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.

Cold Water Surf Tour with Jessie Tuckman

I first came into contact with competitive surfer Jessie Tuckman a year or so ago when she commented on one of my very first Surfabella posts. I was chuffed that a proper and awesome surfer that I had no personal connection to had read my blog, at the time I thought it was just my mum and my mates reading it out of loyalty.

Hailing from the non surf capital of the UK , Manchester,  Jessie took to surfing a little later than most girls on the competition scene and shot through the rankings pretty darn quickly. I do a terrible injustice to her story by cutting it short but, you can read a recent Guardian article about her journey from Manchester  to Newquay and from office to beach here.

Life on the competition  trail isn’t easy and there’s a distinct lack of  lucrative sponsorship contracts for our UK girls. The reality is , it’s bloody hard work and  surfing the cold and oft brown waters of the UK  isn’t exactly the sun soaked dream the big sponsors want to sell. Jessie does have the support of some awesome local sponsors but,  in between training, surfing, competing, coaching and working has to raise additional  funds herself.

Jessie’s latest project aside from the zillion other things she has on the go is to embark on  a Cold Water Mini Tour and she has a crowd funder set up to this end . I caught up with Jessie just after Boardmasters to find out a little more about the tour.

Hello. How was Boardmasters

Boardmasters was fantastic! I have enjoyed the surf. It started off a solid overhead and clean day 1, I competed in a mushy 3-4ft and then we had a few small days. But the sun was out and that made it great for mulling around in the shopping area and watching the skaters on the half-pipe. The final day had good surf too. Peony Knight won with some impressive surfing.

 You seem to have a crazy, busy life. With a job, training, surfing, coaching and everything else what’s a typical Jessie day when you are not on the road?

I’m up at 5am, normally have breakfast and do some stretching then off to work. I clean the Stable, which is a pizza and cider specialist on Fistral Beach. (convenient location) They are one of my main sponsors too. Once I finish I’m normally straight in the sea for a morning of surf. I feel the most awake and energised in the morning. Then time to eat lunch and answer emails, contact companies that might want to hire me for work or discuss sponsorship and interviews. Surf number 2 after than and then the gym for a surf specific workout.

So, what can you tell us about  the Jessie Tuckman Cold Water Mini tour?
 It’s still secret right now but it is going to be exploration of a coastline in the British Isles that is not covered as much as Cornwall and Devon by the surf mags. It is a beautiful, cold location. I will be meeting up with some female surfers on the way who will share their local knowledge with me. That’s all I can say at the moment but if readers would like to follow me at www.facebook.com/jessietuckmansurfer there will be updates closer to the time and I will also post a daily photo from the trip…so maybe they will be able to guess where I am? who knows! anyway It will definitely be exciting.
Get Involved
 
Tell us more about the Crowdfunder?
My  sponsors help with some of the contest costs and coaching but,  when I add it all up it still isn’t all covered. I use my personal wages to cover most of the rest. Although for this trip I just can’t afford it without a fund raiser. I’ve set up a Crowdfunder to help  fund this  Exploration of Cold water British Surf , specifically funds are needed for fuel and photography fees.
Win a Snugg made to measure wetsuit

Click HERE to enter via Jessie’s Crowdfunder

Pledges of £10+ will be entered into a raffle,  the main prize is a Snugg Wetsuit voucher of £300. (it  covers a summer suit but can be used towards a winter one if preferred) It’s super cool as its made to measure and there are so many cool colours to make it really radical. I’ve also got runner up prizes so far of a hoodie, some sunglasses and a sticker pack.
I really appreciate all the help that surf supporters can give. Even if they don’t win they are really helping me on my quest for wave exploration, exposure of british women in sport and keeping it all close to home.
Thanks Jessie and good luck with the tour. I hope I can catch up with you somewhere along the way. x

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

An Unexpected Journey

An unexpected Half Marathon

20141026_124434I did a half marathon on Sunday!  As regular readers will know, I  withdrew from this race a few weeks ago due to fitness issues and self doubt but, after a  4 day solo surf trip to Newquay getting back to what’s important, namely surfing, I had a change of heart.  On my trip I met some geniunely  inspiring and lovely Surf Senioritas who I hope to spend more time with in the future. Thankyou Mellow Waves and  The Days I for the marathon 3 hour power chat and the hot chocolate. Connecting with these girls in person was great, we have such familiar joys and trials with our surfing despite being at differing levels.  I felt I’d met them before.  I had a great surf with some new friends and  I also  booked a trip to Morocco one rainy afternoon at Matt’s Surf Lodge . This  all injected me with some much needed positivity and suddenly I had motivation again, I was in  the gym, running at lunch times, feeling good and I made a decision to attempt the race with just four days to go. This is how I found myself at the start line of the half marathon on Sunday morning!

