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24 September 2014

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Surfers walking the beach in north Norfolk
Surfers walk the beach in anticipation

East Coast surfing

by David Whiteley
Surfing in England was once Cornwall's domain - but now the east coast is giving the south-west a run for its money. Deep swells, good waves and ice-cold seas are fast making north Norfolk a mecca for the die-hard surfer.

When we think of surfing in England, most people think of the sandy shores to be found in Cornwall. For as long as anyone can remember, surfers have hit the waves in the south west - but not many of us associate surfing with the east coast, until now.

The North Sea is fast becoming a haven for die-hard surfers. The waves are less frequent than in Cornwall, but when they come the car parks around the good breaks in Norfolk soon fill up and the dedicated surfing fraternity hits the water.

Since presenting and producing the piece on surfing for Inside Out, I’ve become hooked. I am absolutely dreadful in the film, but have since had lessons in France and I’m now out surfing at every opportunity I get.

David Whiteley, presenter of Inside Out - BBC East
David Whiteley

It is addictive, but not easy. As one surfer said to me, "If it was easy you wouldn't get the buzz of catching a wave." And how right he was. There's nothing like it.

Just getting out beyond the breaking waves can take all of your energy and then there are the strong currents to take into account too. But once you're 'out back', sitting on your board and scanning the horizon for the perfect wave, there’s nothing like it.

People have been surfing in Norfolk since the '70s and some even before then. Now the sport in the county is getting bigger. There are websites dedicated to the east coast surf scene and one that'll tell you when the swell (which creates waves) is coming, so there are less wasted trips to the beach.

Ice-cold seas

When these guys and girls go surfing, they go at any time of day and night and all year round too. Thick winter wetsuits have enabled the hardcore clan of Norfolk surfers to surf when there’s snow on the beach. The water in the North Sea stays fairly warm until November, but that’s when it really starts to drop off!

Favourite surf breaks along the coast include Cromer and East Runton, but there are many other more secluded and secret spots to choose from.

Surfer Mark Southgate in his wetsuit
Surfing enthusiast Mark Southgate

People travel from miles around to surf in Norfolk and you can understand why. Virtually everyone you meet when surfing is welcoming and will even give you tips on where you're going wrong.

Mark Southgate, who runs the website, has been surfing here for 10 years.

"Surfing is a pretty big thing around here, people have been doing it since the seventies on the Norfolk coast. You do get some pretty gnarly (scary) waves in the North Sea," he said.

Predicting the conditions

Steve Smith runs the website for swell predictions and he admits forecasting the swells isn't easy.

"It's very hard to predict the waves. I look at charts from all over the world to tell what’s happening here in the North Sea. I look at wave heights and wave directions and try and give a five-day prediction," he said.

"There’s even midnight surfing, so surfers here will go to very extreme lengths to do what they love," he added.

David Whiteley can be seen presenting Inside Out on  Mondays at 7.30pm on BBC1.

last updated: 29/07/05
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