A Very British Surf Life – Dream v Reality

After all of these months of not writing , something unexpected has inspired me. Not the wild, vastness of a sweeping Rhossili Bay on a stormy day , nor the majesty of towering cliffs of Pembrokeshire. Nah, it was some daft meme on facebook.

This my dears, is the reality that faces the average British surfer who has a job and sometimes has to use precious potential surf time to do other things. This is not what I anticipated when relocating to the coast to surf. With winter reducing potential time in the water even further, this meme is my life!

I nicked this from The Surf Box

To all of the landlocked surfers, please stop torturing yourselves thinking you are missing out and that the whole UK surfing population are always surfing while you slowly suffocate in inland cities, they are not I promise you. Please stop torturing yourselves imagining all the waves you will never surf that you believe others are. Those waves were last week while we we working, maybe in a few days time if the wind swings around, maybe next week if magic seaweed is wrong or maybe in summer if the cow jumps over the moon .

In reality we have lives and jobs and especially in winter the opportunity for surf often comes down to just 2 days reducing the probability of catching it on a decent day. Ahh a decent day, now there’s another thing.

Last spring, just after Easter we had a 5 week flat spell . This Autumn and winter we have had storm after storm after storm and while some spots might light up in certain stormy conditions, the ones that do are for the kamikaze, crazy good, surfers not for your average joe like me .

The wind and tides are often right but, only in the evenings after dark. On weekday mornings the webcam often reveals a glassy 3 footer shimmering in the sun as I sit here trapped at work having my soul sucked out of me. I’ve often had 4 weekends of no waves or terrible conditions and on the 5th I go away for a weekend in an attempt to have a life other than sitting around waiting for waves and the conditions clean up and the wind goes offshore just as I’m driving across the border into England.

The truth is living by the coast is not the guarantee of regular, decent surf that as a frustrated Landlocked surfer I had imagined it would be. Don’t get me wrong, being here is fabulous especially on those magical days when it all comes together, being in the right location then really comes in to it’s own. But, now that I know the reality, looking back to when I was Landlocked, it was never as bad as I made it out to be and perhaps I sulked a bit too much back then over what I imagined I was missing out on.

Landlocked, weekend warrior, living by the coast, beginner, world champion, summer only surfers or the twice a year surf tripper. We are all the same. We are all missing out on waves, the waves that live in our imaginations . That’s what the lure of surfing is, it underpins our addiction and fuels our desire to get to the coast . The unwavering belief that the best wave of your life is still out there and it is, it really is.

Links:

The Surfbox. http://thesurfbox.net/

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I Moved to Wales

Four weeks ago today I was waiting in a ridiculously long queue at passport control at East Midlands airport,  fresh off the plane with a glowing tan. I  had  been to Surfstar Morocco then met two of my oldest mates for a week in Fuerteventura.  I had a ball until the last few days when the shadow of what I was about to do descended.

Coming home from holiday this time was to be like no previous  home coming  as I was returning to a place I had never lived before. While I was on holiday, when I thought of home the picture was blank but, home was Wales now and it was confusing.  I had one last night in Leicester at my best mate’s house then I’d be off. New job, new town, new house. That night fear and doubt punched me in the gut, I was winded and I cried myself to sleep, quietly of course so he didn’t think I was bonkers.

I got up on Sunday morning and cried my leg off before I’d even got out of bed, I slipped out of the house to visit my girl BFF then came back to face the inevitable.  We had a last, silent cup of tea and it was time. I loaded the car silently. What was I doing, why was I upsetting the balance, why was I risking so much? I was terrified and devastated. I mumbled a weird goodbye of  very few words to my best mate, I couldn’t articulate anything resembling a proper sentence or even look at him,   I closed the door behind me.

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Heart in my mouth and  tears streaming down my face I got into the car whereupon I forgot how to breath ,  my lungs were crushed. After 15 minutes I managed to calm myself and started the car. This was supposed to be my big adventure, my dream was  to live by the sea and I was doing it  so,  why was I finding it so hard to drive away? It felt like mourning and that’s exactly what it was, mourning the life I was leaving, fear of leaving the security of my normal and fear that things would never be the same again , that friendships might drift and I’d end up dying alone in Wales  but, at least I’d be by the sea right?

I’ve now been here for four weeks, I stopped crying a few miles into my journey, unpacked, explored, spent time with Welsh pals and started my new job.   This is what I’ve discovered since I arrived.

I cannot walk, run or cycle up hills. On my first week an old man with a walking stick almost overtook me just walking up my street from the shop.

