Friday 8 July 2011

An English surf trip...

When we lived in London, we tried to get out of the city at least once a month. The below piece was written by Dane after one of our regular surf trips to Croyde Bay in Devon.

If you ever down that way, the best B&B we’ve ever encountered is there - Betty & Freddy’s house, a huge English house right opposite the beach which is run by the most beautiful couple in their 80s who were keen travellers in the 1950s and Betty cooks a mean bacon and eggs. They don’t have a website, but their home phone is: (UK) 01271 890 536




It's the middle of an English winter - it's dark, it's cold, it's windy and I'm standing in my underpants, shivering in a beach-side car park alongside my fellow London surfers. I'm wrestling my way into a very uncooperative and still-wet wetsuit, and eyeing off the still-to-be-donned gloves, booties and hood laying on the ground.

The car thermometer has forgivingly stopped beeping its chime, telling us cheerfully that the temperature is below 3 degrees Celsius. The scene before us would be a very familiar one – car boot yawning open, boards laid out on the ground, wetties slung over old mangy surf-bags and a few towels strewn randomly in the mix – if it weren't for the temperature. The only sounds are of chattering teeth and a few grunts from my fellow surfers in various states of changing from the warm comfort of their Ugg-boot-and-jacket combos into the unforgiving neoprene grip of their wetsuits.

We had left London well before dawn, speeding towards the coast at a rate of knots, towards the promise of waves after a frustrated week at work scouring the swell-charts for predictions of the weekend's frozen waves.

Now, standing in a full ninja wetsuit consisting of booties, steamer, rashie, gloves and a hood, looking out over the wintry Atlantic at the solid lines of swell pushing in, everything seems as warm as toast.

I'm at Croyde Bay, on the west Devon coast of England, with a couple of other Aussie mates currently living in London. The place is pumping, the culmination of a beautiful low-pressure system well out in the ocean, and unseasonal off-shores fanning nicely out to sea. Everywhere we look, solid waves are unloading, from big grey a-frames off the main beach to a dark, gloomy but irresistibly pumping reef, off the southern headland. Unable to watch any more, we sprint towards the point, eyeing-off the rock that the last 'local' jumped from.

The first blast of freezing water hits like a freight train. It's hard to believe that water can be this cold and still stay in a liquid state. Any exposed skin goes numb in seconds - joints ache, eyes sting and the jaw locks up under blue lips. I duckdive the first few waves and see stars, as a spectacular ice-cream-headache sets in and I squeeze my eyes tightly shut to stave off the brain freeze.

My body slowly adjusts to the cold, as we all get out the back, keeping an eye on the rocks and reef, which seem increasingly cold and unforgiving. The 5 hour drive to the coast has been more than worth it, and we laugh at our luck as all the elements combine, with the point firing. Some solid sets come in off the reef, making the pack scramble periodically for the horizon, and curse loudly at the icy clean up sets.

As we all sit out the back, a few knowing nods pass amongst the crew, acknowledging the freezing wind which seems to strip us all bare and keeps conversation to a minimum. The surf keeps us all on our toes though, with a plenty of solid waves pushing through and a few catching us off guard. We hoot each other into the sets, making the most of the session while our energy lasts. The waves are great and we all seem a million miles away from the concrete jungle of London, breathing the fresh ocean air and rising over the swells which bend their way into the bay.

Looking back towards the headland, it's a very different scene of rolling hills, and quaint little cottages chuffing smoke from their chimneys into the frosted skyline. The sheep on the hills seem to be the only spectators, but even they seem indifferent to our hardships as they graze the frosty meadows.

We trade uncrowded waves, calling each other into the frosty pits and out onto the long walls off the point. We last an hour and a half before cold and hungry bellies turn our thoughts towards the warmer temptations of breakfast. Paddlingin, the shock of the cold air hits us once again, as we change out of our frost-bitten wetsuits back to the familiar comfort of our warm dry clothes. We pile back into the car, as salty claw-hands clutch for the heater dial, cranking it round to the highest possible setting.

Sadly, it’s time to head towards the familiar bustle of London, but not before we stop at a local bakery for a much needed feed of Cornish pasties and coffee. We head back towards the overcast and dreary capital city, beaming as we embrace the welcome crust of salty skin and sore shoulders, so unfamiliar in the rush of concrete London. With our lungs full of ocean air, we return refreshed and ready to face the next few weeks of work, knowing that the next mission back out to the coast is already on the horizon.

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