Learning to surf as a family is a challenge, but a fun one. Absolutely Education heads to North Devon’s Saunton Sands

Words Pendle Harte

When people get the surfing bug, it eclipses everything else. Friends of ours from London felt the pull of the sea so strongly that within a year of riding their first wave, they had bought a caravan in North Devon and were driving down at every available opportunity. Another year on and they had sold up, left London and moved permanently to be near the water. They even refurbished their new coastal home with surfing in mind, modifying the garage to include surfboard and wetsuit storage and installing an outdoor shower. That’s how addictive surfing can be. So while we were ready to be taken by it, we weren’t quite ready for the reality of it.

Walking On Waves Shoot
Sarah Whiteley of Walking on Waves prepares to take a lesson at Saunton Sands Beach. Photo and main photo top, Will Bailey.

We are heading for Saunton Sands, a beach known for its surf and particularly its suitability for beginners. None of us has ever surfed before; there are four of us: two adults and two children, aged 12 and 9. We arrive late on Friday night and our first lesson is scheduled for Saturday morning; arriving in the dark means that while we’re impressed with the spot, it’s not until the next day that we are blown away by the amazing view.

“What our friends hadn’t told us beginners is that, for all its compelling qualities, surfing is completely exhausting”

The owner of Chalet Saunton is a bit like our London friends in that he has designed the building with surfing practicalities as a priority. Between the beach and the house is a surf shelter for boards and wetsuits, and a shower. Nobody wants to trail sand into their house, and nobody wants to be cold, especially not anyone who has opted for the luxurious surroundings of Chalet Saunton. The house is divided into six apartments and a penthouse, all of them spacious and with spectacular views of the beach. In fact, when the sun comes up,  it’s possibly the best beach view we’ve ever seen, and Saunton Sands is certainly one of the UK’s most spectacular beaches in terms of its sheer size, soft sand and reliable surf.

Our chalet has great views, is comfortable and also incredibly well appointed – perfect for down time between our surfing lessons

The chalet’s interiors are minimal, tastefully muted in shades of grey and neutral, with acres of space and no superfluous furniture or decoration, yet very well equipped in terms of practicality, comfort and tech. In the kitchen, for instance, there’s an integrated wine cooler, a Nespresso machine complete with electric milk frother and a welcome hamper of local produce (plus avocados). The living room has a vast smart TV, a Sonos speaker and lots of sofa space; there are impressive power showers and underfloor heating throughout.

So all of this means that after our first surfing lesson – Walking on Waves runs classes on the chalet’s doorstep – we can recover in warmth and comfort. Because what our friends hadn’t told us is that surfing, for all its compelling qualities, is exhausting. At least it is for us beginners. Our group lesson lasts two hours, during which we go to battle with the waves and, on the whole, lose. Inevitably the children are better at it than we are, but standing up for more than a split second eludes me.

Our instructors are vigilant and instill us with lots of enthusiasm and a good sense of what we are trying to do – and the addictive pull lies in the constant sense that the next wave will be the one. After the session we are all desperate to return, but immediately we head for the comfort of the chalet’s hot showers, fluffy towels and sofas. There is no better way to spend a post-surf evening in October than fish and chips in front of the television, with full sea views in the distance. When we return it will be summer, and we’ll drink in the views from the vast terrace.

Chalet Saunton self-catering accommodation chaletsaunton.com

Walking on Waves surf lessons walking-on-waves.com

Further reading: Family board games are back