Brief Intro: Bigbury is the main wave spot along this coastline. It picks up any swell out in the Atlantic and works in most wind directions. More accessible than the north coast of Cornwall, Bigbury is definately worth a visit. It is also very beautiful.
Best wind direction: W wind funnels through the gap between the island and the mainland giving cross shore, starboard riding.
SW winds bring cross on, wavey, mushy, starboard conditions.
E/NE gives flat but often windy conditions as the wind funnels down the river mouth especially when it is sunny.
(The pictures in the famous magazine article were taken during a westerly swell with an east wind. These conditions are very rare and not for the faint hearted!)
Best direction for waves:
SW/W or huge swell with a NE wind.
N (offshore, don’t bother) and S (very onshore).
Tide: On neaps the tide doesn’t seem to do a lot. On springs, mid to high tide is best as the waves can die off at a spring low tide. There is also very little beach left at a big spring high tide. Whether neaps or springs, an outgoing tide is best as it flows out of the river mouth against the swell rolling in, giving great wave riding.
Is the Island in the way of the wind?: Obviously if you sail too close to it you will be in its wind shadow. When there are big swells it is less intimidating to sail closer to the island, as this is what a lot of sailors do and therefore they will say, ‘Bigbury is gusty’. But if you have the bottle, the wind will be cleaner where the biggest waves break. The wind is really consistent around the river mouth but again the swell can be big on a good day.
What’s on the bottom:
On a big day it can close out past the island at Murray rocks. If you get stuck it’s a long swim in. You can get washed onto the rocks over to the left of the bay looking out to sea, but again it needs to be a big day. There are RNLI Lifeguards on duty from May to September.
Other water users: Kitersurfers and a few swimmers. Please note, stay out of the swimming area which is marked by buoys or the Lifeguards rib will get you!
Beginners to Advanced, honest! A NE wind is perfect for flat water sailing and freestyle. Dependant on the size of the swell, you can get some lovely 5m days with 4/5ft waves, ideal for an introduction into wave riding. However, if it has been blowing for a while then watch out for mast high waves with lots of white water on the outside. Nearer to the river mouth the waves become hollow and heavy. You need to pick your day, and also pick your place to sail in the bay.
Wipeout factor: On a big day it can feel quite intimidating out in the rolling and breaking swell. There is quite a rip from the river mouth and that will take you right out to the Murray Rocks before it spits you out. Of course, if it is breaking at the mouth of the bay, then it’s a long swim in if you lose or break your kit. Like with any proper wave spot, err on the side of caution until you get to know the place.
Instruction: YES, at Reactive Watersports 01752 255999 email@example.com. This won’t take place at Bigbury beach, but at their school in Plymouth Sound. They teach all RYA levels from 1-5 and the new Fast Forward scheme. A level 5 course may be held at Bigbury Beach.
Kit Hire: Reactive Watersports Demo Lake. Located at Siblyback Lake near Lizguard. They have 10 boards (between 100-200 litres) and rigs (kiddie rigs to 8m sails) available to use during the season for FREE! However you need to get a voucher from the Reactive Watersports shop to use the kit at the lake and there is a £8 launch fee payable to South West Water.
Friendly factor: This is the main spot along this coastline. The summer brings NE winds that accelerate down the river mouth. This brings out 30 plus blasters and freestylers. On a good swell, it never gets that busy as it’s usually quite gnarly!
No wind alternatives: Bigbury Golf course (Contact Martin Lowry on 01548 810557 for visitor’s fees), the usual city life in Plymouth including ice skating, bowling, dry ski slope and a National Marine Aquarium (Open daily, Adult: £8.75, Children: £5.25, Tel.01752 220084, www.national-aquarium.co.uk).
The Eden Project is about an hours drive away (Open daily, Adult: £12, Children: £5, www.edenproject.com)
Surfable?: Yes, by the river mouth. Bantham is also very popular and there is a bit of localism on the wave. Challaborough is also good.
||Yes, on site
|| Yes, on site but outside.
Reactive Watersports, 30 minutes away in Plymouth at Queen Anne’s Battery Marina.
|| Nice café in the car park, open all year round.
||£5 per day in the season. If you are early you can park at the bottom of the beach slipway in the 10 free spaces. There is also a £2 per day economy parking 500m up the road.
Pilchard Inn on the Burgh Island is a 15th century pub and is well worth the trip across the water in the tallest tractor in the world! The Royal Oak in Bigbury village does good food and ale.
Accommodation: If you have money to burn, then stay at The Burgh Island Hotel. (www.burghisland.com/content_accomodation.htm). Otherwise try Mount Folly Farm camp site which is 10 minutes walk from the beach with wash basins and toilets. It costs £5 per tent per night. Call Mrs J Tucker for more info (01548 810267). Or the Henley Hotel (01548 810240), The Royal Oak Inn (01548 810313) or the Bay Bungalows at Challaborough (01548 810425. For more accommodation you can phone Reactive Watersports on 01752 255999.
Local hotshots: The Reactive guys: Dave Ewer and Ruebin Ellis. Pro sailor John Hibbard, Tushingham man Dave Hackford and lots of students from Plymouth.
Local knowledge/secrets: On a big southerly go to Worwell Beach, through Kingston, where the waves are tamer out of the river mouth. If the wind forecast is NE, it will be another force stronger at Bigbury because it funnels down the river mouth.
Any webcams of the beach?: Go to www.reactivewatersports.co.uk, click on the webcam button.
A new photo appears every 30 minutes. Please note, because the webcam is sheltered, the actual wind speed will be greater than shown, especially in a NE wind.
Reactive Watersports hosted its first National Freewave event at Bigbury in Sept 2004. It was won by John Skye.
How to get there:
Take the A38 to Plymouth and get off at the Urmington turn off. which is approximately 20 minutes after Exeter. (Look out for a Shell garage just before this turn off). Go left at the top of the slipway. Carry on for 2 miles, straight across a crossroads. Go another 3 to 4 miles until you get to the California Cross. There is a pub on the right, and a garage on the left. 500m down the road it veers to the right. Take the small slip road which carries straight on. Go on this road for another 3 to 4 miles again, cross over another crossroads, then another 3 miles and this brings you straight to the beach. Park in the lower car park.
Reporter: Dave Ewer, action shots by Alex Williams.