DSC_4521On the day I really wasn’t sure I’d make it, I was running 10 miles farther than I had for months but,  I got my head down and got on with it, my goal was just to finish in one piece even if I had to run/walk most of it.  I mind surfed most of way around especially after mile 8 to distract myself from knee pain and muscles like  burning stones. I surfed waves I’ll never see with skills I’ll never have in a lovely wetsuit of my own invention, all the while trying to zone out from what I was actually doing .  I did it, I got this medal and t shirt and somehow finished just 36 seconds behind last years time despite not training. What a great boost to get me going on my training for my upcoming surf trip.

New Goals

So, on to the next goal. Morocco, in 6 weeks. I’m going to Surfstar for a week and I’m super excited. But, after a summer of excusable inactivity I really need to shed some of the weight I gained and get some strength built up again in order to get the most out of my surf trip. I’m not a weight obsessive but, I keep it in check.  Just  2 years ago I weighed about 17 stone, I worked hard and patiently to get 4 and a half stone off through lifestyle changes rather than a fad diet and I still have a way to go.  To put 10lb on really scared me.  How easily I could be  headed back to morbid obesity! My new size, health and well being still feels pretty new to me and not quite set in stone yet. I felt like I needed a bit of a kick start to get things moving again.

OK, here it is. My before and after from my original weight loss. This was when I hit my lightest, strongest and fittest a few weeks before my injury

 Here are  before and after photos from my original weight loss. This was when I hit my strongest and fittest a few weeks before my injury in May, to get to this same point for Morocco is a realistic goal.

So, what’s this got to do with this picture of Guniea Pigs? Throughout my weight loss journey I used a funny weight comparison list to put my losses into perspective. Healthy, life long weight loss is not about big loss numbers but, the small numbers consistently adding up. This list made me laugh and helped me see how far I had come.  My current goal is to drop  12lb, an average Guinea pig weighs 1lb therefore…………………..meet my next goal!

Slide1

London Surf Film Festival and Meeting Steph Gilmore

A post work rush on Thursday evening to get to London via feet, bike, bus, train and tube took me to the  opening night of the London Surf Film Festival and the UK premier of Stephanie in the Water.  Here is a little,  (voice of Del Boy Trotter) reportage of my evening.

I arrive at Genesis Cinema in Stepney Green just in time to join a long queue of something rather unusual, surfers in clothes, yes, surfers in clothes! Surfers in lots of clothes and coats, big dark coats and gloves and shoes and socks! It’s a cold, dark, wet night in London and we are a long way from the sea! I clutch my ticket in my fat, cold, little hand and queue with these heavily clothed people who are both strangers and so familiar.

 I head upstairs towards the theater and bar and I casually walk past Steph Gilmore, as you do.  People are just walking by, they haven’t even seen her so I decide to say hello as it’s only a matter of time before she’s going to be swamped. She offers me her hand and a massive, genuine, dazzling smile in greeting. She’s taller than I imagined and she’s got a very happy vibe about her, she seems to almost sparkle and she’s so, so pretty and natural in real life!  I babble some crap about almost being late. I’m surprised to find I’m a little star struck and tongue tied, stupidly I don’t even congratulate her on her performance on the tour so far. I babble some crap about being recovering from injury and I’m looking forward to the film as I’m in need of a kick up the arse and some inspiration to get back into training. She says she hopes it does the trick. We have a quick photo and it’s goodbye, the film is about to start. I’m a bit shaken in a good way, I can’t believe I just talked to the woman I have watched all year, in awe on the ASP tour, she’s a legend!  I can already feel a massive boost from meeting Steph and go into the theater and take my seat.

20141009_190141

Me and my mate Steph Gilmore

 There’s an Intro from the festival directors and a few laughs and then it’s show time. As the lights dim for the first short film by Luke Pilbeam I look around at the faces in the crowd lit up by the light from the screen and I feel like I’m part of something. I might be the only surfer ( is it ok to call myself that?)  in my everyday, local sphere but,  here everyone loves surfing.  I feel like part of a tribe, these are my people haha!

The short film Out of the Black and into the Blue is fantastic, beautiful photography, stirring music and insightful words that sum up a feeling most of us can’t articulate but, understand and constantly crave. It’s rousing and passionate and this is the first time I’ve seen any surf footage on the big screen, it was made for it. If you go to the LS/FF website all of the shorts are there.

 Next up is Stephanie in the Water but, I won’t go into too much detail and spoil it.   There’s some memorable moments and it’s inspiring, thought provoking , amusing and triumphant all in one.  It really shows Steph’s passion, determination and commitment and in some very funny moments her competitiveness provokes a lot of giggling from the audience! I think different people would get different things from this film but, as someone who is struggling to get back into fitness and feels a bit shitty it was the perfect tonic.  I took from it exactly what I needed and astonishingly I find that I can identify with Steph. I know, who’d have thought it? Me, identifying with 5 x ASP world champ but, I do simply as someone that loves surfing who is finding it difficult and is determined to work hard and get back into it. It does not matter that she’s a world champion and I’m still learning.

