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Surfing saves lives

By December 11, 2013 Thoughts
Surfing is the most natural high I have ever experienced

Surfing is the most natural high I have ever experienced

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a news item on the BBC website about an NHS funded project to provide surf lessons as therapy for youngsters suffering from depression and low self-esteem.  It really resonated with me and prompted me to write about it.

This pilot project taking place in Dorset is just one of many that have already occurred in the UK. In the past few years, schools, social services, GP’s, family support services and even bereavement charities have referred many young people and adults to the Wave Project – a non-profit organisation that runs surf programmes in Cornwall, North Devon and now Dorset. Thanks to them, so many people’s lives have been transformed by surfing – it has allowed them to overcome anxiety and depression, develop their confidence, take up a new sport and make new friends.

And it’s not just happening in the UK. In the USA and Australia, similar projects provide surfing as a form of therapy to war veterans and those suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). In South Africa, a youth project helps ‘at risk’ kids discover the potential of surfing.

I applaud the doctors who have prescribed surfing as a form of therapy for depression instead of the usual anti-depressant route which in some cases seems an easier option and doesn’t always help. Exercise releases endorphins and so why resort to drugs and potentially suffer horrible side effects when you can feel naturally uplifted by being so close to nature?

As someone who has suffered with anxiety, I can appreciate how surfing can help. It has got me through some troubled times this year, and the natural high I feel when riding a wave is the most amazing, uplifting and adrenalin fuelled feeling that I have ever experienced. To have achieved it the amount of times I have this year, I feel truly blessed and honoured. Surfing is the one thing that allows me to completely switch off. Some of the calmest, most peaceful moments I have ever known have been when I just sit out back, staring at the horizon – the rest of the world melts away and it’s just me and the ocean.

Surfing also helps those with physical disabilities and learning difficulties including Autism, and it’s something that could be of huge benefit to my cousin who has Aspergers Syndrome. But, like me, he is landlocked. Whilst I have been fortunate enough to break down the geographical barrier, others are not able to do so for a variety of reasons, which is a shame.

The benefits are amazing and the number of people’s lives that it can reach and transform is endless.

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Listen to the locals

By November 22, 2013 Escape, Surf more
A few weeks ago, we headed to Cornwall for what could be the last surf of the year…..unless we decide to meet winter head on during the dark cold months of November and December!



We delayed our trip by a couple of days to avoid the St Jude storm which threatened to batter much of England and Wales. The surf forecast was looking dangerous – 10 ft waves and howling winds and from talking to the locals during our stay, we did the right thing. Only a few, very brave (stupid?) headed out in such conditions and even during our stay, we heard reports of people getting caught in nasty rips and getting swept out – fortunately for them, they were rescued and safely returned to shore.

I was eager to try some new spots. Despite being told to check out Fistral, we headed to Watergate Bay just outside Newquay which, according to several surf guides, is supposed to be ok for beginners. First wave I caught, I was on my feet and riding it all the way in. Woohoo!! Couldn’t believe my luck and I thought I was in for a great session.

Unfortunately, what we didn’t take into account was the extremely strong rip that knocked us both of our feet with its power and ferocity. We were fighting a losing battle and so after an hour we called it quits. Disappointed but not gutted, we had the next day to get a good session in. This time, we listened to the people at the B&B where we stayed who advised us to try Harlyn Bay as it’s a sheltered spot – although the St Jude storm had passed, it was still pretty windy.

We arrived at Harlyn and it was lovely and sunny but, unexpectedly, apart from a lovely looking wave which was breaking so close to the beach, there was nothing to surf. We scratched our heads for a bit and headed back to Mawgan Porth to talk to Pete, the surf instructor to get his take on things. He advised us that Harlyn is ‘a bit gnarly’ and you have to catch it at the right time according to the tide. He also said that when it’s really windy, the best place to head for is Towan Beach in Newquay town which is the most sheltered of all the Newquay beaches. Great, although parking is a real problem and everyone else has the same idea when it’s messy everywhere else. We stopped at Lusty Glaze (a few beaches along from Towan) to check it out but quickly dismissed it when we saw the steep steps at right angles down to the beach – not practical when you have 2 minimals which takes 2 people to carry (one at the noses and one at the tails). By this time, I felt gutted at the thought of heading back home with only one bum surf session to show for it.

