Monday, 22 March 2010

Devon Cream Tease

After the fossilised frustrations of the Jurassic Coast, Devon is fantastic - lovely beaches, picturesque camping spots and plenty of waves - eventually.
I arrived ten days ago, just in time to catch the tail-end of a burst of swell, and between Paignton and Bantham, managed a handful of sessions of average waves in bright sunshine, or under beautiful sunsets.
Things went flat and sunny, which was a little frustrating until the waves came rolling in again last Wednesday. It's been a bit messed up by on-shore winds, but I've managed to surf at least once a day for the last five days, and often twice. Plenty of drizzle and fog, too, but when you're surfing, who cares?!

Bantham is the classic spot round here, so I camped out in front of the No Overnight Sleeping sign for three nights, until I was asked to move on by a rustic employee of the family-run estate that owns it all. I headed to Bigbury-on-Sea across the Avon estuary (not the same Avon that Shakespeare used to surf). It's no more than a mile or so along the beach, but about 10 miles by road - or slightly less if you want to risk the tidal road.
There were fabulous waves here on Thursday - just overhead, with good, clean faces, but fairly easy to catch. They were mostly right-hand waves, so I was on my backhand, and though they offered an exciting, dramatic drop followed by an exhilarating few seconds hugging a gleaming wall of water, they didn't open up quite enough, and the rides ended quite quickly. And wetly.

Then on to Wembury, a foggy, Gothic bay overlooked by a looming church and dark satanic mill (now coffeeshop), with a fabulous left-hand wave.

It's not far from Plymouth, so there were quite a lot of locals on it on Friday morning. But the mood in the water was friendly and it wasn't too difficult to get the occasional wave. And they were fantastic - well overhead, but again easy to catch, and with a long, long, exhilarating ride towards the beach followed by an easy paddle back out again. Epic!

If it's Saturday, it must be Salcombe, sheltered from the howling South-Westerlies, surfing clean, waist-high waves by the ruins of Salcombe Castle.
Then back to Bantham for a crowded Sunday surf in soggy waves. Not the best session. Or sessions - I got in at 7.15 on Sunday morning, but the tide was too high, and what had looked promising soon petered out. So I had a huge breakfast and went in again once the tide had dropped. It was a bit better, but still not great, and very busy - long-boarders, short-boarders and even a knee-board. Whatever rocks your boat.

Today it's howling out there, so unless the wind drops later, I might be able to give my aching arms a day off. On the other hand, there's another beach I've got my eye on, so if there's half a chance of getting in later, I will.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Don't Try This At Home, Kids

My friend and guru Kukurusta has pasted a link to a TV programme I contributed to in January 2006 about surfing in Barcelona.

(I don't know how to get the whole thing in, so if you want to see the full width of the video, try here:

The director failed to catch me riding a wave (surprise, surprise). Instead my contribution is limited to embarrassing shots of me warming up, cycling to the beach and talking about My Life As A Surfer (in Spanish). What makes it particularly hilarious, though, is that while she was shooting, I got someone else's surfboard in the face, leading to a nasty cut, horror-film quantities of blood, 13 stitches and the fetching scar above my right eye.

After struggling to the beach, I faced an odyssey of fainting lifeguards, excellent ambulances, thieving taxis and three different Kafkaesque hospitals before I found someone whose needlework I admired enough to trust them with my dashing good looks. Now if anyone asks, I tell them I got the scar in a fencing duel over a German count's mistress.

Rather than cut me from the programme, though, the director did the interview anyway. So instead of the healthy glow of a Mediterranean surfer, I look like a car crash victim. And certainly not the best advertisement for surfing. Or maybe that was the point, a subliminal message to keep would-be surfers of the water.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Van Cough to Van Go

As Thomas Hardy may once have observed, Dorset is very hilly. This is fine if you have a vehicle that can climb hills. A milk-float, for example. Or a supermarket trolley. Even roller skates. Unfortunately, despite the recent attentions of Saint Colin, my van wasn't one of them. Under David the Diplomat's serene gaze, we struggled to get up anything more than a gentle incline. It is only because half the hills go downhill that got us to Axminster station on time.
After a night in Lyme Regis marina, at the bottom of an impressive (up) hill, I struggled to achieve escape velocity, and faced spending the rest of the month, or possibly my life, selling ice-creams from the back window to raise cash for a salvage operation. When I did manage to get enough of a run-up, the van barely made walking pace. I know this, because a bemused woman was walking up the hill beside me. And she got to the top first.
Fortunately, help was at hand, in the shape of Ady and his merry men, who run a VW hospital just north of Bournemouth. So back to Bournemouth I went. My apologies to anyone driving between Lyme Regis and Bournemouth last Monday evening. If I could have gone any faster, I would have done.
Ady had a spare distributor - the offending part - and was able to transplant it in a flash. Plus, after many choice words, aimed mostly at the engine, he also plugged the hole between the exhaust and the engine without having recourse to major surgery.
I could have wept with gratitude. Instead I made a contribution to their beer fund. They certainly deserved it for their speed, cheerfulness and general can-do manner. If you ever have a VW van that needs attention, Ady is your man. I would show you a photo of Ady smiling for the camera, but I didn't want to disturb him. So here he is in his natural habitat:
And here's a rear view.
The van now purrs along, which is lucky, as I am now in Devon, which makes Dorset look flat.

