After a cold Cornish dawn session, I sit watching perfect head high waves breaking from the back of my clapped out but faithful old van. I reflect on how my surf went, its strange how it always looks so much glassier than it actually is. Yeah, I had a few nice waves, even got a little cover up (I think), I looked about at the time to see if anyone noticed, but didn’t get much of a reaction from the other early risers paddling out.
A nice set looms on the horizon, and a handful of surfers head out to it. While others sit, unaware of the impending gift nature is about to unload on them, I notice one surfer in particular heading in the opposite direction to the others. He strokes over the first wave, the second, and turns for the third, a slight adjustment, a couple of easy strokes, and the wave feathers beautifully on his takeoff. I watch in anticipation as he bottom turns and takes a high line along the perfectly peeling left-hander. He puts in a cutback to adjust his speed and as the next section unfolds he shuffles forward and speeds down the line in a coffin ride! I watch chuckling to myself as he bails in an explosion of whitewater. Classic!
I look on as he takes the cream of the waves in the session, always drawing unusual but smooth lines flowing with the waves rather than the attacking nature of the shortboarders around him. I can’t figure out which kind of board he’s riding. It looks long, but not a longboard. A larger set wave takes him all the way into the beach and he walks to a van parked opposite me.”Nice waves eh!” I call over to him, he grins and replies “Always nice waves on one of these”. I notice it’s just a foamboard, like the ones the surfschools use. Curious, I ask ” Why do you surf a foamboard?” He looks into the distance, back towards the increasingly crowded surf” Too many reasons , more waves, more fun. In these fat summer swells why would you use a shortboard? It’s not exactly indo is it.” He looks down at my 6’0 thruster and grins. “Why not a longboard then?” I ask. “Ain’t got the flex like a foamboard, each to their own, but i just love the way the way foamies feel in the water. They’re harder to surf in proper waves, with the lack of proper rails and small rubber fins it all just adds to the excitement! I also love the way people can’t figure you out, most just think you’re some kook until you start taking all the waves ha, ha. I’m not ruthless out there, but I get my waves and I don’t take them off anyone, there’s a big difference. Some of the long-boarders or s.u.p guys need to reel it in a bit, nothing worse than greed”. I agree, as I got hassled by a couple of the regular guys at this spot. He continues “I pulled this board from a skip! I can’t believe someone threw it out. I’ve had some of the best surfs of my life on this and I’ve been surfing 28 years. It’s just where I’m at. I don’t want a longboard, shortboards are optimum a handful of days here, twinny’s, eggs, fishes, mini mals etc all have their place of course on a given day. But not for me, not right now. I like to think of it as devolution, not evolution. I don’t surf a foamie if I’m in Mexico or Indo or wherever, it wouldn’t be the optimum equipment there. But I would if I could! ” he chuckles ” I’d ride a bloody door if I had to! A good surfer should be able to ride anything well, regardless of how much money it cost and who made it”.
A good surfer should be able to ride anything well, regardless of how much money it cost and who made it
I cant help but like his passion and non-conformist, if somewhat opinionated attitude towards riding waves.The conversation turns to life here in Cornwall. Turns out he and his French Canadian wife live here for the summers these days and spend their winters seeking out points and reefs around the world. Whilst in the UK, they live off grid with no electricity or running water, grow their own vegetables and keep chickens. Working in town on a small wage they manage to save enough to fund their winter trips.”The few sacrifices we make gives us the means to do what we do. People always wonder how we manage to go on trips for so long. I feel I’m lucky because I was brought up with very little and I think it taught me from a young age the value of money and to appreciate the things I have. It all depends how much you want it. While people are sat in pubs every weekend or wasting their money on more fashion accessories they don’t need, I’m putting that money away so I can sit in the sun and surf pretty much every day of the winter. If you work in the UK during the winter months, you have to pray there’s gonna be surf on your day off because it’s dark as you go to work and dark on your way home. Modern wetsuit technology means it’s not unbearable but I’d rather surf in boardies and often. I’ve done countless winters here in the UK but struggle with it more and more each year as I’ve become unaccustomed to the winter climate. I’ve got a lot of respect for people keeping stoked and motivated here in 9 degree water”.
As travel stories to and fro between us, his wife turns up from the beach with a big smile on her face and a foamie under her arm.We make our introductions and I’m invited to check out their piece of land and have some breakfast. My stomach rumbles violently at the thought of some food. As this way of living has always interested me, I eagerly follow in convoy.
I haven’t tasted anything like it in years, it somehow reminds me of how the fruit used to taste
After a few miles of winding back country roads, we turn off, seemingly in the back of beyond. We meander down a bumpy trail and pass through a farm gate. As I jump from my vehicle, I’m assaulted with the smells of the great English countryside. We’re only a few miles from the hustle and bustle of the tourist saturated coast but it’s like were in another world. Buzzards and kites circle on the thermals above us sounding their shrill cries and rabbits scatter here and there. We hang our wetsuits out to dry and I’m taken on a culinary tour of a huge greenhouse bursting at the seams with tomato, pepper, and cucumber plants. The air is thick with the smell of aromatic herbs, and bees are busy doing their work pollinating. I’m offered a small cherry tomato straight from the vine. An explosion of sweetness bursts in my mouth. I haven’t tasted anything like it in years, it somehow reminds me of how the fruit used to taste.”You don’t get that from a supermarket do ya?” he boasts. We gorge on strawberries, raspberries and blueberries as I’m shown around a series of raised beds next to an area enclosed by chicken wire. Several chickens watch our every move. “They’re so easy to keep and give us incredible eggs, but you gotta watch out for Mr. Fox of course. So far we haven’t lost any, but I guess it’s just a matter of time. I don’t get too attached to them but they do make good pets.” Onion, potatoes, courgette, broccoli, salad and beans are plentiful.”Its a lot of hard work but helps keeps me fit while there’s no swell. All organic of course, no point using chemicals if you grow your own. We pretty much provide all our own salads and vegetables in a year. Picked when they’re optimum, straight to the pot. It’s extremely satisfying and saves us a lot of money. I know a lot of people that get a plot on a community garden and give up on it as soon as they realise all the hard work involved but the labour just makes it all taste so much better. Lazy veg doesn’t taste the same”.
