person surfing the cribbar nathan benham photography

What is the Cribbar?

The Cribbar is an occurrence that happens a few times a year when weather and swell conditions create a famous wave up to 30ft high just off the ocean facing side of The Headland Cornwall. The wave was unsurfed until Chris Bertish surfed it in 2004. Big wave surfers now watch weather reports eagerly to attempt to surf the monster. Spectators flock to The Headland as it’s the perfect spot to watch the phenomenon.

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It is the most exciting big wave to surf in Cornwall. The Cribbar is the reef that runs under the water from the Towan headland. It is shallower than the surrounding sea and when the right swell comes in it breaks over the reef. Because you have got a relatively shallow reef surrounded by sand, there is a gradient underwater and it’s not uniform like the beach, so the waves peel off it, rather than closing out.

For non-surfers, that means instead of the wave breaking over sand, when the tide is right, the waves go over the reef. A wave breaks when it passes over a certain depth in relation to its height and when you have a reef, it means the depth suddenly changes and that forces a wave to break prematurely. If you catch a wave on the Cribbar, it tends to be much larger than the waves hitting the beach.

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How often does The Cribbar break?

To break on The Cribbar there needs to be a big swell with a long period between each wave. As the waves travel they often become more defined and have more power. And then you need a good offshore wind, south easterly.

“It breaks a lot more than people think , you get a low tide and a swell of a couple of metres and it happens.” – Surfer Dom Moore, who runs the Surf Sanctuary surf school at the Headland Hotel in Newquay, overlooking the Cribbar reef.

Spectators can enjoy The Cribbar from The Headland. Either watch from our large windows and terrace with a warm drink or view from the oceanside lawns of our historic building.

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