Friday, 28 February 2014

Sitting it out.

When it comes to Winter surfing, I have little or no interest, not any more. There, I've said it, it's out there.

I have always preferred the Summer for surfing, as well as everything else for that matter, but I know that I am more suited to surfing in warm(er) water.  That said, I always felt duty bound to surf through the cold months, besides, that's when the best swells hit, isn't it?  The first few Winters were fine, I think, for the stoke of surfing and just wanting to be in the sea doing what I love took the pain of the cold away, plus I was a youth and as such I probably didn't feel it. I certainly don't recall complaining too much, OK, that last statement might not be wholly true, I've always complained, about most things cold or otherwise!

But gradually, with each Winter I would find it just that little bit more difficult to go in, I would go through the motions, but in my heart I was beginning to resent the cold. Weighing up just how much I was actually enjoying myself when the rain and sleet came in sideways, and the water was cold, hard and foreboding. When simply paddling out meant battling through icy slabs of water.  Sometimes there would be bright sunny days, which took the edge of the cold off, for a while at least, but then the sun would always go in, and the reality of the British winter would come back with such a vengeance.

The defining moment came about eight years ago, while standing in a muddy car park after surfing waves that were mediocre, at best.  As I got changed in to my clothes, which had fallen on to the muddy floor, and the rain slammed down making me colder by the second, I looked at the situation from above, and thought what the hell am I doing, this isn't fun!  And from that moment on I would say that I put things in to perspective and decided that Winter surfing wasn't for me, and if I am honest, it probably never was.  But the sense of duty that I felt was long gone.  This in itself felt liberating, and I mean that, because the pressure that I felt for the best part of twenty years was gone, as quickly as that.  No longer would I feel that I had to endure the cold to uphold my claim of being a serious surfer, my weekends would be free to do other things, and surfing would be something that I did in the warmer months.

In the immediate after-glow of this decision and despite being comfortable with it myself, I tended to make my excuses for not going in, for fear of unmasking myself as being a summer surfer. But as time went on, and I was absent from the line up for several months, it no longer needed to be said.

Every now and then I get an pang of gilt for sitting the Winter out, but this is short lived when I see just how bleak the sea looks, and how cold and unwelcoming too. In fact, slate grey waves that are blown all shapes by the wind do very little for me, even the cleaner days fail to stir more than a little pang of excitement. They simply don't have the same appeal.

I know that a major factor in the making of this life changing decision was that I have been spoiled by experiences of warmer water.  I have been lucky enough to travel, by no means extensively, but enough to make me realize that surfing in Britain is hard, to say the least. While surfing in sunnier climes is just so much more enjoyable.  And for me, that was enough to confirm what I had suspected for a long time, I am just not all that keen on cold water surfing.

While I do not partake in the pursuit of freezing ones parts off in the name of riding waves anymore.  I feel that I can take a back seat and leave it to those who enjoy it and do it so well, without so much as a moan or a grumble, at least not within earshot!  Spring soon comes around, and then there are several months of surfing in relative comfort, it can get a little frustrating having to loosen up at the start of the season each year, but it all falls back in to place quickly enough, and the stoke comes flooding back and just when I am surfing well again, the cold comes back, and any hope of seeing the Winter through that I might have had, fades fast.  I know that this will be true this year, as it has been for a number of year, but I am more than fine with that, and the fact that I am a fair weather surfer.



Photo credits: Chris Burkard

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

It's surfing, but not as I know it.

I am starting to wonder whether the version of surfing that I know and love stills exists, in a local context.

I began surfing in the mid eighties, the local, West Cornwall scene was fairly strong at this time and I was quickly captivated by the world of surfing.  I loved the beach life and the characters that were found there, as well as the styles and clothes, almost as much as I loved surfing itself.  For me it was all about the complete package.  As soon as I discovered surfing, it was like being given access to a whole new world, I loved the feeling that this gave me, and for many years it played a huge part in my life.