Eventually, we ended up at South Fistral which, although was still pretty heavy and had a bit of a rip, enabled us to get some much needed practise. Again, it wasn’t the greatest session (stand up count ration was way down) but it was great just being in the sea and to have surfed a new spot.

The moral of this tale:

  •  Do your homework in advance – read up about the break in advance on the internet or get yourself a surf guide book. Know when your preferred break works best, what the favoured conditions are and find out if its prone to rips
  •  Don’t head to the beach before you have checked what the surf is doing….or not in the case of our trip to Croyde a few weeks ago. Suited up, waxed up, we headed to the beach only to find it as flat as a millpond!
  •  Look before you head out. Im just starting to recognise what a rip looks like!
  • Talk to as many of the locals as possible – they know their local breaks better than everyone. Explain where you are at with your surfing and they can advise on the best breaks for your ability although bear in mind that some will differ in opinion
With less surfing happening over the winter, I need to set myself a new challenge….learn how to read the surf reports!

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Only connect….

By October 17, 2013 Thoughts

Since embarking on this journey, I have wanted to connect with others who, like me, are passionate about surfing – particularly fellow landlocked surfers to find out how they overcome the obstacle of geography, what drives them, and what they do when they are away from the surf. For me, it was also about reaching out, and keeping that connection to the sea and surfing, through our shared love, and being able to share stories, tips and suggestions.

I work in e-learning and using social media is something that our organisation offers a lot of advice on. It’s everywhere we turn these days and used for a variety of purposes – from helping to engage learners in the classroom, to promoting a product a service, or, just simply, connecting with people.

Like many of you, I have a Facebook and Twitter account. As an avid Facebook user, I used it to find out if there were any other landlocked surfers out there. Straight away, I came up withLandlocked Surfers – a group dedicated to those of us who live miles from the sea. The group arrange surf trips and facilitate car sharing, as well as providing a sounding board for all things surfing related. I keep in touch with the group and even won a T-shirt recently (I never win anything….ever!).

I also use Facebook to keep in touch with the guys at Kingsurf Surf School and Taking the Drop (the inspiring story of Kat Conway who as well as being landlocked like me, has given herself the challenge of being able to surf in a year). I also keep in touch with NS Surfboards and Nigel Semmens – sharing our surfing journey on the awesome mini mals they shaped for us. I even ventured into the world of Pinterest – the pinboard style photo sharing site for inspiration and ideas for surfboard designs.Twitter is fairly new territory for me but again, I use it in a similar way to Facebook. I have been chatting to a fellow landlocked surfer who surfs Saunton when he can and spoken to CircleOne who have been very encouraging of my surfing. I follow the surf reports, surf competitions and get info on latest offers and promos from companies like Saltrock and Ann’s Cottage, I also get the latest news from Surfers Against Sewage, the environmental surf charity that I support.

But as well as receiving information through Facebook and Twitter, I use it to keep people out there like you updated when I post a new blog. Not everyone uses Facebook and Twitter though, so Im also exploring things like Google +. There’s even an e-mail subscribe option for this blog too, so if you don’t do social media, you can still get notified of my posts direct to your inbox.

The social media world is our oyster and in my line of work, I’m always on the lookout for new tools to try and test.  I have a few ideas up my sleeve so watch this space!


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What’s in the bag?

By October 2, 2013 Surf more

This one’s for the girls (sorry boys!). I thought I would do a blog post with a difference and share some of my essential surf trip beauty products.

