Been so busy with work and life. I've not surfed so little since I started - especially with the early dark now. Probably only getting in once a week. I've become a 'weekend warrior' while living five minutes from the beach. Again this morning I had to watch people surfing for five minutes before getting back to the computer. I'm complaining, but I deeply understand the spoiled and imbalanced nature of my complaint when placed in world perspective.
This was Woolacombe this morning before the wind trashed it.
Did you watch the ASP J-Bay Open, live online? Specifically the Occy vs Curren heat?
I've warmed to the ASP World Tour over the years, realising that it promotes and helps the sport to support itself when surf companies are struggling to survive and it also, due to it's competitive nature, gives us surfing moments with a drama that otherwise wouldn't exist. (Who can forget Slater unbelievably emerging from that 'Perfect 10' scoring barrel at Hossegor 2010?) The excitement is further enhanced for me by the fact that my Fantasy Surfer team is currently seventh overall! Anyway, I was looking forward to J-Bay anyway.
It also happened that I watched the surf movie "Instruments of Change" by Simon Saffigna the other day. We all know, or should, a bit about Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo. It was Tom Curren who I was interested in though. I've been amazed by the style of his famous 'first wave' of his at J-Bay (his smooth bottom turns appear 'jet-propelled'!) ever since reading about it in Tom Anderson's wonderful book "Riding the Magic Carpet". I'm still dying to see the Rip Curl "Search" movie, so if anyone can help me get a copy on DVD I'd be eternally grateful. I've loved Tom's surfing in other films like "Idiosyncrasies", however, I wasn't prepared for what a pleasure "Instruments of Change" is. Especially as an older surfer it's really compelling to watch the seasoned style and warm stoke of Curren and Occy - not to mention Gary Elkerton (filmed getting a bomb of a barrel!) compared directly with the jumpy, staccato performance surfing of the groms they take with them (Pat Curren, Kalani Ball and Keanu Asing). The ability of these elder statesmen, with their new-found middle-aged girth (of varying degrees), is astounding and it's beautiful to watch; not to mention inspiring to middle-aged surfers like me. Not only is the surfing great, but it's beautifully filmed with the camera following them from just behind the lip of the wave, I guess filmed from a jetski or something, but it felt like something I'd not quite seen before and really makes you feel like you're following the surfers along the wave.
So, because of this, I made sure I was sitting down to watch the Curren vs Occy heat live on my laptop. I'm not kidding - Curren's first good wave nearly brought a tear to my eye. After watching the current pros lose their positioning and make mistakes the unbelievable fluid precision with which Curren negotiated his a wave was just mesmerising. To see someone combine such style along with a scientist's eye for trajectory was exciting and an education - and at fifty years of age on good sized pumping J-Bay walls! Curren's 10 scoring wave that rocked up next though was unbelievable. It was surfing unfolding - live - in a way that seemed unimaginable. It's perhaps, for me, the greatest sporting live event I've ever watched. I don't quite know why I feel so emotional about it but it felt like watching his first J-Bay wave, combined with Michael Peterson's cutback, Hynson & August surfing Cape St Francis and Miki Dora surfing Malibu, but LIVE. It felt like the history I would've loved to be part of being performed in front of me: now. Something significant. Dear Tom Curren: thankyou! And thankyou J-Bay for showing up with a well-timed swell and rubbing out the plague of air-reverses.
Now if you haven't watched that wave then watch it now. And then watch it again…
Five years of surfing now, have finally led to me surfing a tricky spot that I've been looking at for years. (These are not me - they're pics I took while browsing.)
A bad move and you end up on the rocks (I did once with–luckily–no damage), there's lots of paddling to do to keep in the right spot but had the best waves of my life and left super stoked! It's spots like this that you find it's clear why you shouldn't rock up and surf it to tick off a box. It's sketchy and pretty unnerving to see your fins flying so close to the rocks now and again. But oh - so nice!!!!
