‘There is no art without intention’ – Duke Ellington
‘It’s closing out’ say Sam.
It looks pretty perfect to me. There’s a solid head high peek standing up then disappearing behind the tree but Sam Bleakley is a surfer who sees further them most and one that’s seen more than most. The peak throws and the wave disappears, hidden just behind the trees and just around the corner and just beyond sight. And that’s how Sam likes it.
‘I always knew I wanted be within view of Gwenver.’ He says while making coffee. This statement might lead you to think Sam’s a homebody yet I challenge you to find anyone who’s traveled further and wider.
The Sennen local has made a career out of searching the last unridden waves the planet has to offer. His adventures have taken him to the four corners of the globe, from Haiti to South Korea, from Mauritania to the Philippines and every more conservative surf spot in between. His new book the Longboard Travel Guide will testify to this fact.
Sennen, Penzance in Cornwall and home to Sam Bleakley
We drink coffee and chat about the new Miles Davis release. Anyone reading Sam’s books or articles is aware of just how deeply his love of jazz threads through his writing. The cadence of a Buddy Rich or Art Blakey backbeat moves his writing along at differing tempos, depending on what Sam is painting.
This wave hunting isn’t simply ghost hunting, Sam and the surfEXPLORE team tap in to his geography degree from Cambridge and hours spent pouring over maritime and geology maps evolve over months.
Fathoms and admiralty soundings reveal themselves as points and reefs tucked away in island chains and dressed in the right typhoon swell they light up. Surf marches across the seas to meet the surfEXPLORE team stood waiting for its arrival on the beach.
‘We could do thirty trips tomorrow if we got a major sponsor like a TV channel’. The ‘we’ in that sentence is surfEXPLORE. Sam, having moved from his competition career to writing, is now more of a cultural ambassador pushing to help fledgling surf communities open up their homes to the world and control and benefit their own resources. ‘Giving them a sense of ownership links to protecting the environment. The two go hand in hand’.
Together with long time partner John Callahan formed surfEXPLORE along with Erwan Simon and Emi Cataldi set out to support surfing as a positive and important economic value in war torn regions like Angola or Sierra Leone, highlighting that small scale tourism could benefit the local community as a whole. ‘Helping them gain exposure, if they want it, through the lens of surfing”.
Communities develop bilingual as global friendships blossom and cultural exchange enriches all parties. At the same time the seed of marine conservation gets sown e.g. in Hainan where surf tourism is showing modern China the benefits low impact development can offer.
This is arguable where Sam differs from many of his peers. Once a professional surfer, he transitioned out of competition and carved himself a new career dedicated to writing, exploring and giving back to communities that have offered him and the team an almost overwhelming welcoming experience.
“Surfing is a so often a bonding experience” and that’s as true overseas as it is at home. The family nips in and out with the parent’s dog. Friends wander up for a chat. More coffee, more jazz more travel tales.
And Sam has a worldview. We chat about the backlash against Finisterre regarding their move to China for some production. We’re both agreed that some of the comments tiptoe dangerously close to racism.
“Why can’t modern Chinese work ethics and protocols be ethical? The assumption that all production is semi-slave labour or indentured servitude, borders on prejudice and bigotry’. Most surfers are outspoken about Middle East politics and the unlawful invasions since 9/11 yet our boards, wetsuits and leashes, the minimum surf equipment, have nasty oily fingerprints all over them.
While Sam has recently spent time filming and exploring China his heart lies with the Hispanic cultures. “There is a hum, a vibrancy to these communities and nations.
Whether it’s Haiti or across the world in the Philippines there’s a real life, a rhythm and tempo that’s hard to grasp on just a single surf trip.” This deep passion now fuels his love of education and now finds root in his PhD about Haiti and the non-verbal syntax of surfing.
The Bleakley year ended with several more explorations in the Philippines and Mauritania. 2016 saw new development. Through Soul & Surf crew Sam is taking his message directly to the frontline again, this time in India and Sri Lanka.
“I like to support and work with brands that interest me and have a unique voice like working with Riz Boardshorts” and now out in the Subcontinent.
And at home? I may have given you the impressions Mr. Bleakley is permanently away. He certainly travels and surfs more than most of us but his heart will always remain with his family in Cornwall where he celebrates the marginal conditions.
In Cornwall it’s a necessity if you want to retain your sanity but the aspiration to chase any waves and the deep love of being in the sea works as well locally as it does globally. “It’s about the right board for the right conditions, and the rhythm of the seasons and the seas, not just the big days but the juicy ones, the ones that show the intensity of a spot”.
The tide has dropped enough to prove Sam’s predictions. Beautiful corduroy of topaz closeouts reach to the horizon. I drain my coffee and the family comes home for lunch. Time to make my exit.