And if anyone has van problems anywhere in the south of England, or wants to buy a reconditioned VW (not mine!) head to Throop, and ask for Ady.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Flat Day Fun

I always associate the phrase Flat Day Fun with erstwhile surf queen Jo C. For the surfer it's a phrase heavy with irony, and possibly even an oxymoron. If it's a flat day, by definition it's not fun.

Faced with a flat sea, I tried the age-old surfer trick of staring at the horizon, trying to will waves into existence. It failed. So I decided to entertain myself by going roller-blading, something else I associate with Jo C. In the event, I suspect I mostly entertained the inhabitants of Boscombe. Like having a dog or a young child, roller blades seem to be an excuse for strangers to talk to you. Which is fine if you're walking the dog or strolling a child, but a little less welcome when you're wrapped around a lamp post.
I borrowed the blades from my Dad, who used to bring Vienna to a standstill every morning as he sped around the city. Think The Third Man, Orson Welles on wheels. Orson Wheeles, in fact.

The Boscombe Sainsbury's is fine, but they need to rethink their book and fish marketing, which is sending out contradictory messages.
Talking of Harry Lime, after Boscombe I headed to Lyme Regis to meet David the Diplomat. It was still flat, so we searched for fossils, got caught in bracken and drank.
This is David sitting on several dozen fossils, all of them 150 million years old.

After a charming meal at the Harbour Inn, I have finally came to the conclusion that scallops are over-rated. The only way to eat them is barbecued in Barra.

This is me, sitting on a sofa that is also about 150 million years old. As you can see, I have decided to put myself up for adoption.
No takers so far.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Back again. Again.

The week in Barcelona turned into two weeks in Barcelona. Most of it, especially the first week, were spent with Gabi Delillo's family in Sabadell, where Gabi was fighting for her life in intensive care. I'm happy to say that after several days on life support, she is now recovering well. Here's hoping she continues to make rapid progress, and will be able to come back to Europe fit and well sometime soon. And I have nothing but respect for the doctors and nurses at Parc TaulĂ­ hospital.

Inevitably, the day I arrived, Barceloneta was kicking off. The kind of twice-a-year conditions that keep Catalan surfers happy but hungry. And there was no one in the water! Maybe they were all at El Masnou. Or maybe rumours of the death of surfing in Barcelona have not been over-exaggerated after all.
The photo doesn't do justice to the great waves that were breaking opposite Hospital del Mar - not a beach that is surfed often. Or even ever. But it wasn't the time for surfing.

By the time I returned to Barceloneta ten days later, there was the hint of groundswell that suggested there were waves to be had in Sitges or Montgat. But again it wasn't the time. Instead here's a picture of Nuria up in the mountains. OK, it's not quite surfing, but it's the next best thing. Sorry, the second next best thing.
So now I'm back in Britain, picking up the trail in Bournemouth, at Boscombe Pier.
OK, technically in Boscombe, not Bournemouth at all.

The swell is easterly, so the new artificial reef isn't working, which is a shame. Though the charming RNLI life-guards tell me that it's more of a body-board wave. I.e. it's fast and ugly. Perhaps just as well it's not South-Westerly. I don't want to break a board.

Last night was chilly - just above zero, I suspect. But today, the sunshine makes it positively spring-like. Shame about the bitter wind. But at least there's a chance of drying out my wetsuit between surfs. There's nothing as clammy as a wet wetsuit. And nothing less enticing before a surf session.
The waves were very reasonable. Shame I'm so out of condition. But I caught one fabulous left-hander that walled up nicely at about shoulder-height, and peeled off towards the beach. And the other guy in the water - whose name I didn't catch - had the good manners to realise he'd dropped in on me, and kicked out**. One of the best waves I've had for months. Since Yorkshire in early December, if we're going to be precise. And great to surf it all the way to the end - an occurrence that isn't as common as it should be!
**(If there are any none-surfers still following this most infrequent of blogs, the above sentence means he started surfing the wave ahead of me when I had priority, realised his lapse of etiquette, and promptly removed himself from my path, so the wall of the wave didn't collapse before I reached it. Very decent of him, and he should be applauded for it. Many surfers would shrug and surf on.)