Big waves, sketchy windy days, I haven't had the time to go and find the sheltered/better spots so it's been lots of testing surfs. Some good, some bad. Really enjoyed a surf in clean 2ft the other day, simply because it made a refreshing change from overhead stuff. This Winter's sorted out the surfers who have the time, dedication and skills to go and find the super waves from most of us who've been carrying on grabbing waves at our local breaks when winds/tides allow. So for some it's been the best Winter in years, for most of us it's been difficult: for everyone pretty tiring! Looking forward to some eeeeeeeeaaaaaasy summer surfs...
Some super fun waves - wish it was like this more often! Had loads of thoughts in the water: this is perfect, I'm not making the most of it, shit that wave is a bit big, I love this board, I'm a shit surfer, I'm not a bad surfer, this is beautiful, shite my shoulders hurt, I wish there was no such thing as getting tired, getting old, I'll never get barrelled, voooooooom, freeeeeezing. I don't think I particularly enjoy those 'one good wave - session save' days, I prefer a fun solid session with lots and lots of waves. Surfing's hard and I've had enough of it being too hard. A bit of ease/confidence is good for your surfing progression. More waves = more turns = more improvement. I bet you could improve more on one wave at Bells than ten short rides at Wooly? What bloody lovely surf. Lovely. I think when you can do a proper carving, full-speed roundhouse is when you move from being an average surfer to pretty good. Pleasure in surfing is so fickle. You have to enjoy the whole experience. I love my new 7mm round toe boots this winter. Love them. My toes love them. Getting too cold is a spoiler. A friend had gastroenteritis and missed these two good days. I'm glad I didn't have gastroenteritis. Surfing really, really is like drug addiction - hit hunting. It's also a lot like fishing. It's like fishing for crack.
As we progress in surfing people talk about nailing your pop up. Getting your pop up right. But that is already the essential mistake: from the moment you start surfing there is a tendency to talk about your pop-up in the singular.
'Popping up' is actually - it becomes clear - a whole set of manoevres and skills as varied as airs or bottom turns. There is the long glide into slow pop-up, there is the emergency speed pop-up as you fall down the face of a late take-off and everything in between. That is why popping up remains one of the main things you're constantly learning as you progress in surfing. When I remember learning, optimistically studying 'the' pop-up (hands under your chest, one movement jump into squatting - they say,) and I remember what an idealistic idea I had of getting to my feet: that it was something that could be 'sorted out'. Done. Learned with an end to it. I mean, my popping up is undoubtedly much improved: I will make most and have taken a healthy step towards the other end of the scale. I enjoy late drops with that feeling of weightlessness until the fins grip the face, though at my age I prefer an early take-off, planing before I pop-up and perhaps with time for a little fade before the first bottom turn. But, I know how different my pop-ups are between boards and waves and states of physical exhaustion!
All I'm saying is that if you're at the beginning of your surfing journey - just don't think of "the" pop-up as singular in kind or that popping-up a minor obstacle before you surf that wave. Getting to your feet has to become skilled, spontaneous, varied and part of surfing: you're surfing before you pop-up. Think of the pop-ups as manoevres to be enjoyed: we all know a successful late drop is ecstatically heart-warming. As you get better you paddle, you have time to look along the wave as you catch it, you're surfing now - you're a bodyboarder. Then, while you're surfing you have a split second to decide how best to launch yourself onto your feet, transform into a stand-up surfer and scoot down the face; how you do this will define your first bottom turn; how you then manage your first bottom turn will set up the whole wave.
While I'm on the subject - another great way to support The Museum of British Surfing is using the Easyfundraising website. Once you register with the site a percentage of any purchase at loads of online retailers (like Amazon, M&S, Ebay, Argos etc etc) will be donated to the Museum. I costs you nothing so it's a really good way to help raise funds to support The Museum of British Surfing. You used to have to remember to go to the Easyfundraising website before shopping online, which was a pain and didn't work so well, however, you can now install a fantastic tool that just pops up a bar at the top of your browser when you visit a site that's taking part. So you don't have to remember: just click the 'claim your donation' checkbox when it pops up. This is what you see:
Simple! I've found there are a lot more sites than you'd realise that are involved so once you install this it makes things really, really simple. Do it now! It's only a small donation so the Museum really needs lots of people to register and help out.