Swansea rubbish collection is so complicated that nobody understands it. I thought I’d got a handle on it until the binmen refused to take my bags because I’d done some unfathomable wrong. I’m now hoarding rubbish and don’t know what to do with it. I might drive it to Liverpool with me at Christmas! Sorry mum

Complicated Rubbish

Gower animals are hardcore. Driving across the common in the darkest of dark on Gower  I had to stop for sheep, cows and horses. These little furry bad asses are not like English ones who go to a little shed at night, oh no.  Gower animals wait in the dark and cold  until your are driving along a lonely road, a lonely road a bit like a horror film lonely road.  They then jump into your path and laugh at you while you sit nervously  in the dark waiting for them to move.  I love them.

Welsh people are the friendliest folk I’ve ever encountered from shop workers to strangers in the park, everyone is up for a chin wag. Other drivers smile at you and let you out and people don’t seem to be as impatient and in a rush as I’m used to. I like it. Although I’m spending a lot of time alone which is to be expected at this point in my move,  the friends I made here over the last few years are amazing and the new folk I’ve met couldn’t be more welcoming.

The reality of living by the sea it seems,  is that you don’t surf as much as you think you will. We wait, patiently through flat spells and despair at work when swell hits on a weekday and it’s dark outside before you have even finished. Then, when swell comes on a weekend it’s too big. I am however, finally getting in tomorrow with my new board.

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I was just wrapping up this post and was writing  about how I desperately miss my best friend, I had a little tear rereading the top of this post remembering the day I left Leicester and the absolute weirdest thing happened. I was interrupted writing by a whatsapp from a number I half recognised.  It was a very dear, old friend I’ve not spoken to for ten years, he lives abroad, our numbers changed over time and he doesn’t do social media.  We have searched for each other over the years to get in touch but with no luck. Today he found an old sim in a box and found my number . I’ve had a lovely hour catching up and plan to visit soon.  So, on a last note  of things I’ve discovered since moving,  I guess the most important thing is that time and distance don’t mean a thing when it comes to people we love. It’s going to be ok here.

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.

Run 530 Leicester

run530-2016-logo
I’ve never been a speedy runner, I’ve never found running easy and I spend most of my time while running looking at people’s backs in the distance but, I plod on. I try to ignore my frustration at being so slow and  rejoyce the fact that a few years ago I couldn’t  plod anywhere. Lately though,   I’ve been in a deep running rut and my interest in the activity as a whole has been minimal.
I ran an extremely difficult half marathon a month ago, it took me 3 hours, I was 4th from last and I hated it. I hadn’t been motivated to train and I didn’t run once in the last 16 days leading up to the event. I wasn’t fit for a 5k never mind a half marathon and  I started to think, what’s the point in it, I’m rubbish at running anyway. Since then,   I’ve had several difficult ,uncomfortable short runs that my heart hasn’t  been in. I haven’t finished a run feeling great for I don’t know how long. So, with little reward of late I started giving little effort, hence my rut.
When I signed up to a 5.3km running event called Run 530 which started at 5.30am, I imagined running through my home town bathed in the golden light of sunrise. I had thoughts of  birds singing, the first sounds of the city waking up as shops opened and the first buses crawled out of town on a glorious summer morning. Run 530 originated in Italy and is hosted by Perfect Motionhere in the UK.  Looking at the 530 gallery I was seduced by sunrise pictures of happy Italian runners in Venice, Modena and Rome. I did not get that!
Run 530 UK Leicester
This morning, my alarm went of at 4.15 am, it was raining. I left my house at 4.45am, it was raining. I walked to the meeting point in Victoria Park Leicester, it was raining. There’s a pattern forming here. How wonderfully British the weather decided to be.  On the walk from the car I started making preemptive excuses for my impending, poor performance and talking about being the last over the line.  To my surprise, and delight as I wan’t feeling very motivated,  my super fast runner friend said she’d go my pace to help me.
At the start line we were greeted by lots of smiling faces, most in disbelief that they had managed to get out of bed before 5 am for this event. Everyone at a 530 run wears a tour t shirt which can be collected before the event and  were coincidentally in Leicester blue this year, a possible connection with Ranieri being Italian and the LCFC premiership win perhaps?
Instantly, it was clear that the atmosphere was friendly, inclusive and non competitive. There were no race numbers, no times, no start gun and no pacers. There were cheers and laughs at the start line mostly relating to the weather and time of day and lots of chatter all the way round.
The 5.3k route took us past Leicester landmarks such as New Walk (down was much nicer than up), the clock tower, Leicester Cathedral and the Highcross. The rain didn’t matter one bit and despite going a bit quicker than I would if I was on my own I started enjoying it, an unusual occurrence lately.
The route was well staffed by  marshals and a photographer on a bike who kept popping up in different locations, clear signage meant nobody went off track and when we made it up New Walk there was a lady waiting to give us our lush medals followed by drinks, fruit bowls and a pink goodie bag – hoorah! The goodie bag may have been a bit girly, one man said he was going to wear his fake eye lashes to work that morning but, for me it was a nice change from a healthy chew bar tasting of soil.
I finished with a big grin on my face for the first time in a while.  I put a bit of extra effort in (mainly thanks to my girl coach for staying with me and the novelty of the event)  and got a lot out of this run. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong lately, I guess to get the runner’s reward,  you have to actually try and something about today’s event got me to try again. I feel motivated to get back to it now.
I really enjoyed this event, it felt like we were co conspirators in a secret club nobody knew about because the city was mostly asleep, I imagine some people were lying in  bed with windows open wondering what the noise was as 160 pairs of feet padded through the silence of town at 5.30am.
I really hope Run 530 returns next year. Participants are encouraged to run or walk the route so it’s definitely an event for anyone of any experience and ability.  Leave your ego at home, this event is all about community, people and fun. Perhaps it’s just a post 530 high but,  I’m now thinking of becoming a Run 530 tourist and doing them in Italy next year. I can see it now, ‘Report From the Road with Surfabella, On Tour in Italy’,  wonder if there’s a job going that fits that description?

