About Me

Welcome to my blog. I'm feeling pretty smug right now because I've quit my job and on 25th October will be heading to Europe for 6 months to do nothing but surf. We're gonna hit France, Northern Spain and Portugal. It's a well travelled and documented road but I'll try to write up my experiences and hopefully share an insight into the road trip experience. I'll not blog regularly, but I will add the odd little story here and there. If you see a white LDV with boards on the side come and say hi! Andy

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The first surf

We woke to the slushy hiss of waves. It felt like an early summer morning as the sun fought wearily against the morning fog. It was in fact 08:30 but the Continental time changes meant it was only just dawn. It felt strange to be so alert and awake in this light.

The scrape of sliding door of the campervan disturbed the peace of the cliff top car park. The white van was the only vehicle parked in the rusty gravel. I wasn't suprised. We seemed to have left two months later than everyone else on our European coast trip. Every town and village was shuttered up for the winter, brightly coloured signs echoed like ghosts of the tourist filled summer. This strange ambience was reinforced by the gloomy hulks of crumbling military installations that litter the coast.

Today was the first morning with swell. We surfed messy head high waves at an average beach break north of Les Sables D'Olonne. With the first surf of the trip under our belts we relaxed a little and decided to drive down the coast to a beach we'd visited four years ago.

We stopped at a few beaches and reefs as we drove, but the surf was tattered by the wind everywhere we looked. We got lost several times, and the French road signs didn't help to ease the building tension in the van. It seems that the French like to ensure maximum concentration from drivers by hiding road signs behind shrubs and billboards. Another tactic is to put them on roundabouts, but only visible from the other direction. This meant we had a queazy looking dog after several trips around some large junctions. We had some cupboard opening exits from the main roads onto small forest tracks (cupboard openers are sharp, hair raising turns for those of you uninitiated in the world of campervans).

Eventually we parked up on the side of a sandy road carpetted with pine needles. The moist still air in the forest gave away nothing about the conditions on the beach, only fifty yards away. The sheltered trees were covered with thick moss and fungus, their yellowed leaves ready to submit to the brewing Atlantic storms.

We slogged up the dune ridge, expectations low. But we were stopped dead by the sight of perfectly groomed, shoulder high waves. How was this possible when the surf was a mess half an hour north? We didn't stop to ponder the question and raced back to the van to get changed.

The surf was at it's much cliched best that afternoon. Classic French beach break with powerful, hollow waves. You've seen pictures of it before, so I won't waste words describing it. Rest assured it was great, each wave demanding you're full attention as you tried to find as much speed as possible to make the next section.

It was a great example of why exploring the coast by van is such a great way to get good surf. If it's junky in one place then why not drive down the coast a bit and see what's round the next corner. Seek and ye shall find

Monday, 11 October 2010

Tywyn's new coastal defences 9th October

A great swell hit the new coastal defences at Tywyn and proved that a good bit of old fashioned beach engineering can shape some lovely waves.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


If there is one really important thing I’ve learnt recently, it is that surfers make bad careers advisors. They are unquestioning in their admiration for any travel plans that include a coastline, while their only critical comments tend to revolve around crowds, swell consistency, prevailing wind direction, and the availability of beer.

Therefore when discussing my plan to quit my job with my surfing friends, I rarely encountered a response other than “go for it”. Not deterred by this support, I turned to my parents and colleagues to talk me out of it. I would be leaving an enjoyable job, perhaps even a nascent career, to spend the six months of winter travelling through France, Spain and Portugal. I had spent two and a half years working seasonal and short term contracts in conservation, but had been made a permanent member of staff this January. My foot was on the ladder. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to start climbing.

We often put our parents in the difficult position of wanting to support our plans (and come along if they can fit in the back of the van), and giving us critical advice. Yes quitting our jobs during a recession and in the face of public spending cuts may seem a little irresponsible. But should I wait till I am of retirement age - which keeps going up by the way – before getting on the road?

