Thursday, 24 December 2009

"I find Cromer excellent for writing, surf better"

It was the tea bag that did it. I woke up on Monday morning in a van that resembled an industrial cold storage unit. The windows were coated in a thick layer of ice, the water cannister had chunks of ice floating around in it, even the duvet felt a little crispy. But the worse thing was the used tea bag in the sink. When I prised it off the draining board, it was like a rock.

To cap it all, the swell had virtually disappeared.
So I bowed to the inevitable, and headed for warmth, comfort and civilisation. But not before a hairy drive home. The VW really isn't designed for winter. No heating, very damp and a tendency to slip around on ice like a snake on skates. As the snow continued to fall, I thought I might have to pull over and wait until morning - though given the van has been my home for four months, it's not quite the same as being stranded. Just being forced to camp somewhere that has too much snow and no waves. In the end, I made it to within half a mile of my destination, which was good enough.

I fear I may have to return to Norfolk, having only surfed in Cromer, which I grew to like. Unlike Winston Churchill.
"I'm not enjoying myself very much" - a young Winston Churchill, c. 1885.

Oscar Wilde was closer to the mark, though he was still three letters out. "I find Cromer excellent for writing, surf better" is what he meant to say.So the van is temporarily a van, not a home - at least until after Christmas. I'm already missing the freedom. But not the sub-zero temperatures.

Happy Christmas! Let's hope there are decent waves in the New Year.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Too cold to surf, surely?

Ice on the inside of the van, people wrapped up like Muscovites, parents walking past pulling sleds, Radio Norfolk in snow news overdrive... only a madman would surf in these conditions.
But I know you would all have been disappointed if I hadn't. So of course, I did.

Looking forward to Christmas. Hopefully my feet will have thawed by then.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Thou by the Indian Ganges side

shouldst rubies find.
I by the tide of Humber will complain.

And mostly I'll complain about the weather. It's vile.
It's redefining vile.

For reasons I can't quite explain, I left lovely Yorkshire this morning (again) despite the promise of big, clean, off-shore waves over the weekend, and drove down to Norfolk, which promises a howling, blown-out mess until Sunday. And from Monday, unsurfable mush. Ever the optimist, I'm hoping there might be a slim window of opportunity between the two, and I can grab a quick surf then flee the fickle, freezing fingers of the North Sea in time for Christmas.

The good news: snow is unlikely to settle here tonight.
The bad news: only because the wind howling off the sea is too strong.

Before I left Scarborough, I managed a couple more sessions. I met up with Morgan again and we surfed a big, fat wave in Scarborough North Bay on Wednesday. It was a bit frustrating - lots of water, but it was too fat and not really standing up. Caught a few ok waves, but there was a lot of paddling through endless white water.
We went to have a look at Cayton Bay. It looked ok, but not quite worth getting into a cold wet wetsuit for, so we decided against it. It's so much easier to make these difficult decisions by committee.
This is Morgan illustrating a) Cayton Bay b) the low quality weather and c) the low quality waves.

Morgan went home to nurse his cold, and I went into the surf shop where Josh, the surf-youth on duty, was sufficiently enthusiastic about surfing in general and surfing in Yorkshire in particular to make me rethink. I went back to have another look. It looked a bit better (or I was a bit warmer after being in the surf shop) so I jogged off through the drizzle to get changed. (Sorry, Morgan!)

It was OK, though not a patch on Monday and by the end the wind had started blowing on shore, which was not ideal. Plus I stumbled upon the rip just as my shoulders realised that two sessions in the same day in cold water is not written into their contract. I was happy to drag myself up the sand as the light started to fade.

Today I made my way South. Filey was blown out. Bridlington was blown out. How about Skegness? Everyone had told me it was a dump, but I decided to take a look anyway. It was blown out. And a dump. I suspect I'll never go there again. Here is the only nice view of a very nasty town.
After that Lincolnshire was lovely.

And then I reached Norfolk and the weather kicked in. It's still vile.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Yorkshire Welcome

And we're back!

I left Yorkshire and its fabulous reefs a couple of weeks ago and headed south, though not before meeting two mad night cyclists, Jim and Carl, at The Hart Inn in Sandsend (until recently the wife-swapping centre of Yorkshire, apparently. As I don't have a wife to swap, I just had a couple of beers.)

Jim invited me to Sunday lunch a couple of days later, with his lovely wife Lisa (who is far too nice to swap). I repaid them by not recognising them when they turned up at my place (well, the car park where I had been sleeping all week). That's gratitude for you. Alas, I didn't get a photo.

