Gower Gold April 2019

Confessions of an English Opium Eater nee Surf Addict

For me, there’s definitely a link between being unable to surf and writing. I started this blog five years ago when I was a frustrated, landlocked wannabe surfer. Unable to surf or travel to the sea, I had a major shoulder injury and was off my face on pain killers. There’s a theme here because although I live by the sea now, I find myself in dry dock again, off it on pain killers and sick and I’m tapping away on my keyboard for the first time in months. I’ve also written three bits this morning for another project I’m working on. I reckon I must be channelling Shelly or Keats, only able to write on opiates. For authenticity I should really be writing a masterpiece in Italy but, a little blog post in Swansea will do for today.

This year has felt like a bit of a disaster on the surf front, I can count the number of decent surfs I’ve had on one hand. January 3rd was a good one, 31st January too. More often than not I’ve been injured, ill, in shite waves, broken my board or lost my fin. I’m not sure if it’s age related, I’m nearly 45 and my body might just be rebelling against me or if the surf gods are trying to keep me out of the sea for now. I know I should be grateful, people I know have it much worse, I am after all just having a rough patch with my health, temporarily in dry dock. It’s just the only reason I moved was to surf more, it’s my opiate and I’m not getting my fix. I also have an acute awareness of time passing and that every day I don’t surf is one day closer to the day that I hang up my wetsuit for the last time. This will happen; it’s going to happen to us all. Yes, I know that’s bloody dramatic and ridiculous but, look how quick the last five years have gone.

It’s certainly not all misery and lament, I’m just having withdrawals from surfing. There has been some good happenings too. We’ve had a few golden evening here on Gower and had our first evening beach fire, summer is definitely in the air.

Back in January after a few years in white water as an occasional surfer my buddy Long Legs (read how I brainwashed him into surfing here) got his first proper belter from out the back and he went right for the first time coming face to face with the wave. On top of that it was a magical day in Newquay when the whole town got snowed in, we had to abandon our car in town after sliding down the hill so we walked back to our apartemt and decided to go surfing. There was a kind of unearthly silence that comes with snow, the absence of traffic and people and we walked down to Fistral making the first footprints in fresh snow. It was an unforgettable session.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Ellie Wainwright at the February Surf Senioritas meet up. Photographer Ellie was taking some shots for an article she had written for Surfgirl. Ellie is a lush lady and her work speaks for itself, she’s definitely one to watch. Take a look at her website here. Anyway, the magazine was published and they used some of the pictures with me in. Now as we know, I’m not exactly Surf Girl’s desired demographic . I’m too old, fat and cynical but, it will be lovely when I’m an old lady to look at that magazine to remind myself who I was.

Finally, after 5 years , loads of ‘ it will do for now’ boards and frankly annoying poor Lee in the Custard Point shop to death, I got my first new board. A unique, hand shaped 8ft magic log fresh from the workshop and into my hands in April. I’ve not really been able to test ride her with my recent setbacks but, the little I’ve been on her, ‘The Kumquat’ ( see the colour) has all the promise of being the best board I’v ever had, I can feel it. I’ve now got 3 weeks to recover fully for the Surfsistas longboard weekend and I’m resting and taking care of myself as much as possible before then. I’m hoping I’ll be able to really put The Kumquat to the test and report back on the board and the Surfsistas longboard course in the same post. Right then, I’m off for a back treatment with my Chiro, I’m seeing my Dr again about my rattling chest in the moring and very much hoping I can get my next salt water fix soon. Otherwise I may, in the mad persuit of my blue opium be driven to do something daft like move to Cornwall.

NB: refering to myself as a surfer is in no way claiming to be any good . I happily confess to having basic skills and being a dick in the water

Advertisements

The End of the Endless Summer Part 1

2016-08-03-14-38-40Since I returned from my Endless Summer , or rather  six week surf adventure in Wales, I have found it difficult to write anything. How do I put into words the seemingly endless weeks of unplugging from normal life and living in a tent, in a field, next to the gorgeous Rhossili Bay, surfing up to three times a day and watching countless sunest?

How do I explain the simple pleasures and slower pace of life I experienced which when written down seem completely trivial and insignificant to other people?  How do I write about the feeling of walking on grass in bare feet every day, about not looking in a mirror and how that made me feel a sense of freedom I’d never had, about sitting quietly outside my tent starring at the night sky with no noise in my head, about the smell of bbq’s and                                                    haze from the smoky fires in the sunset?