  • Surfers Skin Sunscreen– by far the best product I have found for covering up. It’s easy to apply, waterproof, and as it comes in a solid stick formula, its not messy or greasy. Factor 30 too so for those of us who burn easily, it’s ideal!
  • Bottle of water – surfing makes me really de-hydrated. This is the first item out of my bag when I get back to the beach
  • Roxy cap – when you have just come out of the sea and your hair’s not looking its best, cover up with a hat. This hides my thinning crown which looks worse after taking a battering from the sea!
  • Cleansing wipes – useful for removing last traces of sunscreen, sand and saltwater
  • Hypromellose Eye Drops– essential for dry, irritated eyes from all that saltwater
  • Afro comb/wide toothed comb – the only way to sort out those tangled tresses!
  • Organix Coconut Milk Shampoo and Conditioner – this sulfate free formula nourishes and hydrates whilst repairing and strengthening. Smells gorgeous and comes in a handy travel size
  • Boots Organics Moisturiser– essential for dry, dehydrated post-surf skin
  • Dove 48hr Deodorant – better to have a post-surf shower straight away, but this isn’t possible when I’m doing a day trip surf
  • Lip salve – essential for chapped lips. Cheap and cheerful works for me
  • Kiehls Ultimate Strength Hand Salve – the only hand cream I have found to relieve chapped hands. More useful for Autumn/Winter surfs
  • Make up – my skin looks blotchy post surf so I always take my trusty Mac Studio Fix foundation with me. A bit of mascara too (Boots 17 ‘Dolled Up’ – great for adding length and curl) and that’s all I need.
And when I’m looking a bit more human, it’s off to the pub for a post-surf analysis, meal and well-deserved drink! Sometimes even a hot chocolate from the services on the way home


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Twice in one week!

By September 4, 2013 Escape, Surf more
Wolvo Surf Crew doing their thing at Woolacombe

Wolvo Surf Crew doing their thing at Woolacombe

It has been a couple of months since the last Wolvo Surf Crew trip so, 3 days after me and Ste collected our surfboards, we all headed back to our familiar stomping ground of North Devon. This time though, instead of Croyde, we decided to try Woolacombe.

It’s a much bigger beach than Croyde, spanning 2 miles and, according to my Surf UK guide and a few people we have spoken to recently, is a bit more forgiving on beginners. Croyde apparently has a very fast ‘dumping’ wave which doesn’t lend itself so well to us kooks and can get very crowded (it’s one of the best surf spots in the UK).

What greeted us at Woolacombe wasn’t exactly what the surf forecast predicted. We were expecting 1-2ft and a light wind but it was more like 3ft+ and very blustery. Something else we didn’t expect was the strong rip current which meant the flags were constantly being moved. This made any attempts to get ‘out back’ nigh on impossible. I decided to leave the boys to it and focus on trying to stand up twice in one week.

Despite the struggles with the rip, I got a couple of really cool, long rides. Stoked!! I was beginning to think that the board was bringing me some good luck but, it was just the change of attitude that I had developed prior to my surf lesson that I think was really helping. By just taking it easy, not getting frustrated, laughing when I wiped out and generally having a brilliant time, I had taken all that pressure off and I think this was reflected in my surfing. Throughout the session my stand up to wipe-out ratio tipped more favourably towards stand up. I was also getting used to the board and just feeling more relaxed in my stance.

Later on, after a break, we moved away from the crowded area of the beach and had a huge expanse of sea to ourselves. The wind had calmed down, the rip had gone and the waves were smaller. We had an amazing time! Me and Ste rode a cool wave in together and by the end of the session, I was getting much quicker at getting to my feet. But, by that point, the tiredness was creeping in and it was time to call it a day.

I took a few things away from this session:

  • Being able to surf twice in one week, although not practical all the time, was hugely beneficial.  If you don’t surf often, it can be like starting again when you eventually hit the water. A lot of the stuff I had worked on earlier in the week was already fresh in my mind 
  • Rip currents are a pain and they can occur anywhere at any break. Instead of fighting it (like I have done in the past!) and wasting valuable energy, get out of the water and re-enter away from the rip
  • Be vigilant about the flags. It’s easy to get dragged out of the black and white flagged area (marked for surfers) and into the bodyboarding area.  When there is a rip, keep your eyes out for the lifeguards moving the flags.
  •  Don’t take the surf forecasts as gospel! MagicSeaweed is widely used but I have heard people say they either love it or hate it. I find that Eyeball Surf check is more reliable for the North Devon spots. Of course, the ideal solution is to understand the waves by looking at them before you head out. When you have to drive 3+ hours to get to your preferred break though, you need to use the forecasts as a guide – no use heading on a trip if it’s like a millpond.