The phrase “burden of responsibility” springs to mind. I have a responsible job. I enjoy my work. But I am not ready for the burden that comes with it. This burden is nothing to do with work, but more to do with 9 to 5 living, 25 days holiday a year, council tax, mortgages and trying to fit a weeks worth of fun into the 48 hours of the weekend. So I decided that it was time to get on with living before settling down for Life™.

I had recently read about the “FOMO” theory of behaviour. It stands for Fear Of Missing Out, and has been used to predict and explain the behaviour of teenagers and adolescents. The world of surfing reaches all the backwaters of Britain through the internet these days, with constant videos and pictures of the best waves from the biggest swells. As a self confessed surfing geek, I fear I suffer from a severe fear of missing out, and it has been starting to get to me. There’s only so much chilly dribbly surf you can endure before your mind starts to wander. I was fed up of hearing about how good everyone else was having it. Time to do something about it!

On top of my urge to find better waves and elude the shackles of responsibility, I have a problem with my feet. Every two or three years, just when I start to get settled in a place or a job, they start itching. It can lead to depression, a tightening of the purse strings, and red eyes from too much internet time searching for flights or ferry tickets. Luckily my girlfriend also suffers from this problem, but I don’t think that’s my fault; I don’t think I’m contagious. I’ve inherited a certain amount of wanderlust from my parents, and this has grown due to recent immersion in saltwater for hours on end.

So after six months of talking about what we were going to do, we finally decided that it was now or never. We both went to work one Monday morning with a nervous burning in our chests and handed in our notice. We knew our colleagues would be jealous and supportive, but we were scared of being on the receiving end of a serious telling off. Christ, it was like being sent to the headmaster’s to own up to a being a very naughty boy. The relief was instant. No shouting, just encouragement and envious comments.

But then that nervous feeling crept back into my mind. Had we just done the hard part or the easy part? Now we have to hit the road…

Turn of the Season

I pulled my hood up close to my face as we picked our way through the field, heading in the general direction of the sea. It felt like autumn was skulking over the horizon. Cool nights and thickening winds had already prompted the oak trees nearby to prepare for winter, and a few of their leaves edged the track to the beach.

The morning light wrapped everything in fine layer of expectation, and although it was before eight in the morning I was feeling excited, sensing the approaching energy of the first autumn swell. We arrived mud footed at the cliffs edge, and stared at the corrugated surface of the sea. We looked at each other and grinned like fools. After months of cold turkey, we were a pair of addicts were ready for a hit. The swell had arrived, and was hitting south Pembrokeshire better than any other part of the Welsh coast. We were in the right place to meet it head on.

For surfers, the slow fade of one season into the next is often more sharply defined. For us, spring sunshine lights the days, pushing the dark sullen power of winter swells into the back of the mind. Summer teases with fickle surf and warm water. By the end of August, the mind of surfers is drawn to the horizon once again, as the hurricanes most people know only through twenty four hour news segments, send us powerful waves born in the eye of a storm. We look forward to chilly offshore winds giving us goose bumps as we change, ducking through cool water, and consistent, uncrowded waves.

The tide was too high to go surfing straight away, however, so we parked the van in the National Trust car park, and chatted to the warden over a cup of tea as he opened up the booth. We got a few disapproving looks from people in new cars who had come for cliff top walks. They obviously hadn’t expected to see a scruffy man climbing on top of a white van and waving his phone around to try to get signal. I’m not usually bothered about staying connected, but I’d promised a teacher friend Andy that I wouldd call him if the surf was any good. It was nearly the end of another wet summer holiday and school was due to start in a few days so he was keen to get a little trip in before the start of term. I eventually managed to contact him and he was on his way.

After a leisurely breakfast we walked the half a mile back to the cliff top. The tide had dropped, and exposed the folded rocks that claw out into the sands. Sand banks had built up around these rocks and were shaping the swell into breaking waves that steamed in the offshore wind. We watched a couple of sets form up at the far end of the beach, producing hollow lefts and rights that looked a good size even from quite a distance away. We couldn’t believe our luck that there were no other surfers around. We’d not even seen anyone check the beach.