How do I write about how I felt at home in a place I’ve never lived, about surfing at sunset alone, with the red sky on fire (see cover photo), about the quiet letting go of nonsense and noise from my normal life, about becoming less wasteful and more resourceful, about how days felt like weeks as I got up with the sun, slept with the darkness and made the most of the in between?  How do I write about the strong,  amazing, women I spent time with , who lit the path for me like the stars that they are, about the revolving door of rather handsome neighbours I had who each taught me something about myself?

I drove away from Gower at the end of summer with tears streaming down my face .  I could barely mumble a goodbye to Welsh Surf Bird for the lump in my throat. It felt like my heart was trying to escape out of my throat and stay there in Llangennith,  like a dog who doesn’t want to leave the park.  I was scared of losing how I felt that summer but, with four hours drive home I had plenty of time to think about how I was going to deal with this.

I stopped off an hour into my journey in Abergavenny to say goodbye to Ozzi, another of the Welsh birds and when I pulled away from her house I knew a decision had been made without me realising.  It wouldn’t be easy and could take a while to orchestrate properly. Although the thought of leaving my friends and the familiarity of 23 years in my adopted home city scared me, looking back at the number of visitors I had over my six weeks away, I knew that distance would be no obstacle to those very long and strong friendships. Surf Bloke had been up and down like  a yo-yo from Lancashire all summer and my surf brainwashing had finally taken a hold of Long Legs who had visited twice and bought himself a wetsuit .

There was nothing I could do but, move there as soon as I could, somehow.

Coasteering in Pembrokeshire with Jump Bros

The sense of danger must not disappear: The way is certainly both short and steep, However gradual it looks from here; Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

(you don’t really have to but, I like this verse)

 

Anything to do with getting in the sea and I’m there so I jumped (pun intended) at the opportunity to go Coasteering with Jump Bros in Pembrokeshire during my latest trip to Wales where  I discovered that Coasteering is so much more than just climbing up stuff then jumping off into the sea.

We booked to go with Jump Bros who are based near Tenby on a perfect, hot, sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. With a little trepidation regarding the heights, some nerves and excitement we set off to meet Andy and Ollie, our guides.

coasteer

These two local chaps have a plethora of experience and qualifications between them and an easy going camaraderie that you can sense could switch in a split second should a situation arise. You can tell these guys love their jobs and seeing guests have a great time.

After possibly the sweatiest walk of my life, ( I was wearing a 5 mm wetsuit, buoyancy aid and helmet) one by one like baby ducks we plopped into the cool water and followed Ollie, with Andy coming in  behind us.

Adrenalin kicks in for the first few minutes as you adjust to the enormity of your surroundings. It’s somewhat intimidating floating in the sea surrounded by these colossal, ancient rock faces, unsure of the hidden depths below and taken up and down by the  rise and fall of the sea as it breaths.

Maybe it was just me but, I felt a bit shaky and nervous, perhaps it’s the old demon,  ‘I Can’t’. I’m not great with heights, I think I’m crap at climbing and scrambling and often think I’m the weakest link in most activities so I tend to decide I can’t do things before really trying. Ollie and Andy are masters at spotting this in people and Ollie’s next move was genius and evil in equal measure.

Continuing to follow Ollie’s encouraging voice like a good little duckling, I scrambled out for my first climb up to Pirates Plank. I was first, how did that happen, how did he do that?

I looked down, the jump from here wasn’t high but, it was in to a small cave. I’d already made my mind up, no, just no. Ollie looked me in the eye and said (with a serious face, a hint of a smile and a very calming voice) do you trust me, well, of course I did so, I jumped.

 

 

13325515_1190258221018409_6748597201908786712_n

A split second of fear followed by  a leap and a moment of nothingness  and I was rewarded with a refreshing shock as I hit the cold water then pinged up to the surface like a cork with a massive grin on my face and my heart absolutely pounding. I’d done it and so I’d found my confidence for the rest of our salty escapade.

The Glamour

The Glamour

One by one each of us made the first jump, got our confidence then continued to have an absolute blast with Ollie and Andy. It was as if we needed that first exit, climb and jump out of the way to loosen things up and start having the real fun.

We made our way around the coast climbing, traversing and scrambling out of the water and jumping back in off various ledges and sea stacks, admiring the view from the water as the gentle current took us around. To see the incredible Pembrokeshire coastline with its sea cliffs and strange looking Dali-esque caves from sea level is quite an experience.

coast

13310500_1190260131018218_5272877778853754048_n

The beauty of this activity is that really anyone can do it, it’s not the reserve of super fit dare devil’s or groups of young lads. Anyone over 8 can do it. Our guides made sure there were always a few options so nobody felt pressured to climb up or jump off anything that was out of their comfort zone and we all felt safe and supported all of the time.

