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What's it like to surf The Cribbar?

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What's it like to surf The Cribbar?

With the recent huge swells that have been hammering into the Cornish coastline, attention has once more been focussed on Newquay’s baddest big wave The Cribbar.

A huge wave breaks at the Cribbar in Newquay, a surfer's red board is seen flying over the back of it in strong offshore winds
It’s coming to get you

You can see scores of articles in the mainstream press talking about how it ‘breaks a handful of times a year’ and how ‘only the most daredevil – or foolhardy – surfers take on the challenge’ and so on, but none of them really tell you what it’s like out there. I rode it last Sunday for the fifth time so I’ll see if I can explain what a typical session out there requires.

Dropping into a clean, green peak at the Cribbar big wave spot, Newquay
Your author sets a rail and takes a drop at the Cribbar

1. Lots of paddling
The wave breaks about 200m (or more) out from the Towan Headland, and you start your paddle from either Little Fistral beach or the old lifeboat slipway. Either way, it takes bleddy ages to get out there, paddling through choppy bouncy water. You of course need to save energy for the paddle home too – or swim if you’re unlucky.
2. Remote
You know how when you’re surfing a beach break, you’ve got other surfers and people nearby to help if you get in trouble? Well you don’t at the Cribbar. The lifeguards never come out there and it’s hard to spot people out there in the first place. And it is very likely that you will be pulled further out of position by the…
3. Strong currents
There is always a current running out here, even at slack water. As soon as that tide switches though, the current starts pulling you deeper into the break, requiring you to paddle constantly against it, further draining your energy. Also remember point 1.
4. Hellish wipeouts
Goes without saying. The Cribbar is beyond board snapping in its ferocity, it’s almost primeval. There is nothing like the noise as the lip cracks into the flats, exploding millions of gallons of water into the sky. It drills you down so deep that it gets dark, and stays dark for some time. One friend of mine likens it to being flung around by a giant as it holds on to your ankles. It’ is that violent.
5. Killer rocks
Despite the power of the wave, the currents, and the remote location, the rocks on the Towan Headland are what really make the Cribbar a widow maker. Simply put, they have been designed by the Devil himself. If you get caught by a set, this is where you’ll end up, before you are finally shuvved into the deep cut gulley from which no board or human can ever get out. There really are no escape routes if you screw it up.
6. Insane drops
Unless you have had a couple of trips out to Indo when it’s properly pumping, or can say that you regularly fling yourself over the ledge and into some of the meanest barrels around, you won’t be ready for the Cribbar. Surfing big Fistral doesn’t come close.  This is a technical reef break that requires lots of experience in similar situations; it’s not the place to try and step your surfing up.
7. Specialist equipment
As well as your own personal fitness and ability, you need to make sure your gear is up to the job. This means proper pintail surfboards well over 7ft in length carrying plenty of thickness and volume. You also want a bleddy strong leash. If you are up to the job and decide to invest in such a board, I suggest giving it a good road test at a big beach break first.
Truth be told, there are plenty more fun places to surf than the Cribbar when it’s on. For one, Little Fistral turns into an absolute barrel best and all sorts of little waves start to light up along the coast. But if the Cribbar your bucket list, why not get in touch with us to sort out a coaching plan? Go for it, but just don’t let it be the last thing you try to cross off.
Safe paddling and happy surfing!

Hans van Mourik

Co-founder SurfaWhile, ♥️ tech, travel, sports & outdoors.

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