The winding drive to the beach at Polzeath could be California's Highway 1, the way it snakes around the rocky coastline as far as the eye can see. Pull into Polzeath, and another iconic U.S. West Coast image greets you: surfers. Herds of them.
But this is Cornwall, the county that covers England's southwestern tip. From tiny Polzeath and the curiously named Crackington Haven to larger towns like Newquay and St. Ives, seemingly everybody, from little kids to grannies (it's a family sport here), surfs on the north coast. Cornwall anchors a lively British surf scene in neighboring Devon, and also in Wales and Scotland.
But it's not quite Malibu. The waves are smaller, the sun's fickle and the cuisine can have a distinctly British flavor. Want nouveau? In Polzeath, the Waterfront Café restaurant offers seared Devon ostrich steak. Something greasy? The "surfer's breakfast" at the Galleon café in the same town consists of a fried egg on fried bread enough to stop your heart before the chilly Atlantic gets a chance. But the frigid waters aren't a big deterrent, as nearly everyone wears a wet suit. You can easily hire the gear and take a lesson.
One blustery morning in Newquay, when an angry northerly was knocking hotshot surfers into the ocean, British Surfing Association (BSA) instructor Mark Seddon almost got this huffing and puffing journalist into standing position on a board. Lucky for instructors that nearly a fifth of British surfers have been at it less than two years, says the BSA. There are 300,000 in total: Brits have never let rain dampen their day at the beach. www.brit surf.co.uk