I I absolutely loved Coasteering and it did a lot for my confidence, I think doing something you’re a bit scared of actually makes you feel safer because you did it and none of the crazy bad things you imagined happened . I’ll definitely look up Jump Bros again over summer when they are also planning on running snorkeling trips.

Useful Links

Jump Bros website 

Jump Bros facebook 

Visit Pembrokeshire  website

Visit Wales website

 

A Warm Welcome in Wales

20160401_144149-1[1]Eight hours after leaving Mawgan Porth in Cornwall I finally pulled into Gower and the warm welcome of my friend and her fella with offerings of red wine, comfort and doritos.  The journey there had been arduous but, once the hills of Wales loomed up in the distance  I felt an immediate sense of relief and a sort of homecoming.

 At last I saw the final  sign to Llangennith which  led me to my friend’s house and  into  a tight hug  that said, ‘we’ve got you,’ . A night of wine, eating, catching up  and possibly the most comfy bed I’ve ever slept in passed all too quickly and I woke to a typical wet Welsh  morning and the final drive over to Pembrokeshire.

I’ve now been in Pembrokeshire for 5 days and quite frankly I do not want to leave Wales.  There has been surfing, coasteering, spectacular coastline, campfires and coastal running. We have seen porpoise playing in the bay, rainbows, ancient rocks, smugglers caves and  beautiful sunsets giving way to clear, clear night skies.
I spent last night sitting  around the campfire with friends old and new,  under a blanket of stars. We could have been ancient people, we are doing what people have done for thousands of years, seeking out a tribe and finding a sense of home and Wales is certainly providing both.

For an exhilirating but, very doable experience  Coasteering in Pembrokshire check out http://jumpbroscoasteering.co.uk/

 

 

Surfabella The First Year

Happy Birthday to Me

It’s the first birthday of Surfabella today. A year ago today I hit publish on my first post then ran away and hid in a cupboard because I was a bit shy about sharing my words.

 Surfabella started as a way for me to channel my longing  (stropping and sulking)  for the sea and to surf into something constructive rather than just continuing to alienate every human and some animals around me by boring them to death with surf talk. It has become so much more.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect  – Anais Nin 

So, I find myself looking back at the year I turned 40 and a year of Surfabella. Sharing my writing for the first time was pretty daunting but, I have learnt a lot about myself from the jumble of letters that fell onto the page and by being so honest with my pen. The act of writing it all down seems to have carved the path ahead for me so I can see which direction I’m headed in.

Looking Back

The year was not without its ups and downs and some major upheaval but, who wants to know about those? My shoulder healed, I ran a half marathon I didn’t think I’d be able to do so shortly after my injury. I met fellow blogger LLSG who has become a true friend and great surf buddy. Along my travels I have met and built up a little network of friends and  lady surfers  all over the place, specials thanks to Surf Senioritas for this. A year of firsts, I visited Morocco, Cornwall and Devon for the first time and surfed Scarborough and North Wales.   I had my first winter surf at Christmas and saw the snow on mount Snowdon from my board in the sea which was  magical!

I finally learnt to drive and bought a car. I just made my first long trip to Cornwall on my own and the grownups or police didn’t stop me. I met my surf idol Steph Gilmore and my music idol Mike Patton of Faith No More. I interviewed Surf Mama,  Wilma Johnson and was invited for a surf with Jessie Tuckman ( thanks Jessie, and no thanks to the stupid A30 traffic that made me miss it)

I lost a bit of fitness, gained some back, lost a bit of confidence, gained some back and my surfing deteriorated then improved. I almost moved to Bournemouth, then didn’t.   I continued to try and change my landlocked situation so I could get to the coast more and I finally found a way.  As of September I will only work 39 weeks a year, for ever. I have an Endless Summer for ever!

 Putting all the me, me, me aside for a change though, the absolute best thing to come from  Surfabella has been the messages I have received from people who said they have been inspired to do something after reading one of my posts.  People have said they can identify with the honest and not so glamorous truth of learning to surf or just trying something new a little later in life and of not being perfect or gorgeous or brilliant at everything.

If one person reads something I write and nods or smiles as they recognise a piece of themselves in my words, if just one person says I can do this where normally they’d say I can’t , that’s more than I ever imagined when I tentatively wrote my first words here last year. For that and for the 4828 readers in 61 countries I am truly grateful.

