Saturday, 13 February 2010

Cold and wet and happy

Fortunately, all was not lost. Colin managed to fit the van in sooner than expected, and by Tuesday I was mobile again. That's why he's a saint. Apparently it was the clutch, which no longer clutched at anything except straws.

Here he is (right), laughing at the state of the ruined clutch his assistant is holding. Or because I'm handing over my credit card for the fourth time in six weeks. I was tempted to block book the van in every Monday for the next six weeks, just in case.So, sorry, Katya. Goodbye, Moscow. Do svidanya, vodka. Surf's up.

Still no waves, but what the hell? Not on the South coast, at least. But what's that trying to slip into the Cinque Ports unnoticed? No, not the Spanish Armada, but a sizeable if wind-blown swell.

So I headed back to Kent again. Conveniently, it had suffered an overnight snow fall, stranding drivers, closing schools and leaving Dover incommunicado. Fortunately, with my spanking new tyres, I didn't get stuck, as I would surely have done a few weeks ago.

Ramsgate was cold, windy and snowbound. But there was a reasonably good wave, at least until the tide went out and the cliffs were unable to keep the worst of the wind off. Still a bit chilly, with air temperatures at around 0º and water 5º! But a surf's a surf.

Was I happy? Judge for yourselves:
The following day, I headed along the coast to check out the South Coast. As I suspected, it was all flat as a pancake, starting with Beachy Head, a renowned beauty/suicide spot:

Birling Gap. Renowned lunch spot:
East Wittering. Renowned flat spot:
Life's too short to wait for gutless slop, so as soon as the next burst of swell arrives, I'm heading onwards. Westward ho!

But first I've had to fly to Barcelona for a week, to help look after the family of an American girl who has had a medical emergency. And inevitably, with no board, no wetsuit and no time, the Mediterranean was kicking off. The kind of twice-a-year conditions that keep Mediterranean surfers going through the long months of flatness.

But hopefully heading home and back on the road next week.

Bum. Deal.

The last couple of weeks have been a rollicking roller coast of a ride. Though not necessarily in a good way. After two decent days in Broadstairs, I had to return to Hertford. Friday afternoon found me crawling along the M25 at a top speed of 40 mph. Something was very wrong with the engine.

Fortunately my most excellent mechanic, Colin Gunning (or Saint Colin, as I am thinking of renaming him) managed to sort it out the following Monday, for a modest fee.

By then, the waves had gone flat.

I sat around all week. Finally, the forecast was looking good. Not just good, great - at least by the standards of the South Coast, my next destination.

I set off again, roaring down the M25 with hope in my heart and a spring in my accelerator pedal. Back on the road. It felt fabulous. Swooping over the Dartford Bridge felt like crossing the gateway to a bright, new world.

I stopped off in Deal, which turns out to be delightful, with a small pier, a couple of fishing boats pulled up on the shingle beach and a low fortress built by Henry VIII to keep those nasty Spanish sailors away.

Just after Deal, you go past Ham and then past Sandwich. Honestly.

But then, as I headed towards Dover, something didn't seem right. The van wasn't driving very well. Fifth gear wasn't working. And then neither was fourth gear. Or third. There was a loud bang, and suddenly I was free-wheeling, going nowhere. Except into a fortuitous lay-by, just off the A2.

Three hours later, a man called Bob was attaching a line to the van.

Is it just me, or does the van look slightly alarmed?

This was followed by a sight I don't want to see too often:

The previous Friday, I had been crawling home along the M25 in despair. But at least I had been travelling under my own steam. Exactly seven days later, I was speeding home along the M25 again. Only now I was on the back of a transporter.

Back to kneel at the shrine of Saint Colin.

It wasn't looking good. He couldn't fit it in until the following Friday.

To say I was a little despondant would be something of an understatement. Not least because I was missing three days of decent waves on the South coast. The kind of waves that only happen every couple of months, at most. But don't take my word for it. Several of the local surf shops commented on how good it was:
"OK, so yesterday was super nice..." - The Witterings Surf Shop.
"After yesterday's epic swell..." - Filf surf co.
"Only small after yesterday..." -


And then, just when things couldn't look any worse, this happened.
At which point, I gave up on the whole venture and flew to Moscow, so I wouldn't have to worry about waves or vans or surfing. I am now very happy growing cabbages and drinking vodka and travelling around on a donkey called Katya.

By popular demand (Dan and Kukurusta) I'm adding a second photo of the dent on the side of my board (the rail, in surferspeak). Fortunately the magic of Solarex means it is at least watertight, if not very aesthetically pleasing.
And I didn't really emigrate to Moscow. I went to Ramsgate (though the similarities between the two places are striking).

Monday, 1 February 2010

Surf or school?

I hadn't planned on surfing in Kent - there didn't seem much point. But by chance the forecast looked fairly good just when I was ready to head south: 7 feet at 8 seconds with an off-shore wind (which is fairly good by South East England standards, where 8 seconds is a looong, looong interval - unlike pretty much everywhere else, where 8 seconds is a shooort, shooort interval).

Inevitably, by the time I got there, the forecast had changed and it was closer to 3 feet at 6 seconds. Not ideal. But having slogged my way there in a van that is decidedly unwell, I thought I might as well go in. So I did. And it was rubbish. Not fun rubbish like in Lowestoft. Just rubbish rubbish. But at least I could say I had gone in.
The next morning, it was even worse. Virtually flat at mid-tide, with little prospect of picking up. From the cliff top, I watched two local lads, already in wet-suits, go to check it out, and thought there was no way they would go in. It was too small to bother getting wet in this weather. Portugal in Spring, maybe. Kent in Winter, not. But minutes later, they were out there. Madness! It still didn't tempt me.

I had spoken to one of them, Ryan, the day before, when he skated down to the car park to check the waves on his long skateboard (the kind I'd like to ride if it didn't make me look and feel like a Sad Old Git.) He hasn't been surfing long and was lying too far back on the board, which was stoppping him getting many waves, so I decided to go down and suggest he move forward. From beach level, the waves looked a lot better. Not great, but ok: about waist high, breaking over the flint reef, and while they didn't have much power, they were jacking up enough at the peak to make them rideable.

So of course I had to run backk and get changed. And it was great! Not a classic session, but enough rides to make it fun.
And kudos to Ryan and his mate Kurosh. Not only were they in without hoods, but Kurosh was wearing a 3mm wetsuit. It's basically a summer suit in freezing North sea water (still about 5º in the water, and about 4º out of the water, plus windchill from a 15mph wind.) I used to wear a 4mm suit in Barcelona in winter, and that was cold enough! Still, they were getting some decent waves, and didn't seem to mind the cold too much. Ahh, the benefits of youth! However Eighty Waves cannot condone bunking off school or college to go surfing. Not unless it's really kicking off, in which case exceptions might be made, provided you fill in a surf-note, in triplicate, and give it to the principal the day before.

This is them, standing in the cold wind still in wet wetsuits. They breed them tough in Kent.

Incidentally, if anyone has been wondering where beach huts go in winter, the answer is they huddle on the cliff top at Joss Bay, waiting to fly south.