After getting changed and jogging down the cliff path we picked our way through a maze of sandstone and out onto the open beach. I opted to paddle south and wait for a heavy looking left that was breaking in front of some rocks. I waited for about half an hour before a decent set came through, getting a bit frustrated at seeing Si tear into some fun rights at the other end of the beach.

After catching some half hearted waves in the inside, an overhead set rippled the horizon. I paddled out to sea quickly, not wanting to get caught out of position. I checked the shoreline and the rocks to make sure I was in the right place for the peak. I let the first waves go through, then a wide peak appeared, and started to form up. It looked like it would close out right on the rocks, so I paddled to my left and scrambled into the wave. The lip of the wave threw forward and deep into boiling, rocky water. I got to my feet and bottom turned up to the shoulder of the wave. The section in front started to form up into a fifty yard wall, so I cut back down and set up to race along the steepening wave. After three hard turns off the top I was through to the beach and managed to float over the closeout and into the shallows. I flopped off my board and lay smiling in the water for a moment. That was the first proper wave of the new surfing season, better enjoy it.

Si gave me a cheer and immediately started paddling over to the left. We had an hour of waves before the dropping tide started to affect the swell. We had a break and some food on the beach. It was only as we were wading back out into the weakening surf that we remembered that Andy the teacher hadn’t showed up. We could see a few other people on the beach with boards, but they were mostly beginners. We surfed some clean but short waves for the next hour before Andy eventually arrived.

We could tell from his march down to the water that he wasn’t happy. He paddled out and told us that he’d been stuck behind late summer tourists and tractors, had got lost in Haverfordwest looking for a cash machine, and then had gone to the other village with the same name in Pembrokeshire. A two hour journey had taken three and a half. Si and I had already decided not to tell him how good the surf had been. We kept it to “ok’s” and “average”. The next hour was frustrating as the waves closed out on low tide and were fairly unsurfable, though Andy seemed determined to make the most of it and windmilled his way into anything that resembled a wave.

Si and I kept exchanging glances and grins as we walked up the cliff to the car park. Had it really been that good? I’d seen Si pull into a barrel, and I’d had one of my best forehand turns. But we’d managed to keep quiet about it for Andy’s sake, which was no mean feat because every surfer like to have a little brag about getting some into some quality surf.

Andy and Si decided to stay on and wait for the pushing tide, but I had to head back north. I didn’t mind missing the next session because we’d already scored clean, offshore, overhead waves in a beautiful location with no one else out. It was one of those sessions that reminds you why you endure the summers and look forward to autumn.

The next week Hurricane Danielle arrived. Fuelled by the warm gulf stream she made it most of the way across the Atlantic before she waned. The power of the tropical sun had been converted to winds, amplified by low pressure, and delivered to mid Wales in the form of six foot waves with a fifteen second period. You could look out to sea for fifteen minutes and see a flat, sun glistened surface. But then a set would arrive and batter its way along our local reef. I surfed for a total of seven hours that Friday. It wasn’t very big, but it was perfectly fun, giving long rides where you could really let loose with powerful turns.

Sunshine, warm seas, good surf. Autumn rocks. Bring on winter…

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Trap 03-09-2010

Nice hurricane fuelled surf. Thats me going left in the first photo

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Lots to Learn

We'd been spoiled yet again. On our last trip to Devon in October we found long period overhead swell with sunny weather and light winds, and this June was no different. After several days with over six hours in the water I was beginning to feel the strain.

Our last evening saw the swell fading fast, with occasional chest high sets coming through. We'd met a friendly group of local surfers and I'd lent an old 7'9 Bic to one of them, Nick, so he could compete with the longboarders and enjoy some fun little waves. Bics have been the platform for many a beginner, including myself, and although they're not exactly high performance boards their durability and ease of wave catching make them popular for learners and for everyone when the surf's small.

