At some point in your surfing journey you’re bound to come across exostosis, or surfer’s ear.
Want to know more? Meet Pat, and prepare yourself for some graphic photos (of fun and surgery).
So Pat, tell us who you are, where you are and what you do?
I’ve got a little surf-related business, NCS Surfboards, based in Crackington Haven in North Cornwall, which is where I was brought up.
Cracky is a pretty mellow little spot with a good local crew and vibe. As is often the case in places like this, I left for a few years due to work requirements and ended up living in Hong Kong, where I met my amazing wife, Celi. After a few years there we decided to jump off the treadmill and move back to Cracky. Less income but less expense and far less stress seemed to make sense. Out of this, NCS Surfboards was born.
How long have you been surfing?
My mum has a great photo of me aged 8 standing up, feet together, facing forward on my older brother’s board, wearing arm bands. That was 35 years ago. I probably started surfing regularly when I was about 12 and turned into the typical 1980s fluoro grommet surfing my local breaks in North Cornwall. In 1990 I embarked on a world trip and surfed in Bali, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. Since then I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Ireland, which has to be one on my favourite places. I feel so comfortable there, which possibly has something to do with being half Irish and spending many family holidays in Kerry during my childhood.
My wife is from the Philippines so we’ve made a few trips there and I got to surf ‘Cloud 9’ before it became ‘Crowd 9’. The Philippines is such an amazing place and definitely somewhere I want explore more. It’s largely untapped with regards to surf but has so much potential.
While I was living in Hong Kong I managed to snag a few typhoon swells. When typhoons are approaching everyone gets sent home from work to take shelter. I used to get sent home and go surfing. Yep – there is surf in Hong Kong and quite a vibrant scene to go with it. They’ve just held the Hurley Cup 2009 in a beautifully remote corner of Hong Kong that’s reached by a speed-boat trip followed by a one-and-a- half-hour hike to get to the beach. It’s not all skyscrapers.
What’s in your quiver?
I’ve got several boards but for the last two years my main board has been a 6’6 Webber Afterburner, which has proved to be such a good all-rounder. It’s like a one-board quiver.
I’ve got a 6’3 Nev Hyman semi fish that I ordered from Australia when I was in Hong Kong because it was the only way to get hold of a decent board.
There’s a 6’6 Byrne thruster, bought new in The Philippines, and a 6’6 Aloha which has loads of rocker and is quite thin so needs solid waves to get it going.
I also have a 9’ epoxy longboard – my summer small-wave vehicle. You can also sometimes find me cruising on one of my 8’ or 9’ NCS softboards or pushing their limits in head-high stuff, just for a laugh. For when it’s completely flat I have an 11’ x 30” NCS Soft SUP which is great for cruising up the coast, exploring the nooks and crannies. I also have a four-metre inflatable boat with a 25hp Yam on the back for trips further afield and fishing.
Having said all that, what I’m really excited about is my brand-new Royal Surfboards 6’1 HP Quad Fish. I’ve had it for five weeks now and it’s not even waxed. I took delivery of it the day before my operation for surfer’s ear. Bad timing, but definitely something to look forward to.
Tell me about NCS and Boardculture.
When I moved back from Hong Kong I needed to earn some money and having dipped my toe into the surf industry once before with a clothing range, I decided to explore the opportunities again. I looked at various areas and came to the conclusion that consumers were trying to run before they could walk. What I mean by this is that people coming into surfing fresh so often end up with the wrong equipment to learn with. There are several reasons for this, but mainly it’s because they get caught up in the whole image machine that surfing operates or they are given the wrong advice.
For this reason I decided to look at the possibilities of supplying good-quality, learner-friendly surfboards at a competitive price.
After exploring various avenues we ended up working with a factory in Asia and developed our range of softboards. Our main market is surf schools and we now supply schools in the UK, Ireland, Holland, France, Spain and Portugal. We still find it hard to sell to individuals because it’s just not ‘cool’ to be seen walking down the beach with a softboard. We do however sell quite a few boards as first boards for kids. The boards are soft, safe and provide a great learning platform.
