Friday, 16 April 2010

Surfing in Goa

(For more info, see the next post, here)

My trip around Britain has been temporarily interrupted by a three-week trip to Goa to hang out with Karen, who has been travelling around India while I've been bumming around Britain. Check out her blog HERE. She also took all the photos in this post. Swapping the chilly waves of Devon for the bathwater-warm waves of Southern India has been really tough.I knew from a visit in 2006 that there are very few surfboards in India, and even fewer you can get your hands on, as most of them are owned by individuals who don't want some snotty stranger dinging their pride and joy. There are no surf shops, no surf hire and no surf repair workshops. If anyone is looking for a business opportunity, this could be it. (Not me. As the comments on the post below show, having taken advice from a civil service lawyer, I'm off to become a chartered accountant.) The only boards are big foam things for the lifeguards at the more touristy beaches.The big question is, is it worth bringing a board to India? Along with no boards, there seemed to be no waves (a possible explanation for the absence of boards). A couple of websites hinted there was some swell, particularly in the monsoon season, May to September. I was going in April.

I certainly wouldn't want to bring one of my normal boards. Consigning a board to the hold of a plane is a complete lottery. Mostly they emerge unscathed. When they don't, it's pretty gruesome. And that's before submitting them to the rigours of Indian trains, buses and tuk tuks. Also I had booked a flight with BA, who will only carry boards under 195cms. Or 6'3''. My shortest board is a 6'5'', and I wouldn't want to lose 2" off the end. Either end.

But I once rented a 6' NSP Fish, which was quite a laugh. Plus, being a shell (an injection moulded plastic board, I think), it would better withstand the rigours of the journey. In South Devon I found something similar - a secondhand 6'2" epoxy Southpoint for 160 quid. Basically one step up from a BIC or NSP. They let me rent it for a few days first, and I took it for a test ride in Salcombe. It rode OK, but it isn't really what I was looking for. I was literally on my way to return it, when I found a chat forum on the internet raving about surfing in Goa. What the hell. I might as well take it. It's fairly light, counted as part of my baggage allowance and I could always sell it or donate it to some beach-side orphanage if necessary. Better to have a board and find there is no surf, than to have no board and find there is.I'm staying in a dozy huddle of beach huts stretched around a small bay, about 2 miles south of ( a fairly well-known, fairly busy destination for backpackers in Goa. The bay there is shell shaped, and while the waves are clean and pretty, they are weak and virtually unsurfable at the moment. Here looked similarly unsurfable, with a steeply shelving beach. There are waves, but they rise up abruptly then crash down violently only a metre or two from the edge of the sand. Impossible to surf.

Here is one of the many beach dogs, desperately waiting for the swell to pick up.Here's one who has given up waiting.

The cows have definitely given up waiting.

But at the far end of the next beach, around a short outcrop of rock, there seemed to be something happening. On my first evening, Karen and I went to investigate. Sure enough, it was a surfable wave, breaking on a shallow sandbank at the mouth of a river. The next morning I got up early, grabbed my board, paddled round the rocky outcrop, made the long walk along the beach and dived in. After a winter wearing a thick wetsuit, hood, gloves and boots, paddling in trunks feels really strange. Not just light and free, it feels as if you're going to float away. There was a nice, shapely wave there, rising up to about chest level, peeling nicely.

On the way, you pass the big, fuck-off hotel, an utter abomination which is currently enlivened by a big Bollywood film crew who have built a film set by the beach, and are currently filming. Fortunately, they don't seem to mind me surfing, as there is a better break right in front of the film set schoolhouse. In the mornings, there isn't a breath of wind, so the water is smooth and glassy. Chest-high peaks rise up and peel for twenty metres of so, easy to catch, easy to surf, but closing out rather too quickly, and breaking in shallow water. It's not the most dramatic surfing, but better than nothing, so I've been getting up early and getting into the water for an hour or two every morning before breakfast. By about 11, an on-shore wind picks up, making the already weak waves virtually uncatchable.

