10 ways to get out on the water in Devon

Walking on waves

Walking on waves - Credit: Archant

There is something quite life-enriching about being by the water and in Devon there are plenty of ways to enjoy it, writes Fran McElhone. Including surfing, wild swimming, water skiing and more, here are 10 great ways to enjoy Devon’s water

Wild swimmer Pauline Barker

Wild swimmer Pauline Barker - Credit: Archant

1) Wild swimming

Swimming is probably the most accessible way of enjoying the water. But the message from Plymouth-based Pauline Barker, founder of Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming, an informal network of folk partial to a dip in the wild, is to be safe. “Always make sure that someone knows where you are,” she says.

Pauline founded the group, which primarily operates via Facebook, eight years ago, with the simple aim of bringing people who share a love of swimming and the outdoors together. Five members have multiplied into 8,000. There are regular swims for new members to join in, but you’ll find a friend to swim with pretty much any day of the week.

Diving with Lundy seals

Diving with Lundy seals - Credit: Archant

2) Diving

Devon’s southerly coastline offers fantastic diving opportunities including wreck and reef exploration at a multitude of sites spanning the coast from Plymouth into Lyme Bay. The mermen and mermaids at Plymouth and Teign Diving Centres know exactly where the sweet spots are (e.g. the 130m wreck of HMS Scylla off Whitsand Bay) and the best weather and sea conditions in which to visit them.

They offer a range of courses from the beginners open water course, after which you will be able to go out on their regular club dives, to advanced instructor courses. If you’ve ever wanted to swim with seals, Easy Divers North Devon based in Ilfracombe, may be able to grant you your wish with excursions to nearby Lundy Island, which offer excellent diving and is home to a playful grey seal colony.


Exewake - Credit: Archant

3) Wake boarding, water skiing and inflatable riding

If it’s an adrenalin rush you’re after, being pulled along behind a speed boat is hard to beat. “The River Exe is a very special location,” says Ria Ball, co-owner of Exewake Ltd, which operates from a barge a short speed boat ride from Exmouth Marina.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or keen to hone your tricks, eight or 80, Exewake’s experienced instructors are at the barge seven days a week throughout the summer season operating in the calm waters of the river’s designated ski area.

Jurassic Paddle Sports

Jurassic Paddle Sports - Credit: Archant

4) Stand up paddleboarding

Stand up paddleboarding (SUP) offers a whole new perspective over the ocean and the land, while being great fun and great exercise.

This is the view of surfer turned paddle boarder Guy Russell who set up Jurassic Paddle Sports at Sidmouth beach in 2013. Guy, who is also the senior coxswain of Sidmouth Lifeboat, and his crew, offer kayak and SUP rentals and tuition from the beach throughout the summer months.

Bickleigh thatch alongside the River Exe

Bickleigh thatch alongside the River Exe - Credit: Archant

5) On the River Exe with AS Watersports

In Exeter, AS Watersports has been operating at the Quay and Exeter’s historic ship canal – “a nice easy paddle perfect for all paddlers including families and novices” – for 23 years and offers paddleboard, kayak and canoe rentals and tuition on the canal, a mellow alternative to sea paddling.

Watersports may not be your first thought when visiting Exeter but it’s a great way to see the city from a different perspective while getting some exercise.

Exmouth kitesurfers

Exmouth kitesurfers - Credit: Archant

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6) Kitesurfing

Exmouth is one of the best places in the UK to kitesurf, whether you’re just starting out or are multi-world and European champions like the Team Bridge family (Steph and Eric and their three boys, Olly, Guy, and Tom), who run Edge Watersports and have 40 titles between them.

The natural sandbanks that form with the tides provide huge expanses of waist-deep open flat water, ideal for practising, at the Duck Pond, as well as off the beach.

Walking on Waves surf safari

Walking on Waves surf safari - Credit: Archant

7) Surfing

Sarah Whiteley, owner of Walking on Waves Surf School at Saunton Sands – “the safest and easiest beach to surf in the country” – learnt to surf from her mum aged six. She went on to win an ensemble of British and European surfing titles and since 2000 has been passing on her wisdom and passion for the natural ocean playground to others.

Around four years ago, Britain’s 16th ranked stand up paddleboarder Max Shepherd came on board to lead the SUP surf and flat water sessions.

Marshall's sailing at Dittisham

Marshall's sailing at Dittisham - Credit: Archant

8) Sailing

The pretty riverside village of Dittisham is where the River Dart is at its widest, while being sheltered yet open. So it’s ideal for sailing. Plus, the plethora of small shingle beaches make for ideal picnic or driftwood barbecue spots.

Marshall’s Sailing School and Boat Hire offers lessons and boat hire in Swallows and Amazons type vessels, built in the Plymouth area, called Mayflowers.

Rock Solid Coasteering

Rock Solid Coasteering - Credit: Archant

9) Coasteering

A lifetime of exploration means Phil “Ziggy” Austin is brimming with local knowledge about his local coastline, including the best caves and rocks to jump off, around Maidencombe near Torquay.

He calls this stretch a “hidden gem” and says he set up Rock Solid Coasteering in order to share his passion for the area and “blow people’s minds” with its geology and natural history. Coasteering should always be undertaken under expert guidance and participants need to be able to swim 50m and be generally fit.

Devon Wildlife Trust's Dart Valley Reserve

Devon Wildlife Trust's Dart Valley Reserve - Credit: Archant

10) Places to see Devon’s water wildlife

The Devon Wildlife Trust is leading on a series of conservation projects at a number of different waterside reserves throughout Devon including at Dart Valley nature reserve near Ashburton, Axe Valley Wetlands near Seaton and Halsdon Reserve near Hatherleigh.

The reserves provide the opportunity to see the Trust’s important ongoing wildlife protection work first-hand, as well as to catch a glimpse of Devon’s rare flora and fauna.

This article was updated by Martha Griffiths in July 2021.

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