Understanding the waves is something I would love to be able to master. Time to get out my ‘Surf Science’ book!

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Riding the sacred spear

By September 2, 2013 Escape
Collecting our surfboards!

Collecting our surfboards!

Choosing the right person to shape a surfboard is crucial. You have got to feel comfortable with that person, and find someone who is more than happy to answer any questions you have throughout the process, will listen to  what you want and advise you appropriately according to your height, weight, surfing ability and amount of times you go in the water.

I couldn’t have chosen anyone better than British and European ex-champion surfer (and legendary shaper) Nigel Semmens. As well as being an expert, Nigel is a really nice guy who, from the initial chat over the phone welcomed us to visit him at the factory to chat in person. He showed us round, talked us through the process, assessed and advised on the best size and shape boards and really put us at ease. Like he said, a lot of people won’t go to a shaper because they find it intimidating but from our experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Nigel advised me to go for a 7ft 4 x 22 x 2 ¾. I was expecting him to say 3 on the thickness for extra float but as I am not very heavy, I would find 2 ¾ easier to turn and, as Nigel advised, he wanted us to have two boards that were progressive.

After some initial deliberation on artwork, I submitted my final design and just over 2 weeks later, we got the nod to say the boards were ready. The day of collection I was so stoked and when Nigel brought my board out, I had a tear in my eye. I absolutely loved it, it was perfect and I couldn’t wait to ride it….so, an hour later, we were back in Mawgan Porth accompanied by Pete from Kingsurf who was equally as excited about our boards as us.

I honestly wasn’t expecting to stand up and for me, it was more of a ‘getting to know my board’ session. I had never stood on an epoxy or fibreglass board before so imagine my shock when I rode one in! It couldn’t have been more perfect, getting a cool ride on my new super cool board!

I started to get brave and even went out back. It was just so nice to lie on my board and stare out to sea – so peaceful and calm. Egged on by Pete, I even caught my first green wave and it was amazing!! It felt like I was on a hover board floating above the water.

It was an amazing session which really filled me with confidence. Now I had my own board and could stand up on it, I could call myself a surfer!

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Shapes of things…

By August 18, 2013 Surf more
For months now, and ever since surfing really took off for me, I have contemplated getting my own board and now, having stood up consistently on a foamie, I reckoned I deserved it.

There are hundreds of surfboards out there to choose from in all shapes and sizes and for a beginner looking to make the progression to a non-foam board, the options can be pretty confusing and from my experience, there is no one-size fits all if you are looking to buy from a surf shop.

Take me for example. I am 5ft 3 inches tall and weigh 8st. I struggle to carry and lug big boards around. I sought advice from a number of shops who all told me different things  – some said to go for the maximum length possible, others advised that I could get away with something shorter so who was I supposed to believe?

Beginners are best to learn on a minimal, which is basically a shorter version of a longboard. Minimals are generally anything in the range of 7ft-8ft and give the stability needed to catch waves more easily. They are also generally quite wide (anything from about 21 inches to about 23) which lends itself to stability, and around 2-3 inches thick.

Over the past few months, I have tried several mini-mal options out, including 7ft 2, 7ft 6 and 7ft 10, and it was the best way I found to get an idea of what felt right in the water. I couldn’t stand up on any of them so maybe it wasn’t an exact science, but I learnt a lot more about boards that way than just talking to people in the shops.