But one evening, at low tide, I went for a classic sunset session and managed to catch a few.
Karen was on the beach, and before she got bored of watching me, managed to snap this fabulous action shot. Finally, proof that I can actually stand on a surf board.
Soon after this, I noticed something about fifty metres further out. I couldn't be sure, but eventually I saw it again. A fin arcing lazily out of the water then disappearing under again. I wasn't quite surfing with dolphins, but they were definitely out there. Later we watched it idle slowly along the bay, parallel to the beach:It's not all surfing and lazing on the beach - I've been hard at work on the outline for a screenplay. To prove it, here is a picture of me at my desk!
Now where was that application to become a chartered accountant?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Saving the best til last

I was beginning to feel that Bantham wasn't all it had been cracked up to be. Sure, the group of lads who were getting out on Sunday as I was getting in had all been raving about it. But still. I wasn't convinced. Wanting to try something else, and to get out of the wind, I was going to have a look at a fairly unlikely spot, on the off chance. As an alternative, the guy in the surf shop recommended a beach I had grown quite familiar with. Nah, I thought. I've spent too many hours staring at a flat horizon there. I was going to stick to Plan A. Until I drove past the sign post to the familiar spot. Only a couple of miles out of my way, might as well have a look.

As these things sometimes work, a couple of local lads were just getting out. A good sign. They told me I might still catch a few decent waves down there, so I decided to give it a go. And had a really fun session. Small waves, but reasonably powerful, and enough of a ride to make it worth the effort.

I decided to camp there and surf it again the following morning. Except the following morning, it was flat. Curses. I had to head back to civilisation later that day, and was eager for a final South Devon surf. So rather reluctantly, I headed back to Bantham.

I needn't have been quite so reluctant. There were three cars already there. Knowing time was of the essence, and the tide was on its way in, I didn't bother walking the quarter of a mile down to the beach to check it out. Big mistake! Instead I asked a guy who was about to head down there with his board if he had had a look. He had. Fairly mellow was his analysis.

Fairly mellow? Are you kidding?! They were the best waves of the week! Absolutely fabulous! Somehow the wind had moved round and was off-shore, cleaning up the faces of beautiful big, clean waves rolling into the bay with metronome regularity. And only a handful of surfers out there.

I caught the rip out, fluffed a couple of waves and got caught inside among the whitewash. Not part of the plan. But having surfed there on Sunday, I realised I knew what I ought to be doing, and told myself to do it. I paddled back to the beach, caught the rip out again, and had another go. Having surfed nine sessions over the past six days, I was at the end of my energy. But somehow I managed to catch a wave. And stay on it. I couldn't believe it! Just overhead, a steaming freight-train of a wave that powered on for a hundred metres. I came off, not fully realising what had just happened but glad to have surfed a decent wave at last.

As I paddled back out, on the rip again, I saw one of the locals catch a monster. Easily double overhead, clean and rolling, it was one of those cinematic waves that etch themselves on the retina. And in a way, helped me realise what I had just surfed. I got out to the back and waited.

Soon enough, another wave came rolling into the bay. Not double overhead, but certainly overhead. I turned and paddled, and somehow, against all expectation, caught it. Got to my feet and made the drop. These were all right-handed waves, so I was on my backhand - though I'm beginning to feel I'm better at catching back-hand waves for some reason. I stayed in a low crouch, holding the left rail until I felt I was stable enough to stand. This wave was bigger, hollower and more powerful than the last, with a vertical wall of water beside my left shoulder, and above my head, the start of a curl showering water onto my shoulders. Not a cover-up, but the closest I've come. It was fabulous. Not as big and powerful as the session at Thurso, not as much to play with as the left at Sandsend. But for the combination of power and control, perhaps the best, most exhilarating wave I've surfed so far. And easily the longest, powering on seemingly for ever (or about a hundred metres again, which when you're surfing amounts to the same thing). I surfed it to the end. And got out, trembling, exhausted and ecstatic.