 The Q & A that follows proves again what a lovely, warm, witty, intelligent, down to earth girl Steph is.  This beautiful, strong, determined young woman should be the role model that young girls look to,  she’s now this old bird’s role model.  So,  it’s out with the croissants and in with a renewed focus on getting fit again. In my last post  I said I needed to get back to what motivated me in the first place and I’m almost there.  With the positivity and determination to get back on it that I took from the film and a 3 day surf trip to Newquay starting tomorrow,  things are getting back on track .  Stephanie in the Water is a reminder of how happy surfing makes me, those final scenes where Steph is free surfing, the smile on her face says it all,  it’s the very same  thing  that first motivated me. I think the kids call it stoke!

product-1406236397-1280x720-718x400

Plus Size Surf Model for a Day

This year there’s been a lot of heated discussion within the online surf community about the representation of female surfers by their  sponsors and in the media. Coco and her naked surf, Anastasia’s twerking and as always Alana who is always guaranteed to divide opinion.

The girls have been criticised for doing steamy photo shoots and the negative influence this could have on young surf girls and  many see this objectification of female surfers as undermining their talent as actual surfers. Why aren’t they shown ripping in the water?  Others say leave them to it and stop judging as it allows them to continue surfing.

All  I know is that I cannot relate to the image that is constantly presented to me of what a woman who surfs looks like . I’m older, rounder and struggling to progress as I can’t surf as often as I’d like. I’m excluded by most brands due to their sizing which to me is madness, I’m not even that big, I’m a UK size 16 and there must be 1000’s of women like me who have money to spend.Luckily I’m older now and with the confidence that comes with maturity(41)  this exclusion does not affect me so much as it  makes me grumpy when I’m shopping for board shorts.

What I do dislike is some girl’s surf magazines publishing articles about bigger girls and women  being ‘brave’ and embarcing their size when the women they are celebrating are a size 12. Telling a young girl that wearing a bikini as a size 12 is brave or that it’s breaking the mould is just bloody wrong.  I’m not daft, I understand how it all works and  I don’t blame the pro surf girls themselves, they have to conform to the surf girl template if they want sponsorship that allows them to surf professionally.  I wondered though, how they felt about doing it and then I started thinking imagine if I did.  The thought of it made me really laugh to myself and well, that’s where it started.

BALANCING ACT 1The suprise shot of the 4 my happy face is all I see

 I employed my mate as chief (and only) photographer, and we headed down to Fistral on a sunny morning last week during our holiday there.  Of course we had no hair and makeup or styling but, for a laugh we set about mirroring some of the shots of the beautiful, famous surf girls. I thought this was purely a comedy project with maybe a little message to women about body confidence and that it would produce some Benny Hill type giggles . I was surprised to find that it was a little more meaningful than I imagined it to be.

ALANA CLASSICIt was so cold I forgot to do my hand on the back of my head and refused to go back in without a wetsuit! Clearly I’m a chunky monkey next to our girl!

 I’m clearly a bigger girl, I have lost a fair bit of timber since I started surfing 18 months ago in an effort to get fit and strong and to improve my performance and I still have some way to go. I’m about as far away from the gorgeous blond surf girl image you can get. I thought I’d feel insecure about sharing these pictures but, to my suprise it’s been quite the opposite and this is a huge breakthrough for me and my confidence.

I look at the first one, and all I see is a snapshot of happiness. There’s a memory of an amazingly,  fun,  surf session we had right after this picture was taken and how much laughing we did in the water that day. It’s a reminder  how utterly content I was being by the sea, spending time with my best girl friend.  I don’t look at my chunky little legs or folds on my wobbly tummy or think about how I wouldn’t be able to buy any cute shorts in the surf shops because I’m too big for them or about how every wetsuit I have has to be shortened because the makers think a size uk 18 woman is also 5’8 ft tall.  I look at my face and the light in my eyes, I’m so happy here and I feel beautiful. I’m at the beach and about to do the thing I love the most in the world and it’s written all over my face. I have never in my life seen that in myself until I saw this photograph.

I realised that I absolutely love these pictures. I’m not embarrassed about my body even though I’m far from perfect. I’m too consumed by  surfing to care. I’m strong, I’m healthy and I’m fit. I can lift heavy weights, run 13.2 miles nonstop and surf a long session without having spaghetti arms for the next 48 hours. I’m proud of me.  This is the body that lets me surf  and run and do the things that make me happy  so I blooming well should look after it and love it.

SNOG THE BOARDThis one was quite embarassing to do, I felt a right plonker

 If surf brands aiming at female consumers want a blurb to attract  female customers it should be something like this;  no matter your size or shape get out there and live your life, move more, strive to improve your health and wellbeing, do stuff, scream with excitement, swallow seawater and eat sand and laugh until it hurts. Be kind, encouraging and supportive to other girls and women and help each other , watch the sun go down, watch the sun come up, be outside as much as possible, stop wasting time trying to be perfect and start spending time creating perfect moments.  Maybe a  little cheesy but, so true!

MERMAIDhaha! More over  friendly seal than mermaid!!