Swanage (Jurassic Coast), Dorset
Sunny (in outlook) seaside town particularly sheltered from the elements with a mellow vibe on the water. Tidal, yes, but as safe as you’ll ever get at the coast (with common sense in place). A wide sandy bay faces E and is flanked by cliffs to the left (north) and Swanage town/Durlston Country Park to the right. A pretty busy spot with general holidaymakers in high season but with plenty of room on the water still.
Facing east, with views towards the Isle of Wight in the distance, and being a horseshoe bay with a shallow shelving beach means Swanage is extremely sheltered. Prevailing SW winds blow offshore, and whilst these gusts can funnel down the valley the water itself remains calm. That said you do get ground swells creeping up the Channel and wrapping round from Anvil Point, into Durlston Bay and ultimately round Peveril Point and into Swanage. These are mostly small, however. But, on the right day with your SUP you can score some fun surf. If you truly luck out and arrive to a solid ground swell (or howling gale blowing Bournemouth/Boscombe to bits) you may end up with shoulder/head waves in Swanage Bay. They can dump on the shallows but your stand up paddle board will allow early entry. Recreational paddlers have plenty of room to frolic whilst touring/adventure SUPers have plenty of options, from heading round to Old Harry Rocks and Studland Bay or checking out Durlston Bay (be careful of the latter if there is swell running!). Oh, and did we say that Swanage is a particular sun trap location boasting some decent rays throughout the year.
Boat and marine traffic needs to be avoided as Swanage does have a small fishing fleet that uses the stretch of water next to the main pier. Other recreational boating traffic comes and goes – jet skis (particularly in summer can be observed). Sailing dinghies, wild swimmers, other stand up paddle boarders and on wave days surfers all need to be kept clear of.
There are sea defence groynes that run along the middle part of Swanage beach with the odd lateral marker pole/buoy that could get in the way. Rocks and steep cliffs, prone to subsidence, to the left should be kept in mind. The Jurassic Coast is known for its landslides so be aware especially after rainfall! Mostly, however, Swanage Bay is as safe as you’ll get at the coast for a spot of stand up paddle boarding.
Getting onto the beach is super easy with plenty of put ins all the way along the seafront. Towards the cliff end starts to become harder but will plenty of gateways elsewhere it’s not an issue. There are slipways towards town end whereas the middle part of the beach has ramp way access. Your only issue, during summer, will be parking right next to the spot. Some overflow carparks are available a few streets back but even these can get rammed. Arrive early if the weather’s warm and sunny.
10+ during high season with general tourists. Stand up paddlers, however, are less in number than some other spots in the area so you, although they are still about.
There’s plenty of all types of amenity available, and all within easy reach on foot. Swanage town itself has eateries, refreshment stops, cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants. Accommodation options are abundant and entertainment, away from the water, are also plentiful. Plus, you’re within striking distance of Poole/Bournemouth for even more. You won’t go hungry here!
Swanage, by and large, is an often overlooked venue with its more headline neighbouring locations taking the lion’s share of attention for stand up paddle boarding and watersports in general. The fact is, however, that Swanage is the location 90% of the time for tidal water beginners, intermediates looking to take their first paddle strokes at a coastal spot, SUP surfers dabbling with waves and touring/adventure SUPers wanting an easy start point to access a whole plethora of awe inspiring routes – this is the Jurassic Coast after all.
In Swanage Bay itself the sandy beach gives access to gently lapping waters most of the time. There can be an easy to navigate shore break the further along to the left you go whilst right next to town and the pier is super flat water. This is where the local stand up paddle board hire company sits.
Being an east facing beach means prevailing wind and swells, booting up the Channel from the west either miss the bay entirely or manifest as much easy going conditions. For instance, Bournemouth/Boscombe can see thumping wave conditions – in the overhead range – whilst Swanage remains a manageable (but still fun) 2ft. Also, gales swooping in from the Atlantic whoosh there gusts at Swanage yet it remains a calm spot as long as you don’t stray too far from shore.
This all said Swanage does have a few secrets, as far as waves go in the area. For the experienced seek and ye may find. But be aware these breaks aren’t for the faint hearted and lie completely off the beaten track.
Touring/adventure paddlers will be well served by Swanage. Put in here to access Old Harry Rocks to the left. Keep on going and you’ll cross Studland Bay and eventually hit Sandbanks. If you’re attempting an excursion like this then make sure you up to the task and understand the conditions. Likewise, turn right and head round the corner towards Kimmeridge. This is a much more full on route with less get out options so know your limits!
Swanage is in no way a hardcore SUP venue but even for those of that ilk it does offer something – even just powering through a few laps across the bay. It is pleasant, however, with a real mellow vibe and some SUP fun to be had.