I'd taken out my fish, and was sat inside the break with some of the younger lads from the village on their shortboards, trying to pick off the more shapely waves that came through. It was frustrating having to pick off scraps after the feast we'd enjoyed for the previous two days.

The guy on the Bic started chatting to one of the youngsters, who was struggling to get any good rides on a small shortboard. Nick had been catching some waves and messing around, enjoying the old plastic board. The youngster asked him what he was riding, Nick said it was an old Bic to which he received the reply "I'd rather suck off my dad than ride one of those!". Charming.

I smiled to myself as the youngster finally gave up on the evening and cast a petulant look at the longboarders before paddling back to the beach.

I'm always impressed by people who can surf shortboards well in weak, small surf. It's no mean feat. But your average surfer is going to have way more fun messing around on a bigger board, plastic or not. And what's the point of surfing if it's not fun?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Out there....surfing in BC, Canada 2007

Skeletal, sun bleached logs lay scattered along the high tide line. A powerful storm must have washed them there. The thought of that much water hitting me against the rocks sent shudders down my spine as i looked out to sea to try to judge the size of the waves. The circling eagles did little to ease my increasing sense of being a long long way from safety should anything happen. And this is one of the easier to access parts of the island.

We had just finished a twenty mintue hike through tattered old-growth rainforest to get to the beach, and then walked for another half mile along the cobblestone beach to reach the surf spot. Recent storms had torn through the forest, leaving huge trees uprooted and branches in our path. Most people would have turned back and found an easier route to the break, or found another place to surf. With a wry smile one of our group noted that the damage to the path would at least keep the crowds away. Only in a surfers mind can damage and destruction, whether man made or natural, be such a bonus.

The four of us had been tracking the swell out in the Pacific for a few days previous. I'd been surfing the local beach which picked up from wasit high to double overhead within 5 hours. It was here. By the time i'd been bruised and beaten out of the water, the boys were already makeing plans and packing the cars. Boards, food, water and raincoats were packed within minutes once the decision to drive south was made. We made it to the first rivermouth break in the dead of night, and slept in the car listening to the waves peel down the point. Sleep was fitful given the rain, the cramped car, and the greedy anticipation of what was to come.

Sunrise brought with it a pilgramage of cars laden with surfboards. I never knew there were so many surfers in B.C.! Well this is the age of the internet swell, and we'd have been stupid to think we were the only people tracking its progress. Luckily we had some local knowledge and decided not to paddle out at the crowded right hand point, but to put in some extra effort in the hope of being rewarded.

The rewards were stacked out to the horizon in beautiful, misty, early morning lines. Sets walled up, and barrelled down the reef. Having only seen beach break for the past 3 weeks I was tingling with excitement. As I paddled out in the clear, cold water, I watched one of the group paddle into an overhead wave from behind the peak, squeeze himself into the barrel and come flying out further down the line, marking his progress with a burst of spray as he laid down a cutback.

My first wave was not as spectacular, but I emerged from a chilly tube all the same and let out a yell. There were four of us, not a building, person, car, smoke stack, coke can or anything else in sight. This is the edge, the fringe of surfing in North America; far, far away from the marketed Californian surf experience. An extra effort is needed to get to these places, and local guides. I pulled into a deep barrel, and had a split second view of the sun rising over the mountains framed by the tube, before it shut down on me.

That split second of experience made the whole trip worthwhile. It doesn't matter that I didn't make the wave. It doesn't matter that the incessant rain was driving me mad. It doesn't matter that we spent $200 on petrol. It doesn't matter that the surf dropped later the afternoon leaving us sharing waist high waves with the rest of Canada. It doesn't matter.....because I got what I came for.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Fortune favours the brave

“So let me get this straight,” I’d heard this story a few times already today, but the old surfer was enjoying telling it and I didn’t want to stop him.

