difficult to reach, because you’re never more than 45 miles (or 72km) from the coast. The size of our little island nation makes weekend trips to the other side of the country completely plausible. Devon and Cornwall are renowned for their great surfing locations, with Woolacombe, Croyde, Watergate Bay and Newquay all proving popular with seasoned surfers. Meanwhile, Bournemouth in Dorset is home to Europe’s first artificial surf reef.

Beginners shouldn’t just follow the crowds, as it’s best to find a quieter beach with smaller waves to help you master the techniques. Surf schools will happily show the ropes to beginners of all ages. Price-wise, expect to pay about £30-50 for a one day workshop, £100 for a multi-day non-residential course, and a bit more for an intensive surf camp with accommodation.

The best time to surf is between June and November, though if you want to avoid school holiday tourists, swap peak day times for early mornings in July and August. Most importantly, don’t forget your wetsuit, as the water will be chilly unless you’re kitted out. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you could even set your sights on international surfing trips to Morocco, Bali, or Hawaii (where Edward VIII and Agatha Christie both got on their boards).

Ghyll scrambling along a gorge is an extreme adventure sport and group activity in Britain
Not your average team building session: gorge walking in North Wales. Credit: Proadventure.co.uk – flickr.com/photos/proadventurephoto.

Gorge Walking

Gorge walking involves hiking up (or down) a stream or river, climbing over waterfalls, abseiling down cliffs, and enjoying naturally formed slides and pools along the way; imagine it like a geography lesson without the boring bits! Also known as ghyll scrambling, many people find this sport strangely addictive, and they often prefer it to canyoning, which only involves descents.

Unlike surfing, gorge walking works much better in big groups, because you’ll need to work as a team to get from one end of the gorge to the other. Bigger groups also mean a cheaper overall cost, and you should expect to pay around £35-65 for anything from a few hours to half a day of intense activity. More ambitious routes include sections with rigged climbs, but there are easier options to suit children and less confident adventurers.

The best place to try gorge walking experiences is Wales, where the Welsh mountain landscapes are the ideal playground for explorers, particularly in the Brecon Beacons. Further afield, you can head to gorges in the Lake District, Perthshire and Fort William. The sport is gradually being seen as an offbeat alternative to traditional stag and hen party activities, and it’s also popular as a team building trip away from the office – surely more exciting than sorting out the paperclips!

Pembrokeshire rocks and sea with kayakers at the edge of the water
Take your kayak to the Welsh coast. Credit: Phil Dolby – flickr.com/photos/126654539@N08.


Ocean, river and lake kayaking all offer very different experiences. You can actually sightsee by kayak as an alternative to taking a tour bus – look out for night kayaking experiences along the River Thames in London, or try daytime sessions in Poole Harbour, where you can paddle around the famous Brownsea Island. These trips include equipment hire, and you’ll be led by an expert.

Northern Ireland will appeal to more advanced kayak and canoe enthusiasts, though newbies can learn here too. A beginners’ day session should cost around £30-50, and there are plenty of trails available online for those with the experience and drive to see more of the area. The Tollymore National Outdoor Centre also offers white water kayaking courses to help improve your skills.

Gig clubs competing in Newquay from across the South West
Pilot gigs racing in North Cornwall.

Lastly, wherever you end up in the water this summer, remember these pointers:

  • Make sure your equipment is up to scratch and fit for purpose
  • If you’re going alone, let someone know when you plan on returning
  • Always follow the rules and regulations in the water – listen to activity leaders and look out for lifeguards’ flags on the beach
  • Check the weather and tide times before you head out
  • Keep your valuables dry
  • Stay safe and have fun!

Author Bio: Robyn Edwards is a UK based travel blogger who enjoys longs days on the beach, hikes through the forest and breathtaking views. Her recent trips have included snorkelling on the Caribbean and surfing in Ireland.


2 thoughts on “Water Sports to Try in the UK (Whatever Your Ability)”

  1. Hey, great share…….

    It seems extremely interesting. Amazing pictures!! I am a big fan of water sports especially surfing. Next month I am visiting UK for a business trip. I am surely going to try all the water sports there. Thanks for sharing this post.

    Keep sharing and enjoying!!

    1. Hi Jean,

      Definitely try and do some surfing when you’re in the UK. We might not have the warmest water, but we do have some good surfing spots!


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