As we sit around a picnic table, I’m treated to a fresh omelette with salad. I dive in hungrily and they tell me how easy the transition was giving up electricity and running water.”Don’t get me wrong, we still have our feet firmly planted in the “real” world. We have electricity from our leisure battery in the van if we need it, we just don’t have lights or a fridge. We get water from work or friends, we just don’t have running water from a tap. It really isn’t a hardship. We have a mobile phone, bottom of the range of course (he states proudly) and a laptop at work. It’s incredibly liberating to free yourself of the television. We sit and talk, have campfires, listen to the radio and read more. You get time to discover who you are rather than switching off in front of the television. We’re a lot happier for it. We don’t have any neighbours, there’s no light pollution up here, so we can watch the sky at night. I love the seasonal changes. We’re never bored. People always tell us how bored they are but with all the surfing, gardening, walking , reading, swimming, fishing and chopping wood, there’s just no time for boredom.
I’m served a fruit salad and asked in a rather teasing tone when I’m going to get a foamie of my own? I confess it’s not something I’ve ever considered as I just see them as boards for the whitewater that you learn on. When I started surfing eight years ago I had a 6’10 shortboard my brother handed down to me. I loved that board. But looking back now, I can see how it wasn’t good for me. I thought I looked cool. I didn’t want to be a beginner even though I was. I suppose it’s like never driving and jumping in a formula one car.”Just get something with a bit more foam” he adds “People waste years floundering around in the surf on the wrong board. On any break, how many people are on the correct board for their ability? Not many. They think they’re Kelly Slater flailing around out of control before they can put in a decent bottom turn. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the worlds best surfer and I don’t claim to be. Surfers need to drop the ego in surfing. That’s another reason I love my foamie. You have to lose that ego, it ain’t cool to ride a beat up beginners board but it sure is a lot of fun. I get people who, when I paddle out, won’t even say hi to me when I’m on my foamie. But if I’m on my “real” board they act like I’m their best friend! How sad is that? How real are they? It’s disappointing, but the upside is I can see who are real and who is all ego and fashion. Which is something I want no part of. Is that what surfing is to these people? It certainly ain’t that to me. I see them come and I see them go and I see who’s real.”
“I grew up in Brighton on the south coast of England in the eighties. Surfing was a kind of subculture to us back then, a small close knit community of surfers and skaters that had no choice but to surf crappy southwest wind swells if we were lucky but it made us appreciate how great Cornwall is. Even on the worst of days here it’s still better than where we were brought up surfing and i think that still carries through to this day. Often when the surf is bad I recall that this would be epic if it was back home. Sure, it’s not world class in Cornwall but hey, it’s what we got and it can be “all time” on its day. All winter I surf world class points and reefs but I’m always ready to come home. Cornwall has a certain rugged beauty and spirit That’s unique and is difficult to find elsewhere.The history and the heritage of this coastline should be preserved.”
Working in seasonal jobs and living frugally but well during the summer months means we get to live our dreams in the winter
Intrigued by how these two manage to go away for so long I ask about how they support themselves. “Working in seasonal jobs and living frugally but well during the summer months means we get to live our dreams in the winter. Because of the nature of a seasonal job, it gives us the freedom we need, rather than a workplace or career that tries to trap us with a few weeks off a year and the promise of a great future with them. More money, more status, no thanks. We choose less responsibility, less money, and less possessions, and choose to live while we’re healthy and able to enjoy life. I’m not saying it’s the right or wrong way to live but it’s our way, and we’re happy.” He goes on to say “Consumerism just isn’t the way forward. People want it all and they want it now. We should want less and enjoy the simple pleasures all around us. As a society, we look but we don’t see anymore, everything is becoming too easily available for too little, and that in turn devalues it. Click. It arrives the next day. What? You don’t have the money? Borrow it. If you ain’t got the money you don’t get it, That’s how i was brought up.”
The sun bursts through the clouds and the warmth of the mid morning sun hits our faces. After some good food and conversation I feel rather contented out here. We go for a stroll through their land following deer tracks into ancient twisted woodland alongside a stream. It feels a million miles from the way I live in my apartment block. Constantly bombarded by my neighbours noise, I somehow take comfort from knowing there are people around me and I wonder if I could live so detached from society. Without knowing it, we have circled back on ourselves and arrive back at our vans. I give my thanks and say my goodbyes.
The gentle soul and opinionated nature of our conversation has impacted on me greatly. I’ve had an insight into a surfers path different from my own. Right or wrong, it brings me to reflect on how we all view surfing in such a different way. I wonder if the guy sat near me in the lineup and the guy near him see it all in totally different ways, like the difference between surfers that watch a modern movie of aerial tricks and high octane music are seeing the same thing in the water as the guy who watches souled out arty movies? I suppose not, even though the waves are doing the same thing regardless of how we view them. I’ve got a foamie of my own now. I ride it on small days. I still have my shortboard for when its pumping, but you know what, I’m enjoying my surfing more than ever and I hope you are too…
Words and photos by Steven Halpin