“This guy was climbing up the cliff, about to grab his mate’s outstretched hand to pull himself up, when the wash from a set rolled up the rocks fifteen feet high and swept him off?”

“Yeah, he was plucked off the cliff, washed through the boulders in the cove and back out into the lineup. He lost his board and took a hell of a beating”. The old surfer’s sun cracked face wrinkled under his white and blue striped beanie, laughter lines forming a serious frown, his smile lost in the tale. “But he made it up the second time round. Lucky to alive I reckon. And it was like three times overhead. Normally it’s just the rocks you gotta watch out for. And the cliff.”

Well that’s good to know.


After driving through the night, Ewok (small and hairy!) and I slept in the back of the van, comfortably crammed in next to four surfboards and an empty bottle of Laphroaig whisky. We reminisced through a soundtrack of dance music, blaring bass into the dark nothing of the mountain road, headlights matching the beat in the cats eyes. We arrived at half past two in the morning, way too excited to get any sleep, needing Islay’s finest single malt to put us to bed.

As soon as the alarm woke us, we could hear the rumble surf on the other side of the headland. Kettle, coffee, porridge, stack the boards, get on the road. We knew the drill by now. And we knew what we were expecting; hollow lefts punching the sand of a sheltered cove.

We thought we knew what we were expecting, but we didn’t expect what we found.

Climbing out of the van, we wrapped our fingers round our mugs for warmth, our breath mixing with steam in the weak light. Stumbling between the gorse bushes, coffee spilling, to the lookout point we found that a large south swell had pushed into the coast overnight. Lines of swell marched into the headland. Every cliff sprayed white at its base. The waves in the cove under the lookout buckled and wedged into hungry peaks.

“That is easily double overhead. And a bit more” proclaimed Ewok, familiar with the breaks of this remote headland, “and I’m not in the mood to spend two hours getting slammed”.

“When you put it like that, neither am I”, I said, before noticing an unmistakeable glint in his eye, “you got somewhere in mind?”

His grin answered my question. “Yeah I do. But we’ve got to wait for the tide to drop first.”

The four other surfers in the car park hadn’t exactly looked excited. I’d put it down to the lingering winter cold, but now I understood their grim faces. Surfers often describe themselves as hunting for waves, but looking at these waves throw so heavy and wide I could understand why the tense faces in the car park looked like prey than predator. I’ve surfed this cove in these conditions before and it’s a full on rollercoaster ; a proper Hossegor style barrel. If you make one drop you’re stoked. If you get a solid turn in you’re raving about it for a year.


We surfed a playful right hand reef break while the tide dropped. Ewok caught up with some of his old friends. Every time he mentioned the spot he wanted to surf, his friends would answer with an intake of breath and a shake of the head. They all talked about the rocks, climbing down a cliff, boulders the size of cars, dinged boards and heavy wipeouts were mentioned. A lot. Then came the story about the guy being washed off the cliff. I heard it in full at least five times in the space of two hours. Needless to say all this talk wasn’t getting me excited, but it seemed like a rite of initiation. Scare the shit out of the new guy kinda stuff.

It was finally time to check the spot. I don’t need to say how secret this place is. It is a heavy left hand reef that doesn’t often work. The locals know about it, but it doesn’t get surfed much due to its remoteness and the difficult access. The scare stories help to keep people away who don’t know what they’re doing. And they work.

Ewok didn’t need to blindfold me to take me there. There was no way I was going to find my way through the maze of fields and dirt tracks unguided. We pulled up by a cowshed, it’s shaded occupants complaining about the disturbance to their quiet home. I parked respectfully and out of the way of the farm yard. The farmers round here don’t take any shit from tourists. I pulled out my 6’2 pin tail, excited pleased to have the opportunity to test my new board in the waves it deserves, making a mental note to remember today next time I have to defend myself for owning 5 boards.