Here’s what I learnt:

  • Shorter on the length meant generally a compromise on the width – this meant the board felt ‘tippy’ and I couldn’t get my balance
  • 7ft 10 felt really stable….but I struggled to carry and manoeuvre it
  • Volume is important but this can be achieved through width and thickness and not necessarily length
  • Less rocker, ie. the amount of curve on the bottom of the board from nose to tail, is best for beginners.  Boards with less rocker keep more surface area on top of the water and allow for more speed when paddling and surfing. Minimals are designed to catch waves with ease and so the low rocker makes them more suitable for catching slow waves as opposed to steep hollow ones.
  •  I wasn’t  going to get exactly what I wanted from buying something off the shelf


A couple of people had suggested getting a custom board. That way, I could get the exact dimensions that I wanted for the types of waves that I would be surfing. With the added bonus of being able to have the exact design that I wanted, it seemed like the all-round best thing to do – a surfboard which was totally unique to me.

A couple of names had been passed onto me, one of which I had an initial chat with the week before our lesson. An ex-champion surfer who, wouldn’t you know it, was only a 15 minute drive from where we were staying in Mawgan Porth. Seemed like the perfect way to conclude our successful surf trip.

So, the day after our lesson, I went to see a man about a surfboard….

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By August 5, 2013 Escape, Surf more
Stoked! Getting ready for our surf lesson with Pete from KingSurf

Stoked! Getting ready for our surf lesson with Pete from KingSurf

I have had in my mind for weeks now what I wanted to write in this blog post and so here it is…in all its glorious Technicolor truth….

I DID IT!!!!!! I stood up….not once, not twice, but about 12 times in total – I wasn’t counting in the end, but my other half was. And to top it all off, I was actually riding waves!!! I even managed to turn a couple of times, although purely accidentally!

Last week, me and the other half headed to Mawgan Porth where my surf journey began 3 years ago. The place where I had my first surfing lesson and now, after hard work and determination at the gym, I was treated to a private couple’s class with Pete the head coach at the brilliant Kingsurf.
Feeling tired after the journey from the Midlands, I summoned strength, determination and a resolve of ‘it didn’t matter if I stood or not’ and headed to the beach. Pete ran through the 3 techniques for standing up (straight pop-up, knees and army crawl) and having being told that going onto my knees didn’t matter, I decided to stick to that method for now.

After the first few attempts of trying to stand too quickly and raising my hands up in the air (instead of staying low and keeping the arms low), Pete pushed me onto a wave, I caught it and slowly but surely, stayed low and rode the wave in for about 20-30 metres. I was totally stoked and felt absolutely exhilarated. I was standing and recapturing that magical feeling that I had 3 years previously!!! I turned back to look at Pete and Ste (still standing) and shrieked with joy waving my arms in the air. I had done it!!

When it happened a second time, I thought, cool – wonder if I can beat my record of 3 times from the previous lesson? Imagine my amazement when it happened 4, 5 times, 6 times 7 times….!!! I started to believe that I could actually become a surfer. I cried with happiness and relief because I had done it.

So, what did I learn from the lesson? An incredible amount and I also realised that a lot of the things that I do when landlocked have made a tremendous difference. Here are my surfing mantras (well, they work for me

  • Make sure you have the leash on the right foot (I had it on the wrong foot – doh!). Why I thought I was a goofy foot I will never know – Im a regular foot (left foot forward on the board) which makes sense as my left leg was always my strongest when I was dancing
  • Stay low and don’t rush to stand up
  •  Once kneeling (if that’s your preferred method), use your fingertips to almost push up (and keep those arms low!!)
  •  Enjoy it!!! Even if you wipeout and swallow a gallon of sea water
  • Be patient and don’t put pressure on yourself to stand up
  • If you are going to surf regularly, get surf fit! I can’t emphasise this enough. The gym has made a huge difference to my stamina and I wasn’t even tired after the 2 hour lesson. 6 months ago, it was a different story
  •  If your balance isn’t great, use a bosu or indo ball, or, go skateboarding!
  • Practise your pop-up on dry land – ok, so this is not technically my mantra, but it has helped my other half loads and he was standing from pop up lots during the lesson. Tip – use a yoga mat and put a piece of masking tape down the centre to mimic the centre line on a surfboard (if you don’t have your own board). It’s something I will be trying once I have built up my upper body strength a bit more
  • Have a surf lesson, especially if, like me, you have been having limited or no success at standing up. The instructors can get you back on the right track and it can give you a massive confidence boost when you stand up! The guys at Kingsurf are amazing and I would recommend them every time!