We’ve also recently become the UK distributors for Boardculture Surfboards in Portugal, who aren’t that well-known but have a growing reputation and produce top-quality boards. Their resident shaper is Luke Budd from South Africa and they also have guest shapers and licences from other shapers such as Xanadu in Hawaii and DJ Kane in California, among others.
When did you first start experiencing problems with your ears?
About 15 years ago I noticed that I was having trouble draining water from my ears following each duck dive or submersion. For years it wasn’t really a problem, more of an inconvenience or annoyance and wouldn’t last for long. But it became gradually worse. At the time I was referred to a specialist and their verdict was pretty much ‘don’t bother getting them operated on until you really need to.’ I’ve been wearing earplugs, when I remember them, for about three years now, but it was clearly a case of too little too late.
During the last 18 months, if I’ve been surfing without plugs left ear would be blocked for up to a week or more. After visiting the doctor for the third time in 12 months with the same problem, I was told that the time had probably come to see a specialist again. This I duly did, and got a date for the operation.
Tell us all the gory details…
I had my operation in Truro where they probably do more of these procedures than anywhere else in the country, although there are no national statistics at present.
The operation is carried out under general anaesthetic and, depending on the individual’s reaction, it may or may not involve an overnight stay. I was one of the first patients into theatre that day and was lucky enough to be allowed home in the evening.
The bone that has grown over the ear canal is chiselled away as close as possible to the ear drum. The last part is then drilled away when greater accuracy is needed (when it gets really close to the ear drum). Apparently they used to drill it all, but common practice these days is to minimise the use of the drill due to possible hearing damage from the noise.
Stitches are removed after a week and the packing that is inserted post-op is removed after two to three weeks, which, when it happens, is a mighty relief.
How long have you been out of the water?
I’ve been out of the water for five weeks now and have missed some epic surf. I’ve got at least another week to go – hopefully no more, but I have to let it heal properly before venturing back in. I have to be patient. If I rush back in before I’ve healed up properly I’ll only end up spending even more time on land.
I’m not sure that I was sane prior to the op, to be honest, but the amount of swell I’ve missed has certainly tested my mental strength. Although I’ve missed some great swell I have enjoyed watching and photographing it.
The key to preventing surfer’s ear is to stop cold water from entering your ears and the best known way to do this is wear ear plugs. There are many plugs and I’ve tried most of them, but I have recently been made aware of Surfplugs™ made by Rob Shaddick in Bideford. They’re custom-moulded and developed specially for surfers, designed to prevent surfer’s ear and infections by keeping your lugs snug and toasty even in the heaviest of winter surf. I’m definitely getting some made before I venture back into the water. It’s got to be better than facing the drill and chisel!
What does the future hold for NCS?
World domination of course. No seriously, I’d like to develop our softboards further because there always improvements to be made. I would really like to produce the softboards ourselves, or at least have the boards produced here in Cornwall or somewhere in the UK. Although I have visited the factory in Asia where they are currently made and am happy with the conditions, logistically it is a nightmare and cutting out the shipping would make environmental and economical sense. Any ideas or suggestions are most welcome!
Expanding the market for Boardculture is also an important target for me because I really believe these guys are producing quality boards that deserve a share of the market.
Ultimately though, I want to earn enough to live, raise my family and surf in this beautiful neck of the woods that I am so fortunate to have been brought up in.
Where can people find you?
You can find us online, follow our blog or join our Facebook page, just look for ‘NCS Surfboards’.
In the summer you can find us in real life at our Surf Hire & Sales tent at Crackington Haven. Last summer we were restricted to the month of August but we’re hoping to get permission for a longer season for 2010. Pop in for a chat, check out the boards and get all the surf advice you need.
Any final words?
Big thanks to my parents for having the foresight to live in Cracky. Also a massive thank you to Celi my beautiful wife, just for being my wife and best friend and for putting up with me going surfing all the time.
A big shout out to my brilliant kids Sean and Amber and to all the Cracky local crew, you know who you are.
A massive thank you to all my customers, because without you guys I’d still be ‘working’ for a living. Finally, a big thanks to you Rich for asking the questions and hopefully raising awareness of the dreaded surfer’s ear.