Newquay's hidden surf beach paradise

by Ed Scott

As one of Cornwall’s most popular holiday spots, Newquay’s famous sandy beaches and excellent surf attract thousands of holidaymakers every year. But a short drive away, one of the South West’s true hidden gems awaits visitors seeking a more exclusive surfing experience. 

Nip around the Gannel Estuary - or walk across it at low tide - and you’ll find yourself in the small village of Crantock. With a population of just 800, its quiet country lanes and traditional Cornish pubs feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of Newquay. And its beach, owned and protected by the National Trust, is home to some of the best surf in Cornwall.

We spoke to Dale Unnuk, founder of Big Green Surf School, Crantock Beach’s only activity centre, to find out more about this secluded slice of paradise. 

dale unnuk big green surf school crantock

The Big Green Surf story

Pre-Big Green, Dale spent a year travelling around the South Pacific, where he fell in love with surf culture. After completing a BsC in Surf Science & Technology at the University of Plymouth, he worked at surf schools in Polzeath and South Africa. Dale founded Big Green Surf School in 2011, initially basing it in Newquay. In 2016, when the opportunity emerged to move to Crantock, he seized it with both hands.

“The location we’ve got now is incredible,” Dale told us. “The National Trust only allows one activity provider at a time, so we have a beautiful beach all to ourselves. We don’t have to worry about crowds, and we can always find a quiet space to surf.”

From their Crantock base, Big Green Surf School offer surfing lessons and equipment to cater to all abilities. “The focus from us, from day one, has always been that every single person that comes for a lesson should feel like they’ve had private, customised, one-to-one tuition,” Dale said. 

The team also provide stand-up paddleboarding and bodyboarding experiences, and in 2021 introduced kayaking for the first time. “We did a lot of coastal explorations on kayaks, rather than just using the tidal estuary that we’ve got here. Going in and out of caves during the flat spells that we’ve had, that’s a really magical experience.”

big green surf school crantock newquay

Welcome to the waves

Alongside providing lessons and equipment for hire, Dale and his team run a number of clubs to foster inclusion and development within surfing. “Surfing can be quite an intimidating thing to get started, so if we can break down those barriers, even better.”

“Our Big Green Surf Gals club meets every Sunday, to help local ladies get in the water together, and improve their surfing,” said Dale. “What’s been really nice is that a lot of the regulars have made friends through the group, and they now meet up to surf outside of the club, which is exactly what we wanted to happen!”

Big Green Surf School also run a weekly after school kids’ club during the summer and autumn terms. “We’ve got over 100 kids a week now,” Dale told us. “We run four nights a week, and each kid comes along for one night. It’s important that we keep the same groups together each week, with the same instructor. That way, they’re able to feel like they’re advancing.”

sup stand-up paddleboarding cornwall newquay
The eola team enjoying a monster SUP board with Big Green Surf School

Keeping Crantock clean

Dale and his team are active members of Surfers Against Sewage, pledging a portion of their profits each year to help keep marine environments clean. There is one source of pollution, in particular, which Dale is keen to eradicate.

“We work closely with Newquay Marine Group to prevent people buying those cheap, flimsy bodyboards which break on the first use. We’ve got a longstanding pledge that if you can buy a board cheaper than you can rent one from us for the day, then we’ll match that price. So people can come and rent a good quality board that is going to last and not just end up in landfill.”

Big Green Surf School also work with bellyboard company Dick Pearce & Friends, in support of their ‘Wood for Good’ campaign. “Dick Pearce manufactures beautiful wooden bellyboards by hand, the kind that surfers rode back in the 1900s,” Dale explained. “We have five boards that people can rent for free for up to two hours.”

big green surf school bodyboarding

A passion for a-splashin’

In the decade since he co-founded Big Green Surf School, Dale has introduced thousands of people to Crantock’s little slice of paradise. 

“We get to know every single person that comes through the surf school, and we teach everyone at the level that they turn up as on the day. Whether you want to come along to take up the sport full time, or you just want to splash around for two hours - we’re here to make sure that you have fun.”

Wrapping up our conversation, we asked Dale what it is that drives his passion for what he does. “I’ll never tire of that feeling of seeing someone stand up for the first time on a wave,” he reflected. 

“That magic moment where you can see in someone’s eyes when they ‘get it’. That moment, to be able to give that experience to someone, it’s what’s kept us going for ten years.”

big green surf school newquay crantock

If you’re heading down to Cornwall, make sure you visit Dale and the Big Green Surf School team at their stunning Crantock centre. Whether you’re an absolute beginner or a lifelong surfing fanatic, they’ll make sure you have a fantastic experience in stunning surroundings.

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