We walked through greening fields, feeling the warmth of spring through the neoprene of our wetsuits. From the headland we could see coastline stretching out before us, a reminder of how far we were from anywhere. Villages and towns smudged white on the mountains in the distance, while I could see lines bumping their way landward from the grey blue haze on the horizon.

I love searching for waves on this headland. It is rare to find a place so insulated and protected, where the rural life and traditional culture remains, changed rarely and only when necessary. Looking out at the caravan sites and cheap holiday parks it felt easy to think of myself as here for a more worthy quest than the mere tourist. I was not here to battle my way to a fish supper. I am not just another visitor. Am I?

After climbing several rusty gates and slipping our way through muddy, poached, fields we found ourselves at the top of a steep grassy slope. At the bottom of the slope was a slab of rock the height of a house, and enough off vertical to allow a person to climb up and down. At the cliffs base was a barricade of large irregular boulders that looked hard and sharp even from a distance. Breaking down this boulder point was a set of waves.

“It looks a bit fat. And only shoulder high. You sure it’s worth it?” I bleated; the scare stories had been told with style and enthusiasm.

“Nah that’s overhead and cranking mate, it’s hard to tell from here” smiled Ewok. I sighed. Is there no end to this mans enthusiasm, I thought. Well there’s no way out of it now.

“You’re the boss. How dodgy is it?” I asked, hoping for the truth.

“It’s not that bad. At least it’s dry so the rocks aren’t slippery and it’s a setty swell so we can jump off the rocks easily”. I tried to look convinced. I’m not a big fan of rock jumps after spending an hour standing on a rock in Vancouver Island before deciding I wasn’t a fan of shallow slabby waves. So over-rated.

We picked our way down a narrow sheep path, every step carefully placed to avoid the snaring brambles, heather and gorse. The path got steeper, our hands gripping tufts of grass for support. We made it to the top of the rock slab. Seaweed and kelp had crisped in the sun, and cracked under our feet and hands as we crabbed our way down the slope to the top of the boulder field. Dank, menacing holes darkened the gaps between the red rocks. We jumped and clambered, scraping knees and clunking boards and fins. Eventually I was perched on a rock, knee deep in water, watching a two foot line of whitewater close on me as Ewok leapt off his rock. I took a breath, timed my jump and quickly paddled after him up the point into the line up, feeling relieved to be in the water.

Sets wrapped close into the point and jumped up in size when they hit the rocky ledge, breaking close to the boulders. Ewok sat inside, leaving me in position for the first wave. Paddling straight at the cliff and the rocks, the takeoff was unnerving. The wave itself was intense. A steep ledgey drop into a fast running wall, followed by a hollow bowl section then a shoulder that screams out for a hack. I caught the first wave of the session, easily finding the speed I needed to pump through the bowl, before doing a big roundhouse cutback at the end. I whooped, and grinned as I paddled back out. Two surfers in the water, quality surf, and the sun was shining. Fortune favours the brave.

For an hour we surfed for ourselves. No one was watching. We couldn’t see any buildings or signs of people save for an old fence peering over the cliff edge. Ewok knew the spot well and put in plenty of big turns in places where I’d been pumping, looking for an exit. Ewok made some deep takeoffs, effortless speed lines and turns on the lip, while I screamed at the end of each ride, as much in fun as relief to get to the end of the wave. I was loving my board, big fins and the pintail giving drive and hold in the pocket. This wave was a far cry from weak beachies, letting you speed into each turn, and really lean into bottom turns. Proper top to bottom surfing.

All the way through your ride you can feel the rocks at your back and under the water. It was a dramatic place to be in the water, the collapsed cliff and unforgiving rocks dominated us, putting us in our place as a mere sideshow in a long, powerful and dramatic coastal saga.

I couldn’t believe this place doesn’t get surfed more. In this part of the world you don’t often find intense waves, mostly just fun but gutless points and beaches. I guess the difficult access, the rocks and the stories keep people away. But I suspect that the tales have taken on a life of their own, becoming part of the local folklore that protects this remote, sea-scarred headland from the modern world.