Looking Forward

 So, while celebrating this great year Surfabella is looking to the future and some exciting changes are on the horizon. Regular readers will know my friend,   ‘the man with long legs’,  who also happens to be the talented artist behind my logo. From here on in I’ll call him JT.

He’s currently in a darkened studio in deepest, darkest Leicestershire ( no, it isn’t locked from the outside)  working away on the new look for a revamped Surfabella which is coming soon.  We are also working together developing some products which we will be launching later in the year. You might say we are now officially working in a tiny team, we celebrated this last Friday by drinking way too much beer, red wine and bourbon.  I’m stoked to officially welcome my biggest supporter, encouragement, friend and pointer out of typos to Surfabella. Here he is being myserious, he’s a bit on the shy side as opposed to moi who is an incurable show off.

Introducing  JT the newest member of Team Surfabella

Introducing JT the newest member of Team Surfabella

On the surfing front I’ll be embarking on my first year of having the time and means to get to the coast more often. So, keep reading to find out where this adventure will go next, I’ll be blogging about what I get up to and hopefully meeting some of you along the way . Me and Surf Bloke BFF are off to Morocco again in November and I’m hoping to see a lot more of the UK coast.  Will I ever get out of the white water? Will I meet a handsome silver surfer? Will the Baked Bean stall on more hills in Cornwall causing traffic jams? I’m really excited to find out, stick with me .

                                                                   Thanks again for reading xx

A Blind Date in Cornwall

I have a blind date in Cornwall tomorrow! eeek! Ok, I don’t have a date as such, I haven’t been set up with a foxy silver surfer. It’s not really blind either, oh and it’s not a date. Ok, tomorrow I’m going on a surf trip with a friend I have never met in real life. This trip should have taken place 3 weeks ago but, had to be changed at the last minute. This has really worked in our favour as it was flat as a pancake  and this weekend is looking decidely not flat, hoo-ra!

Fistral this week

Fistral this week

Aussie Surf Chick and I have been chatting online for quite a long time now, we ‘met’ because she sent me a lovely message about one of my posts here on Surfabella. I supposed we know as much about each other as two new friends if not more, perhaps you give more away tapping away on a keyboard.

At one point, because she has no pictures of herself on Facebook (total opposite to show off here) I did accuse Aussie Surf Chick of being Steph Gilmore. Steph had come off the world tour injured, Aussie Surf Chick is Aussie and blond and a surfer. Was she a champion surfer in disguise, befriending me for a project? Aaaahh or a documentary about how the world champ can turn a fat 40 year old kook into a brilliant surfer?

I now know that Aussie Surf Chick is in fact not Steph. Nevertheless, we have a lot in common, not least that we are both Landlocked and do not get to surf very often. This has all changed for both of us now that I’m finally driving. So tomorrow at 5am I’m loading up the Baked Bean and headed on a 5 hour drive first, to Taunton to collect her from the London train and then onto Newquay for 4 days of surfing, eating nice food, checking out The Wave Project’s Summer Surf Challenge on Fistral, chatting, trying not to buy everything in the surf shops, maybe watching some of the longboarding comp at Cranntock, relaxing and whatever else comes our way.

  I’m really quite worried about loading the boards on the roof rack for the first time, I’ve tied boards down before but, the paranoia is still there doing it myslef for the first time! Worst case scenario is, I bottle out of loading them up for the last bit of the M5,  Malcom (my board)  stays in  the front seat which is where he will be for the first leg of the journey and Aussie Surf Chick squeezes into the back seat behind me until we hit the A30. We are so used to conversing without seeing each other’s faces anyway that it won’t be unusual for us!

To some people it might be a bit odd, holidaying and sharing a room with a stranger but, I have never thought this way. I’m also finding that within the surf community, particularly amongst the birds  it’s pretty common. People go on solo trips all the time, at surf camps you end up sharing rooms with strangers, people meet up with each other via Facebook groups and organised events. If you have a passion for something and your regular mates don’t, you have to put yourself out there, and that often means going  alone until you build up some connections. Even today I’ve had messages from surf girls I have never met suggesting we meet up or go for a surf in Newquay.

There’s a warm welcome waiting for us in Cornwall even though we are strangers in town and it’s not just the amazing temperatures forecast for early next week. Now we just need to get there and I need to not scream about the boards all the way down the M5 from Taunton or Aussie Surf Chick just might run in the other direction!

See you in the water x