It feels like Autumn proper is here at last. I’m not complaining – last weekend’s swell went a long way to blowing away the cobwebs left by a summer and Autumn of fairly awful surf.
So to get you in the mood for winter proper, here are a few words that I wrote in December last year. It’s a bit more introspective than my usual banal stuff – I hope it strikes a chord with my fellow Weekend Warriors.
The Happy Surfer
I don’t feel like surfing at 6am when it’s still dark and the temperature is hovering just above zero. I don’t feel like doing much of anything apart from staying in my warm bed, or in this case in my warm sleeping bag in the back of my van in a country lane in North Devon. But I get up anyway, switch the feeble portable heater on, eat an energy bar, try and do some stretching exercises without bashing my head on the boards hanging above me.
In an ideal world I would surf in the afternoons; no wetsuit, glassy tropical waves under a sunny sky; then a fruit smoothie in a friendly beachside shack. In the same world Rob Machado would look to me for style pointers.
But I live in the UK; I’ve got a wife and kids, and a job, and a bad back. My style is borrowed from Quasimodo. If I want to keep being a surfer, the occasional night in a frosty country lane is the price I pay.
When my kids were first born I went through a phase where I stopped surfing in December and started again in April. Three months is a long time, especially if it includes the eatathon that is Christmas at our house. The older I got the harder it was to get back into shape – a decent summer swell and I felt like a kook again, like I didn’t belong out there. I didn’t like that feeling.
So here I am. I surf all year round again. I look for those gaps in my life that coincide with a bit of swell and make the most of it. Sometimes I don’t enjoy it, but every stroke paddled is a deposit in the fitness bank. I take the long view.
Back to the lane. I’ve got two winter suits now. It’s a small luxury that makes s big difference. The damp one from last night’s session is bundled away and I’m pulling on a nice dry one. Same boots though, and they’re as cold as you would expect. It’s still dark as I make my way down to the empty beach car park. The van radio only picks up Radio 4 here for some reason; not ideal preparation for a winter surf. I’m dazzled by lights as another car pulls in. I recognize it; it’s the friendly surf shop owner that I often run into at this time. I know the names of his kids. He is incredulous that my van passed its MOT again.
I haven’t found a bar of wax that goes on easily at 20C. I’m pressing the wax comb so hard its hurting my fingers.
I hate ice cream headaches – ear plugs, a swimming cap, and a hood over the top. It seems to work.
We walk down to the water together. It’s still a bit early to see properly but there isn’t a breath of wind and it has cleaned up from last night. I feel the first twinges of the excitement that every surfer will recognize. I almost manage to get out back without a duck dive. We paddle to different peaks. By my third wave it is light enough to surf properly. I do a long sweeping turn and rebound off the foam, a little stiffly. Radical loose surfing is for tropical afternoon surfers.
An hour and a half; countless waves. It’s only just starting to get crowded when I get out. I feel euphoric driving back to work in watery December sunshine. The stoke will last all day, hardly dulled by seven and a half hours in front of a computer screen.
I’m looking forward to cuddling my kids this evening.