I always looked towards California for my inspiration, emulating the styles both in and out of the water as seen in the US magazines at this time.  And I think this is where the shift in British surf culture came about.  British surfing came of age at some point in the mid 90's, people who surfed no longer had to look to the US or Australia for inspiration, they could fine this a lot closer to home.  A lot of home grown brands emerged, and long established ones thrived, suddenly it was a lot more main stream.

But this was relatively short lived, as tends to happen with most things, tastes change and people follow new trends and pursuits.  Surfing didn't have the same level of interest that it once did, not helped by the global financial down turn, many of the UK born brands and shops disappeared.  With this came a real change in surfing, this is only my opinion, but it all got a bit Clichy.  Many of the younger surfers emerged with a sneery attitude and a real passive aggressiveness. This left me high and dry as I simply couldn't relate to it, and now these guys are a bit older, I still can't, in fact I can honestly say that I am now completely at odds with the current culture that surrounds surfing that I see locally.

I know that every generation looks back to 'their' era with a sense of nostalgia, but I don't think that this applies to me, things really have changed.  For example, traditional surf brands have taken a dive, shunned by many surfers, these brands aren't really seen in the same way that I did. They simply do not have the same level of kudos as they once did.  After several brands came to light and had their day, it almost seems as though no labels are to be warn these days.  And as for surf related stickers adorned on cars, these are now pretty much non existent, such is the back lash against the brands that were once coveted by surfers.

From what I can tell, this is unique to British surfing, for on my travels it seems as though places such as France or California still have a scene and vibe that I recognize and can really relate to.  People of all ages still wear surf wear, and the culture is still very strong, I like that and wish that things were still that way here.

I hope I am wrong, I would love to think that that there are those who surf and share the same philosophy and attitude that I have, but I have to say that I haven't been able to find them, not in the UK at least.  Surfing still means everything to me that it always did, it continues to fill me with excitement, I still love the aspects of it that I always have done. I buy the clothes, love a good surf shop and try to live the beach life as best I can.  It just seems that am a one man scene these days!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Storm jaded.

Well it seems that today we have been given a brief respite from the relentless storms that we have been enduring for too many weeks now.  Looking at the weather forecasts it is going to be a very short period of calm, before the next round of violence comes our way.

Looking at the countless posts on Facebook and alike, pictures and footage of storm waves and the subsequent destruction, it really does seem that I am one of the few people who are well and truly fed up with this pattern of weather.  Since the end of October, the 27th to be precise, there has been a preoccupation with the next storm.  People everywhere have been surmising and speculating about how bad it's going to be, the size of the swell, the strength of the wind.  Many seem to be getting a real kick out of seeing the beaches being destroyed, sand washed out, dunes and cliffs washed out.  The greater the perceived damage, the more excited people seem to get.  The hunger for these images seems insatiable, maybe it is a reflection of the times in which we live, but so many people seem to be clambering to get that perfect shot, and to share it with everyone they can. I include many of my friends in this. 

I am not one of these people.  Every time I see a photo of one of my favourite beaches, sans sand, I feel genuine sadness, like wise when I see Penzance being hammered, Newlyn Green having been ripped apart.  And then I look at the forecast, and there is no let up in sight.  And the talk is of the next one being even bigger, oh my, that does fill me with joy!

I love the ocean, I love waves, but the way that it looks in the midst of a storm does not fill me with joy, not at all.  Of late, the sea which I so love has looked ugly, mean and violent, full of vicious intent. The waves that have been hammering us are not the kind of waves that I appreciate, they cannot be ridden, and I don't think they even look that great.  Yes, they are big, the biggest ever, according to many, but for all the spray that they throw up as they hit the cliffs of Sennen and alike, they hold next to no appeal.  This might sound melodramatic and even ridiculous, but I am longing for the sea to calm down, to return to its proper colour, and to become a thing of beauty again. I know it will happen, but not soon enough.  In the meantime, I am just going to have to ignore it, the best I can and hope that the destruction isn't too great and look forward to when things return to normal.

Some shots from last Summer, no waves.