I headed south, via a quick coffee with my god-parents, who greeted my unannouced appearance with admirable equanimity and hospitality.
Actually I had to make my own coffee. In the van. So maybe their legendary hospitality isn't what it was. Or perhaps I've blotted my copybook (I knew I should have been more assiduous with my thankyou letters). Though the fact their aga was being replaced might have had something to do with it.

I duly saw Karen off at the airport. I would post a photo of her at the departure gate, but an Officious Official (the best sort) insisted I delete it. So I deleted the one that was out of focus. And kept the other one. I would post it here, but I'd probably be arrested, if the O.O. was to be believed.

(Brief mini-rant: I can't understand the prohibition of photography in places like airports and even underground stations. If you're a terrorist intent on blowing up public places, there are plenty of ways to photograph them surreptitiously. Any terrorist who can't work out how to conceal a camera is probably going to struggle with assembling a bomb. Meanwhile we have the draconian regulations restricting photography that used to apply in the Eastern bloc thirty years ago - and which used to be the source of both disbelief and mirth.)

In an unrelated incident, I went undercover to photograph Victoria station.I was en route to a party.

It's just a shame it wasn't a fancy dress party.

But if you're wondering where to get a pith helmet in sunny Hertford, the answer is Ken Weeks. They're almost de rigeur in Hertfordshire these days, I hear:
After ten days of easy-living, central heating and running water among lily-livered Southerners (and a Scot), it was time to hit the road again. I was tempted to head straight for Norfolk, but something was calling me back to Yorkshire. And it certainly wasn't the weather.

I arrived last night, delighted to be back on the road. To celebrate, today I managed to surf twice, in an attempt to shrug off my idle Southern ways. Actually I had just decided not to bother with the first session, at the North Bay in Scarborough, but Morgan, a local lad I met at Sandsend a couple of weeks ago, turned up, and I didn't want to look like a Southern wimp. Unfortunately, though, it turned out to be gutless on-shore slop, and as the tide came in, any latent power was dissipated against the sea wall. But after two weeks down South, it was just great to be in the water. A wave's a wave. Even when it's small, brief and gutless.
In the afternoon, I headed over to Caton Bay (the famous Bunkers). The forecast is for the swell to grow over the week, but I'm beginning to learn that it's better to have a decent surf now than wait for a great surf tomorrow - it usually doesn't materialise. A board in the hand is worth two in the mush, or something. And it was great - shoulder high on the sets, mostly clean, and with a gentle off-shore keeping it smooth and glassy.
All in all, it's been a great return to Yorkshire. It's just a shame about the rain. And tonight's forecast. 2ยบ. Not ideal in a van that has already reverted to its damp status quo. The only solution is, like now, to take refuge in a pub with a real open fire, of which there are plenty. They even have a local beer named after a local break, North Bay. And it's a similar colour.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Nothing Tastes As Good As Surfing Feels

It's the Kate Moss School of Surfing: Nothing Tastes As Good As Surfing Feels.*

The smooth, calm swell on Saturday gave way to a howling Northerly gale that made Sunday impossible. On Monday, with the wind still howling, I surfed a very choppy, head high Scarborough South Bay, in rain and sunshine, and with a rainbow curving down from the castle to the amusement arcade on the quayside.

Fortunately I was back in the van by the time the hail started.

Meanwhile, Scarborough North Bay was hitting the headlines, as hapless drivers got caught in the waves washing over the sea wall.

Tuesday dawned cold and bright. So cold that there was ice on the inside of the van. Still, there are worse views to wake up to.

The reef at Sandsend, which I surfed on Saturday, was too low, so I sat around and waited for the tide to come in.

When it did, it was inconsistent and irregular. I caught a few decent rides, but it wasn't a patch on the sublime surf three days earlier.

As this was likely to be the last swell for a while, and as I have to head south for a few days, I returned to Saltburn, and finally caught some waves there, for the second session of the day. I can't say putting on cold, wet swimmers and a cold, wet wetsuit is much fun.

After two long sessions in two days, my shoulders were no longer aching. They were burning. But I managed to catch a couple of nice rides in Saltburn - a beach break beside the pier which was clean, overhead and peeling nicely. Click on the photo for an idea of the scale: there's a surfer on the peak, just above the left-hand bench. It was a good way to finish the Yorkshire leg of my trip.

As if subconsciously not wanting to leave, I then lost the keys to my van. In my van. Luckily I had a spare set. And inevitably, they turned up twelve hours later. Things don't stay lost for long in a van. Except possibly surfers.

*Apart from Post-Surf Fish and Chips.