Great beaches, pretty rivers, steady winds, a plethora of watersports schools and vibrant wind and paddlesports communities make West Sussex one of the best places in Britain to learn kitesurfing, windsurfing, surfing, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking, sailing and diving.
Because so there are so many watersports to choose from, and as many of the conditions and skills you need to learn these are transferable, in this guide we’re going to stick with kitesurfing as the wind sport and kayaking as the paddlesport.
Before we begin, a word of warning: whichever water sport you decide to take up, prepare for it to become an obsession! You’ll be forever thinking about weather forecasts, wind directions and when you can get back on the water. And you won’t regret a thing!
With its array of easy-to-access beaches and rivers, West Sussex has everything you need to try out a new water sport and grow it into a hobby. All within easy reach of London, you could be on the water as little as 90 minutes after leaving work.
The West Sussex coast is prime kitesurfing territory. There’s a beach for every ability – and most weathers too. Inland, rivers that seem made for paddling loop across the South Downs, and sea kayakers can venture out from sheltered harbours into open seas.
Whatever you do, start your learning journey with one of the paddlesports and windsports schools and concessions that are dotted across this stretch of coastline and along the rivers. Once you’ve mastered the basics and essential safety aspects, you can book further sessions to take you to the next level.
As Lancing-based kitesurfer Michelle found, joining a watersports session can make or break your new hobby experience: “For me, it was about accessing the little communities, and the teachers on the beach are at the heart of the community. I believe that to leverage the sport, actually getting into the schools is one of the best ways to become part of the wonderful kitesurfing communities.”
As a rule of thumb, most watersports schools in West Sussex offer:
As Michelle says, “The coastline around here is basically a long line of beach and you can pretty much kite along the whole coast. There’s nothing stopping you from launching on a little adventure up or down wind, and there are lots of inlets that get flat water.”
Sandy Lancing beach is kind to windsports beginners, while Goring and West Worthing are a favourite haunt of local kitesurfers. For a reliable beach that’s sailable in nearly all wind directions, try the renowned West Wittering. Its waves run the gamut of kitesurfing suitability, from jumping at high tide to freeride flat water in the low-tide lagoons. Just around the corner, Bracklesham Bay can produce some epic wave-riding on a north-westerly.
And if you’re not at home with the lingo just yet, don’t worry – once the kitesurfing bug grips you, this will become your second language.
The variety of waterways in West Sussex means sea and river kayakers head here in all weathers. Hire some kit, bring your own, or book a lesson – you’ll find paddlesports schools, concessions and rentals all over West Sussex.
Time your paddle along the River Arun (one of the country’s strongest tidal rivers) to harness the tide’s power and do the hard work for you. It’s possible to paddle from the river’s mouth in Littlehampton across the beautiful South Downs, stopping at pubs and tea rooms along the way. Newbies can pack a picnic, hire a kayak at Pulborough and drift along the river’s narrow, wildlife-rich channels at the northern edge of the South Downs National Park.
Winding its way inland from Shoreham-by-Sea, the River Adur is another popular spot for paddlesports. Hire a kayak in Horsebridge Common, join a group tour from Shoreham or paddle with a friend, depending on your experience. Beginners should check out Chichester Ship Canal for a calm and sheltered place to launch.
If you want to try sea kayaking, book an introduction to the sport in Chichester Harbour AONB. It’s tidal but relatively sheltered, with plenty of wildlife to watch, including seals. Experienced sea kayakers can pitch up at any of the many beaches and launch into the waves. Those with serious stamina could even consider joining a guided group crossing to the Isle of Wight!
Summer is the obvious choice, when the water is warm and the weather gentle, but don’t dismiss the rest of the year. Michelle says, “I prefer the summer days but they can get pretty busy – kitesurfing is getting more and more popular – but I do like the quietness and big winds of winter. You just wrap up in your winter gear and the conditions are really exciting.” After all, there is no bad weather, just inappropriate wetsuits!