Here is a fantastic interview with Stuart Campbell by Ester Spears. Stuart is the reigning British Surfing Champion, one of the UK’s most successful young surfers and one of our most progressive… did I mention that he’s just turned 21 years old? There’s a bit about being Champ, freesurfing, comp surfing, going for the title, this and that, it’s what they do… these guys. All words from now on are those of Ester and Stuart…
It’s been a long time since the British Surfing Champion came from North Devon, since 1984 in fact when Richard Carter (Redwood surf shop, Croyde) held the crown. Last November Woolacombe resident, Stuart Campbell, brought the title back to Devon from a stormy Fistral Beach in Cornwall. To celebrate Stuey’s 21st birthday (Monday), his title and his full page pic in the latest issue of Carve, he talks about it to me with a few other unpublished pix from recently.
How did you get into surfing?
I started surfing at aged 8 when my family moved from the middle of Exmoor to the beach at Woolacombe. I saved up my birthday and pocket money to buy my first board then started learning with my Dad. My early inspiration came from a day at the O’Neill surf academy in Croyde. I got to hang out with O’Neill’s team riders. Jay Moriarity pushed me into some waves and was such a big character, the attitude of the crew left a big impression on me. They all had such passion for surf there was none of the drama and tantrums that I experienced from Rugby and Football club. I knew then that I would never go back to Football.
Why did you decide to compete?
I have always been competitive thanks to my Mum and Dad, it was always a competition to have the tidiest room, build the biggest sand castle, dig the deepest hole, I was always in front on bike rides and could get the most plates in the dish washer, collect the most coins from the bottom of the pool in one dive. I learnt to swim before I could walk and had won lots of shiny medals in swimming and then surf life saving. I couldn’t wait to get into surfing competition, it is where I belong.
What was your first big contest and how did you go?
The first contest I ever did was the Jesus surf classic in 2000. I think I got through a heat or two in the under 14’s, probably still riding the white water. I can remember dreaming about it for weeks before and getting really excited.
What was your breakthrough result?
In 2003, I won the under 12 British National Championships. With thanks to Ester Spears in fact. Ester ran a club through Braunton school and taught me how to manage myself at events and surf in heats. My parents had no idea how surfing worked which I think worked in my favour. Sue Butler used to give Jack and Tom a hard time at comps, I think that made it more fun to beat Jack and it never mattered if I lost as long as I learnt and had fun. Mum and dad were always impressed with my surfing no matter what.
What is the difference between contest surfing and your freesurfing?
When I am freesurfing I am practising new manoeuvres, going bigger and harder as there is no consequence if I fall (unless it is on to my board). I catch loads and loads of waves, where as in contest I am way more selective only going on the waves that I know I can get a solid score with. I also play it safe, there are no points for trying in surf contests and in a short 20 minute heat you can’t afford to fall off, until you are securely in the lead. A lot of my free surfing is practising and preparing for contests so it is always good to take out a silly little board and mess about.
How do you train for events?
I am currently training with Nick Thorn working on all aspects of my fitness and with a Physiotherapist Jerry Powell who is trying to sort out all my irregularities, aches and pains. I also try to get my surfing filmed regularly so that I can picture myself surfing and can visualise all the movements I make on a wave, essential for contest surfing. Being able to score your own waves is a useful skill particularly in an event without live scores, so that you can manage the heat, decide which waves you need or if you can afford to wait about for a bomb. Close to the event I like to surf a lot so that I am comfortable and confident with my board. I learnt to prepare physically and mentally thanks to O’Neill and their training camps I have attended since I was 12. I also find my A level in sport science helpful. (Perhaps you can tell I struggled with my English language A level).
What is it that makes you competitive?
I guess it’s the way I have been raised. I think of contest as a way of proving myself and as fun. It will never end either, in the UK now I may be British champion but after that I was knocked out in the first round of the Lynmouth contest. As my Nan says “you are only as good as your last result.” The two of us have a table tennis tournament going it started in 1999. whats scary is that at the age 83 I know she will still thrash me.
How did it feel to win the British Championships?
I thought I had nailed Jaycee in the dying minutes in the final but didn’t know what Gordon had done, the only thing that I was confident of was that Oli Adams had an absolute shocker. Walking up the beach my friends told me that I had taken it out. I didn’t want to think about it too much waiting for the official call seemed to take forever. Looking back over the contest and the preparations with the knowledge that it all went as well as it could have and that all my decisions worked when they finally announced the result the feeling was amazing. I have always wanted to win the British and imagined what it would be like, I never dreamt I would win it while still in the Juniors. I have still got a big smile now.
What have you been up to since?
I went to Costa Rica for about 3 months, based myself by the beach and just surfed and trained in the sun. There was waves everyday so I could get into a really good routine. I got to test my winter training in the Vendee WQS event I finished in the top 25 which makes me think it worked. The next big event is the boardmasters so I have until then to refine my training and boards, with the aim of going at least one round further.
What are your plans for the future?
Ultimately I just want to keep surfing and travelling. At the moment as a competitive surfer, this year I will focus on the European WQS events then hopefully compete further afield next year, with as many video photo and training trips in between. Thanks to the support that I get from O’Neill. This year I want to knock Russ Winter off his comfy throne as the UK Pro Tour champion and he knows that I am coming for him.
And finally what would you say to some0ne (hippy usually) who says that competition surfing is a sell out?
First I would ask how comfy they find their new hyper stretch boardies. I would say that without contest surfing we wouldn’t see the development in surfboards, in flexible boardies/wetsuits, in fin shapes, compositions and materials and of course in hair styles. We would all be riding huge single fins if no one was driven to better their performance by improving their equipment. Without competition we wouldn’t see any change, without competition in nature we would all be swimming around in soup without eyes, ears, teeth or even a brain. Another reason I enjoy competition is that win or lose an event will help me find weakness in my surfing and in myself which motivates me to work. It could be a huge turn that I have seen someone else do or controlling my nerves before a heat. Surfing isn’t just a sport it is an art, meaning it is completely open to the interpretation of the individual whatever looks and feels good to them.