I found myself thinking that it wouldn’t be such a spooky spot if someone put in a fixed rope to help you climb up and down the rocks. But I realised that if someone did this, it would be the end of the place. The verbal history of the place, the folklore of spoken word that survives through the tales told by the local surfers, would be lost, and this classic secret spot would be opened up. It is one of the few places left that rewards the curious and the adventurous.

After the session, looking again from the headland to the hinterland, I found myself admiring the view that every visitor, every tourist pauses to photograph. We are all linked as visitors by the fact that we take something from the place. The only difference between surfers and tourists is that we can tell new stories in an ancient landscape.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The Island

It took the stale light and pre-packaged air of the departure lounge. I’d written nothing, despite a promise to myself to document my trip. My flight was delayed and I was bored of watching the suits debrief each other about their night out and their hangovers. I felt uncomfortable in the manufactured environment. I felt the damp heaviness of the wetsuit in my hand luggage, slumped into a leather chair and reached for my notepad.

My past winters’ week had been spent on the sunniest island in the British Isles, a place backed with mountains and fjords but with prairie wide skies. Three rocky peaks lock the island in place, giving foundation to the sand, in the middle of the sea.

The island is also the windiest place in the British Isles. The signs of wind were evident; there were no native trees, cottages had thick walls like shoulders, windows facing east, nylon ropes and crusted lobster pots had been flung into the dune hollows, far from the sea. To my eyes this was also evidence of big storms and big waves.

With this reputation in mind, the island seemed paused for thought as we arrived, excited after an early morning ferry trip through the islands. We found warm footprints in sheltered dune paths. We found thick shell sand in rock framed coves. We found five days of calm in February.

After a month off surfing for one reason or another I had been looking forward to some powerful North Atlantic swell. Although we surfed in some beautiful spots I was struggling to hide my disappointment at the small surf we found. I was surfing badly and blaming everything for it. I’d come to hunt waves and had felt disappointed.

I felt stupid in my arrogance. On this island we had been treated to every visitors dream, all the locals had said how lucky we had been with the sun, the wind, the wildlife. But I had been absorbed in myself, connected only to internet forecasts and surf reports but in every way disconnected from the fun of surfing.

As the swell dropped we spent our mornings climbing the low hills that dominate the island. At the summits I gazed at the puzzle of inlets and mountains inland, all thoughts of the beaches forgotten. The hill we climbed was less than 200m high but as I looked down on the mirror lochs, reddened grass and blue stone of the island I felt higher than I had for a long time. We spent the lazy afternoons spotting birds and otters from the conservatory windows of our campervan.

Remoteness had turned off our mobile phones and unplugged us from surf reports and weather forecasts. Yet I realised that remoteness is a relative term; for I now felt less remote from the land, the ocean and the coast than I had for a long time.

We strolled to the beach the next day. Overhead waves on the outer banks whispered a drama that unfolded for a hundred yards before a final curtain call on the inside. I paddled out feeling refreshed and recharged. With no expectations and my big wave agenda forgotten, I remembered the simple fun of surfing. The trip had turned into a true holiday, a holiday from my surf obsession, which we all need from time to time.

The waves that day were fun. Not big, not too small, not too steep or fat. Just nicely shaped fun waves that required no other skill than being able to smile. One wave sticks in my mind. It was a left that I caught as it peaked on the outside, before it sucked out on an inner bank allowing me a classic tubed view of sunlit green water and the sun passing over the headland at the end of the beach. The fun was back!

“How are yee with babies?” asked the improbably young and attractive mother of three. She handed me her 3 month old daughter before I could mutter a protest. We were boarding a 15 seater plane to fly back to the mainland. I was leaving after a week, leaving my companions with another ten days to visit the other islands.

“Was that you with the campervan surfing the bay?” she asked. News travels fast on small islands. We chatted about the island and my trip for a while before the distractions of children left me alone with the window.