On the 8th September Richie Richardo organised a Fancy Dress surf at Woolacombe in aid of the North Devon Hospice. It was really good fun and may well become an annual event.
Advice: don't wear a 'onesie' costume. Rob weighed his after walking back home and it was still 7kg! He had to paddle 'breast stroke' style underwater. My overalls were pretty bad, mainly because they were too tight and I really struggled to pop up. But it was really good fun - Dig won best costume for his Batman outfit. Even though it was last minute lots of people took part. Looking forward to the next one.
Overseeing Batman's adherence to safety procedures.
Group shot... Richie in the middle in particularly fetching drag.
Hammering down the line.
Strolling out, Reservoir Dogs style...
Suited up and frothing for a surf! Andy Bramwell looking particularly smart, me in the middle and Rob Adderley about to discover how heavy an elephant really feels.
Unaccountably I had possibly the best, most fun, surf I've ever had yesterday. It was lumpy, touching head high occasionally and... Putsborough! I expected nothing much and except for the fact that I've really been enjoying my McCallum/Kookbox Twin-Pin recently there was little sign that this would be anything more than a regular surfy-surf.
While I was in the water a lot of things seemed to fall into place. What happens in this plateau of being an average/improving surfer is that you taste the turns at the beginning but it seems to take forever to become Dane Reynolds. What's really happening is that you're upping the probabilities, the consistency and banishing bugbears.
My shadowy bugbears:
1. I used to think things like: "I don't like surfing Putsborough; or Woolacombe for that matter..."
2. I used to hate going left.
3. Lumpy waves are shit - I want clean waves, the conditions perfect if possible please.
4. I will fail my pop-up if the wave breaks early/on me.
It became clear yesterday that all of these thoughts have been well and truly banished from my surfy world. At Putsborough yesterday I caught mostly lefts, didn't fail a single pop-up and managed one flying right out of the whitewater when a set wave broke just too soon. This is largely what 'intermediacy' is about, not great leaps in performance surfing but a steady improvement in all the facets of surfing that allow you to get more, and longer, and 'funner' waves...
At this point too I'm having a bit of a change in attitude to board choice. The reason I love the McCallum is that it has a wide nose platform that eases wave catching and take-off but with a pintail rather than fishy/simmonsy width. My confidence went sky-high yesterday and this meant more turns, messy roundhouses, attempts, fails but definitely a focus on turns and speed control rather than wave catching & pop-ups. It could mark the end of struggling with smaller more difficult boards for a bit. As you progress you want to change your surfboard to go shorter (or longer), giving with one hand and taking with the other: as you get better you immediately make life more difficult for yourself with a change in surfboard to take you towards where you want to go. Surfing involves a lot of struggle and it's nice to have a little less of that for once. A point, junction, of peace with my equipment, my surf desires, dreams, hopes and fantasies.
Though: I would still dearly love to get barrelled one day... and I'm starting to fear I took up surfing too late for that?
The days that are clean and overhead: you have to go in. The days that are clean waves: you must, it's rarely clean here. Marginal days: you must surf as the next day may be worse. Messy days: the surf is sketchy right now, I've got to get in, it's messy but at least there's a swell, it probably won't be surfable tomorrow. When it's dead flat I announce to the family, hey, I won't go surfing today, lets do what you want.
Every day possible there's a reason to surf. Surfer's understand it and there is a parallel with addiction: the fear that you don't know where your next 'fix' is coming from. It may go flat tomorrow for a month. If I don't get in today I may never surf again! Quick, grab wetsuit, out of the door...
In Patrick Trefz's movie "Idiosyncrasies" Richard Kenvin goes on, in melancholic fashion, about how you should put family and life first and if you can fit in surfing around that you've got everything. My desperation to surf has made me a wave-bastard. I know a few people who have made peace with their desire to improve as quickly as possible and surf as much as possible and are calm about not surfing.
I went in yesterday and the surf was shit. I realised that this week I've surfed a whole variety of waves: shit, messy, weak, feeble, choppy, lumpy and crap. Admittedly, amongst all the hideousness I did find a decent ride or two, especially a particularly choice left at Putsborough. But, really, I need to redress the balance of priorities a little. Just a little...