A Beginner’s Guide to Coasteering

What is coasteering and where can you practice this adrenaline-filled adventure? Matt George from Kernow Coasteering answers all your burning questions.

Standing on a ledge about ten meters (approx. 33 feet) above the Atlantic Ocean, I am enjoying the rhythm of the sea as it gently rolls back and forth. I scrambled up to this point from sea level after I explored a gigantic sea cave. With my small group of adventurers, we will jump from this precipice back into the ocean and continue our journey along the rocky coastline.

If this sounds crazy, maybe you haven’t heard of coasteering?!

What Is Coasteering?

Coasteering describes exploring a rocky coastline by whatever means, having as much fun as possible en route. Coasteering includes wild swimming and scrambling over rocks. It is probably best known, however, for cliff jumping. Indeed, for thrill-seekers, no coasteering session is complete without some tasty cliff jumps to get the adrenalin flowing. 

But if jumping from high ledges into water isn’t your bag, don’t worry, there are still plenty of reasons to try coasteering. In fact, the flexibility of coasteering is one of the things that has given rise to its popularity. Adrenaline junkies definitely won’t leave disappointed. But for some, simply getting wet and navigating a short distance through the coastal environment can be just as rewarding.

For me, coasteering is first and foremost a unique form of exploration. We primarily travel through the “intertidal zone,” which is the area between high and low tide. It’s where all the fun is — where rock meets water. Coasteering allows us to get up close and personal with sea caves, rock arches and other unique formations that sometimes defy description.

Where Land Meets Sea

Of course, ever since humans have taken to the sea, we have had a fascination with the coast and for many, we feel a deep connection to the ocean. I say there is no better way to exercise this connection than coasteering.

And there’s no other water activity so hands-on. Almost every step of the way, you’re connected to the environment, literally. You’re either walking or scrambling along the rocks, or pawing your way along them in the water. 

Coasteering is a uniquely tactile form of exploration. Unhindered by craft, it’s possible to access locations that can’t be accessed any other way. Whether it’s a narrow sea cave entrance, a diminutive sea arch or the spaces in and under wave-smoothed boulders, my explorations have taken me to innumerable places where I’m pretty confident I’m the only human to have ever set foot.

History of Coasteering

Coasteering was first coined by pioneering rock climbers in the UK in the early twentieth century. Taking the suffix from “mountaineering” and adding it to “coast,” the word was born. However, these early pioneers of coasteering carried out the activity in a very different fashion from coasteering as we know it today. 

Early coasteering was essentially a form of rock climbing. It was realized that long adventures, reminiscent of larger mountaineering objectives, could be undertaken by traversing long sections of rocky coast. Using ropes and full climbing equipment, the purpose was to climb sideways, usually well above the water. Swimming was a last resort and only taken when a feature was encountered that could not be climbed past.

That’s a direct contrast to what coasteering is nowadays when we intend to be in the water most of the time. As wetsuits became widely available, from the 1960s onwards, water activities in colder climes suddenly proliferated. Within several years, activities like surfing and sea kayaking were firmly established. 

Occasionally, leaving their kayaks or climbing gear behind and just donning a wetsuit and a pair of shoes, inquiring minds would start exploring the rocky coast. These people didn’t know it, but they were coasteering.

Today’s Sport

In the mid-1980s, coasteering was finally put on the map. An outdoor center in Pembrokeshire, Wales, started offering a new activity on its menu. Coasteering was now available as a guided activity.

Here was a place where people with no experience could suddenly have an adventure exploring the cliffs, discovering the wonders of the coast and having a huge amount of fun at the same time. Fast forward and there aren’t many sections of suitable coasteering in the UK where guided coasteering isn’t available.

Coasteering began popping up all across Europe after the turn of the millennium, with Spain and Portugal the main epicenters in Europe today. Outside of Europe, coasteering can be hard to find. However, isolated outposts spread the good word in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Interestingly though, coasteering has yet to reach the Americas. 

What You’ll Learn

Like any adventurous activity, the main reason we do it is simple. It’s FUN! But let’s dive a little deeper. Why is coasteering so much fun and what added benefits does it offer?

Coasteering is an undeniably physical activity. It’s my idea of a perfect workout. One where you are so absorbed in the activity and the environment you’re in, you don’t think you’re working out. Rest assured, after a few hours of intense swimming, scrambling and jumping, you will feel it when you’re done.

Coasteering is a mental workout as well. Facing and overcoming the emotional challenges thrown at you has manifold benefits. Whether facing your fears to take on the next jump, navigating a dark sea cave or confronting an ocean swell, conquering these challenges is an immensely rewarding experience. 

It’s also a great opportunity for teamwork. Coasteering presents us ways to connect and engage with the members of our group. You can’t beat the camaraderie from sharing the euphoria (or is that mild terror?) of a good coasteering experience.

As I said before, my favorite thing about coasteering is the feeling of exploration. And I can’t think of many activities where you are more immersed in the environment. This results in a much deeper appreciation of the landscape you are exploring. One can’t help but marvel at nature’s infinite beauty and complexity evident in the coastline through which you are traveling. 

Where Can You Try Coasteering?

Hopefully, you are now convinced you need to try this?. So where can you practice this adrenaline-filled sport?

With its origins in the UK, the motherland of coasteering still has more providers than the rest of the world combined. If you find yourself in any part of the UK with a rocky coastline, there’s a good chance coasteering is available.

Coming from Cornwall, my first recommendation is undoubtedly Cornwall. With more than 400 miles of coastline, you have ample opportunities to try the sport. Also, let’s not forget the birthplace of coasteering — Pembrokeshire in Wales. With its stunning, limestone cliffs, Pembrokeshire is regarded as one of the best spots in the UK.  

Spain and Portugal and their associated island territories have a huge array of coasteering available. With warmer water and a genuinely jaw-dropping coastline, you can try coasteering in gorgeous settings. I’ve also explored long sections of the coastline in the Algarve region of Portugal, which I reluctantly admit is the best coasteering I’ve ever done.

From Turkey to Sardinia and Malta to Croatia, other stunning locations across the Mediterranean offer coasteering. With warm waters and endless limestone cliffs across the region, more coasteering routes are opening.

Outside of Europe, coasteering starts to become a bit thin. That said, it is available in some surprising locations, including Cape Town in South Africa and Margaret River in Western Australia.

You can even try it in places like Goa and Hong Kong. Unfortunately, there is nowhere in the Americas where coasteering is available. With 700,000 miles of coastline to explore, it surely won’t be long before coasteering hits American shores, too.

About the Author


Matt George has owned and operated Kernow Coasteering for 12 years. Offering a guided coasteering trip around Cornwall’s magical coastline in the UK, Matt loves all things coasteering. His search for the ultimate coastline has taken him on coasteering adventures from Oman to the Faroe Islands. Matt’s quest continues to traverse the 400-mile coastline of Cornwall, his home.

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