The flight cost £50. I’d have paid that just for the sight seeing. From the air I could see the fingerprint of ice in high lochs and the eddying wake of the tide between islands. I could make out the grassy scars of a river’s seaward struggles of rivers. Harbours edged the land, their boats basking in the sun. Saltwater runs in the arteries of these islands, the sea providing with one hand and taking away with the other. Life up here may be beautiful but it is also hard. All my complaints about the lack of decent sized surf had been put firmly in perspective.

“Would you come back again?” the mother asked. She had to repeat the question to get my attention. A few days ago I might have said no, thinking that holiday money could be spent on better surf spots, with better waves, with better barrels. I might even get better at surfing, but I wouldn’t have relaxed, wouldn’t have reconnected with the simple fun in beautiful places that I’d been neglecting recently.

I looked up at the suits in the terminal lounge. Of course I would come back.

Close to Home, February 2009

The life of your average surfer is becoming a moral maze. We find ourselves at the crossroads of green issues and personal gratification. Most surfers I know are concerned about the health of the seas and beaches, and try to live environmentally conscious lives. Some are concerned about carbon footprints and the environmental impact of their boards and wetsuits.

But all surfers I know want to check the reef down the road, want to surf in tropical waters and own a new wetsuit to make the most of the short grey days of winter. Unfortunately these goals come into conflict with each other. Tough decisions must be made.

I am lucky enough to live next to the beach. The surf’s not always great but at least it is close enough to allow a quick session before work, even in winter. By living here I’ve made a decision that reduces my drive time to zero, despite it not being the best spot in the local area.

I try to resist the urge to drive around checking spots, more out of need to reduce my fuel bill than my carbon footprint. Once or twice a month I’ll fill a car with my friends and head to a nearby point or reef if I know it’s going to be good. I text my friends with the surf report to stop them driving to the beach if it’s going to be crappy. However, this may not be working too well as I am an optimistic kind of reporter.

Am I doing my bit for the world? Hardly, but I’m saving money and getting creative with my choice of surf spots. Have you ever wondered what sort of wave that little patch of reef round the corner from your local beach might make? Of course you have. But few of us have bothered going for a look when we know there’s good waves at the well known spots.

On a recent hefty January swell I hiked bleary eyed up the cliff path and found a rare slab producing heavy, hollow lefts in the misty morning light. The sun was just coming up and I only had nervous sheep for company as I pulled on my wetsuit. Being there by myself felt like a reward for the effort I’d put in; I’d made a mental note of the slab during a low tide summer stroll along the cliff, and then checked it religiously on every swell and high tide for a month. When the conditions came together I knew where to go.

As I paddled out between the double overhead sets they weren’t the only nervous ones. Waves broke hard and hollow along a shallow ledge of reef before ending yards in front of a low cliff. I was pushed into the line up by the strong rip on my neglected 6’8 pintail. Not really a board for Wales but needed that morning. The take off spot was next to a nasty boil but gave a nice ramp into the wave before it started to suck. I was 2 hours late for work.

The fact that I only got a few waves and spent most of the time wide eyed and frantically paddling out of the way is neither here nor there. The point is that with a little creative thinking and adventurous spirit, we can find what we’re looking for right around the corner. At home. Having the time and knowledge to know when and where to look is an advantage of being a regular (I don’t want to use the L-word!) at your spot.

It is too easy to drive around checking all the well known spots, too easy to book the cheap flight to somewhere with warm waves. It is harder, but more rewarding, to hike round the corner, book your holiday time for a solid at-home winter swell and to make the decision to reduce foreign travel. Although I abhor the use of Americanisms, I urge my fellow surfers to butter up their bosses and take a last minute “staycation” rather than check out flights to Indo or Morocco on lastminute.com. I’m not asking people to give up their search for challenging waves, because we have plenty of them right here in the UK. We just need to summon up the courage to look for them.