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McConks’ stand up paddle boarding bitesize travel guides: Harlyn Bay, Cornwall.


Harlyn Bay, Cornwall

Spot type:

North facing, open water, tidal location with plenty of wave action.


Harlyn’s geography means it doesn’t pick up the same amount of swell as more westerly facing beaches surrounding. This is both a blessing and a curse. When swell’s small, it’s pretty titchy, which mightn’t be that attractive to the hardened wave warrior. If the rest of the surrounding Cornish gets huge and blow out, however, Harlyn really comes into its own offering shelter and offshores with some seriously punchy walls. The issue is every man and his dog knows this and surfers head to Harlyn from miles around when their local is a whitewashed mess. It’s a rippy, hollow and heavy wave over 2ft but the paddle out can often be dry hair and short.


There’s a small river ever flowing into the sea which you’ll need to navigate to actually access the main beach. A few rocks dot the shoreline that need to be taken into account. And the rips Harlyn can throw up are worth keeping in mind. With a decent swell the wave can be sucky, punchy and heavy resembling in some instances a shore dump rather than a wave. It’ll snap boards easily. Other water users need to be kept clear of during busy times.


Parking is either in the main car park next to Harlyn or across the small country lane in the adjacent field. It gets rammed in summer so be there early if you’re planning a trip during silly season. Both car parks can also be muddy if it’s been raining.

Popularity (1-10):

When the surf’s big and blown out at W facing beaches there’ll be every surfer from miles around making a beeline for Harlyn. And in summer, during warmer weather and school holidays, you’ll never be alone. Out of season on smaller swells it’s a lot more peaceful and mellow with fewer people on the beach and in the water.


The Harlyn Inn is right across the country road from Harlyn’s main beach and access point. It offers food and beverage choices with a number of rooms to make use of. There’s an attached beach shop and toilet facilities. Padstow is a short drive away where you’ll find abundant shops, eateries and every other kind of convenience you need. In the opposite direction is Constantine (another popular North Cornwall surfing haunt) with its own microcosm of amenities.


Harlyn Bay is an idyllic white sand beach that typifies the North Cornwall experience. Its azure coloured water, that glistens on sunny days, are begging you to get wet. And during a large part of the season Harlyn offers small to medium, mellow sized waves. When swells ramp up, however, Harlyn can be a fast and challenging spot that delivers a punch in the face close out or fast gunny wall to carve a few turns on. If it’s big and blowy out west then here’s where you’ll find shelter and an offshore. But everyone knows this and therefore Harlyn can get crowded out. There are a few other possibly quieter options in the vicinity, not that far away, but quality of wave can sometimes be lacking. That said Harlyn can be a dream SUP set up when it works and is definitely worth a look. The vibe of the place during quieter periods resemble a throwback to those lost, innocent times before smart phones and surf forecasting websites were a thing. And if you luck out with a flat, calm, windless weather window then SUP touring options can be idyllic.

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