Monday, 24 May 2010

The End of the World

After the delays and distractions of the last couple of months, I'm back on the road. I picked up the trail in Wembury, just east of Plymouth. Last time I was there, it was a mist-shrouded, gothic vale of dark, satanic menace. This time it was sun-filled and beautiful. Plus I met a badger ambling down the footpath by the church. I've never met a badger before. Consequently I acted with rather less equanimity than the badger, which ambled on, oblivous.

Then a sprint through Plymouth in the rain, south to Gunwalloe, where I managed a slack surf in barely-surfable conditions. It was great to get in the water and the shock of being back in a wetsuit was mitigated by the pleasure of not having to wear hood, gloves and boots now. Though I regretted the boots.And the water is amazing! So clear! It's like southern Portugal, maybe clearer. You can see every stone, every wisp of floating weed, and yesterday, every jelly fish (royal blue, easy to spot and rare enough not to be a major worry). And of course, the scenery is stunning.
Here I am at The Lizard, taking the obligatory, sad-bloke-visiting-a-major-landmark-on-his-own shot. It's further south than Land's End (of which more next time), so feels more like the End of the Land than Land's End. But that's marketing for you. Lizard doesn't sound as appealing as Land's End, so everyone goes there instead.
The forecast on the south coast wasn't looking promising, so I skipped up north, to Godrevy. Coincidentally, it's the location of the lighthouse that appears (or fails to appear) in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. It almost fails to appear in this photo, too.
Godrevy was great! One average surf in small waves, one appalling surf in big waves (wrong board, snapped leash, lost nerve), then one absolutely fabulous session in powerful, head-high waves, as dark as Davy Jones' Locker, with decent walls and no one surfing my end of the beach, which is always a bonus.
The north end of Godrevy is covered in rocks, which are in the way at high tide. But at low tide they look like this:
Yes, mussels, and plenty of them. So what's a feral surfer to do, except this?
Followed by this:

The forecast had picked up on the South Coast, so I decided to take a look at Porthleven. Like Thurso, it's a well-known, well-respected reef. I was only going to take a look...

But when I got there, it was foggy and there only seemed a couple of people out there. If I was going to surf it, it was now or never. Tomorrow it might be flat. Or worse, packed with pros. If you click on the photo, you'll see it's about head high, with someone just taking the drop.
I paddled out, full of trepidation, and prepared to do battle. There were a handful of locals out there, who, if not actually welcoming, didn't seem to mind the arrival of a middle-aged incompetent in their midst. The reef was working well, with clean lines coming in and being picked off by the locals with apparent ease. I waited my turn, and when the line-up was clear because everyone had just caught something, paddled smoothly into a small line pulsing my way.

Except by the time it hit me, it was a vicious, vertical wall of power intent on chewing me up and hurling me to the reef bed. Which is where I duly went. Rats.

I waited my turn again. Paddled. And saw the gaping void open up in front of me again. Yikes! I'm not going down there! The next two hours were a testament to cowardice, incompetence and humilliation. Hours: two. Waves attempted: a handful. Number of times my feet met my board: two. Waves caught: zero. I paddled in, weak with exhaustion and self-loathing.

The next morning, I was determined to do better. The swell had dropped, but this was worse, as there were fewer waves for more surfers. Rats again. This time, I spent most of my time going over the falls. Surprisingly, this seemed like progress. At least I was going for it, even if my timing was out. Finally, though, I actually caught a wave! Shoulder high, smooth and powerful. And such a relief! I don't think I could have paddled in without catching one, and might still be there now, flailing like a drowning butterfly. And after that, a second! It would have been nice to have caught a third, but let's not be greedy.

The main break is to the right of the harbour wall. To the left is a smaller, closer break where the local youth test their prowess.

And the rest of the youth watch them.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Surfing Goa II

First of all, apologies to Joaquin, Kukurusta and an anonymous poster going by the name of My Conscience (a.k.a. Mark), who have all left comments in the last month, but which I failed to spot. Thanks for reading and commenting. Sorry not to have been around.

I'm back on the road, in Cornwall. But first, to conclude my last post:

Surfing. Goa: April. 19 days, 17 surf days, 21 sessions.... it's never going to be a surf destination, or even a proper surfing holiday, but if you're going there, and you have a board you can take, then take it. You won't regret it! I had a fab time, surfing almost every morning before breakfast. It's a great way to start the day.
Most mornings started off still and glassy, with waves between thigh high and head high. Some days were weaker than others, and they were never particularly powerful, although a few days were fabulous - long, peeling waves which held up well for decent long rides on nicely shaped faces. I'm afraid the photos don't do the waves justice. Karen very kindly came along one morning to take photos. Not only were the waves distinctly average, it also turns out I don't surf well under pressure. After all, I don't surf particularly well when there's no pressure...
The beaches I saw around South Goa were only really surfable from low to mid-tide. After that, it starts to close out or shore dump too much. And around mid-morning, the on-shore wind picks up, making it rough surfing - though I had a couple of fun sessions in the last few days in spite of the wind. So basically you need to be up early, and to catch the tide when it's good and low. Either that, or take your chances with the wind.

For the first week I was alone, but then I met Lee, an English musician who divides his time between Hong Kong and Goa. We had three or four excellent sessions together - he was on a 9' Bic, and taught me the value of patience. Often, he would be way out to sea, where I thought there was no chance of a wave. Then eventually something would appear on the horizon, he would announce "Here we go, old chap" and elegantly stroke into a decent wave.
Then I met Trevor and Deborah, from Bournemouth, who also spend 5 months a year in Goa. We surfed together for the last three days, Trevor on an 8' barge, Deborah mostly on a body board, but flirting with a 7´6´´ Bic. Trevor, if you're reading this: paddle harder! Deborah, if you're reading this: Don't listen to Trevor!

Top comedy moment was when a fish, alarmed by Trevor on his barge, leaped out of the face of the unbroken wave, heading directly to shore. It dived back into the water, then skipped out again, still heading to the shore in a straight line. Then did it again. And a fourth time. Just like a cartoon fish.

Surfing the same wave day in, day out has definite advantages - you really get to know how it works. And how your board works. And surfing in glassy conditions every day is fantastic - it really flatters your surfing, so you gain lots of confidence, which in turn helps your surfing. I really think surfing is 50% technique, 50% confidence. Maybe more. Though sometimes too much confidence isn't a good thing. Like when you're trying a floater when the wave is trying to dump on the shore. I'm not entirely clear where the water went, or which bit of the board tried to perforate me, but I suspect it was the tip. Not so much Kelly Slater, more Vlad the Impaler.
Apart from that (and landing on my head in knee deep water the day before) the only downside with taking a board is transporting it, especially on the overnight train. In the end, I had no choice. We had to share a bunk. It was either that or leave it behind.
And I wasn't going to leave it behind after all the fun we'd had.