So, I did it, I stood up. And if you read my blog regularly, you will know that I promised myself the amber nectar if I managed to stand up……my own surfboard!!

Find out more about that in my next blog post J

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From Zero to 100

By July 25, 2013 Love

Sometimes, I think this is what I try to do….go from zero to 100 in a relatively short space of time! And when it comes to surfing, being restricted to a once a month trip makes it difficult to practice and nail that technique in just a few months. But I have to be patient – my time will come!

I have just finished watching the documentary ‘From Zero to100’ which has inspired this blog

post. The film charts the progress of pro US surfer Lakey Peterson who, having discovered surfing at the age of 12 went onto qualify for the ASP World Tour just five years later – an amazing achievement considering that many of the fellow pros on the tour surfed from a much younger age than her.

What really struck me about Lakey’s journey was that she never gave up. During the film, she was beaten numerous times by the likes of Carissa Moore and Steph Gilmore – two of the best pro women’s surfers on the circuit. Yet despite the tears and frustrations (and at one point declaring ‘I can’t surf’), she dug deep, drew inspiration from those less fortunate than her and went on to win the 2012 Vans US Open of Surfing. All that determination and will to succeed paid off and I take my hat off to her.
It was also quite humbling to see her tears and frustrations and realise that the pro’s have off days and at times must feel like quitting. But, as the saying goes, a quitter never wins and I was reminded during the film of Andy Murray’s repeated quest to win the Wimbledon grand slam tennis title this year. Many of the UK population, me included I hate to admit, had given up on Andy ever winning Wimbledon, but most importantly, Andy never gave up on himself and proved many of us wrong.

So, when I head into the surf next week for my private surf lesson and the subsequent sessions following (and during any off days), I will have Lakey and Andy very much in my mind, and intend to go out there with a ‘can do’, winning attitude!

Lakey Peterson is currently going for her second US Open of Surfing title and I am keeping up-to-date with her progress with keen interest. Good luck Lakey – I hope you defend your well-deserved title!

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It’s all about the balance

By July 9, 2013 Surf more
My star sign is Libra, represented by the zodiac totem of the scales. Apparently, Librans seek balance which is something that I will be looking to improve on during my quest to become a surfer!

When I was younger, I took ballet and modern dance classes and balance was something that I became very good at, but not having kept up with any activities in recent years that promote good balance, I decided to look at ways that I could improve and incorporate this into my fitness schedule whilst having a bit of fun at the same time!


Getting the balance right – skateboarding fun!

When Jay suggested skateboarding, I thought it was a great idea. Surfing and skating go hand in hand with many similar movements and concepts between the two. A lot of surfers skate and use the board as a training aid to improve their surfing and have some fun when there’s no swell!

So, whilst in Croyde, I spent £15 on a board from a newsagent, figuring that I would see how I got on with it before doing my usual ‘throw loads of money at things straight away.’ Last week, I tested the board along with the rest of the Wolvo Surf Crew and although it’s not a speedy demon yet (some modification needed), I had a lot of fun and was surprised at how decent my balance was. Ok, so I’m not doing turns yet but I gave myself a pat on the back for not falling over and scraping my face on the concrete!

Watching the movie ‘Dogtown and Z Boys’ immediately after our session was really inspiring too and  great to see how surfing and skating come together. It got me fired up for the next skateboarding session! Definitely worth a watch for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

I’m also using the new addition at our gym – the Bosu Ball. It’s similar in concept to an Indo board and helps to promote balance and a stronger core. You can use the Bosu Ball to do your regular standing exercises and I’m using it to do squats and push ups initially but will be looking to build in some more exercises along the way.

Using the Bosu Ball to improve balance

Using the Bosu Ball to improve balance

There are some great videos on YouTube which show how the Bosu Ball (and Indo Board) can be used and how they can be incorporated into your surfing training. Check this guy out for some ideas.

I even came across someone using the Bosu ball to pop up and turn like on a surfboard. Maybe that’s something to try when the gym is a bit less busy!

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