Its not too late to join in the final Run530 UK event in Derby on 15th July sign up here
If you are thinking about starting running or have just started read my post on being a beginner here

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.

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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.

 

 

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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

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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

 

Lessons From Nature

 

A mountain or fell, like the sea, reveals all. It demands  your strengths and magnifies your weaknesses both physical and of the mind. Nature does not care how much your gortex, hyper thin jacket which transforms into a tent cost or how much you paid for that Nineplus long board or all singing all dancing wetsuit.  Nature does not care if you talk the talk, she is only interested in if you can walk the walk. Believe me, during my weekend in the Lake District, I certainly walked.

On day one I was tricked into going up Fairfield Horseshoe by a whiley wayed mountain goat . As a local fell runner,  these peaks are mere hills to him, to me they might aswell have been Everest.

The Coffin Route? Was I about to die?When I first saw what we were about to do doubt kicked in immediately. Walk Lakes website declares,

Do not underestimate 
the seriousness of 
this walk

In total it was a four hour ascent.  I struggled in parts, especially the steep start.  I threw a hissy fit and hurled abuse at The Goat and Long Legs . ( read about my surf strops here) I also laughed a lot, made it to the top with a huge sense of achievement, enjoyed spectacular views, saw some cool ninja sheep and slid down some of the two hour decent on my arse which was fantastic fun.

A Collection of Photos of my friends backs as i try to keep up

Afterwards,  when we were in the pub sinking a few pints I felt exhausted and exhilarated. The Guinness tasted like the finest liquid to ever pass my lips. I had worked for  it, I’d got up the highest peak I have ever been up under my own steam. After meeting up with the Friday night arrivals, a belly full of food and beer and neat rum back at the hostel somehow I managed to get up and walk another 14 miles the next day. I had no idea I enjoyed walking so much.

Climbing the peaks of The Lake District showed me a few things about myself in exactly the same way that surfing does, mother nature and her incessant lessons eh? Firstly,  it showed me that my weakness is not in my body but, in my head. My weakness is self-doubt. It also showed me that I am stronger and fitter than I think but, I still have a way to go.

I spent most of the day looking at two backs in the distance and I found it really disheartening at times but, I have to remember that three  years ago I wouldn’t have been able to do a quarter of this height.

Perhaps most importantly this trip showed me that I need to start seeing myself as I am now. I’ve been what I’d consider an active person for just a few years.  I was everyone’s  fat, daft, drinking buddy who couldn’t really do much in the way of activities for most of my late 20’s and 30’s. It’s time to stop saying I can’t do things and realise I am actually walking the walk, albeit not as steadily, quickly or skillfully as the others but, I’m bloody doing it.

I  came home from this trip with a similar feeling I get after a surf trip. I felt the best kind of tired, a bit grubby, slightly hung over and very satisfied.  I also felt a comforting amity with the group of old and new friends that I’d shared the weekend with.

I highly recommend that you get yourself up a mountain this spring and walk the walk. Get a blister, throw a strop, sit down and refuse to move if you must. But, also breath in the fresh air, take in a spectacular view, enjoy overcoming something you thought you couldn’t do and come down  just a little different to when you went up.

Some Useful Links for Getting Out and About

Join the National Trust for free entry and parking to heaps of cool places around the Uk

2016 is Wales’ year of Adventure explore the vast mountains and coastline and find #yourepic

Join YHA for budget friendly accommodation in spectacular locations around the Uk

Visit trekking Great Britain for inspiration  on walks, hikes and climbs

If it all seems a bit much read Wild by Chery Strayed from the comfort of your sofa

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/