After 2 great surfs in Devon, it was time to head to Cornwall to meet up with my landlocked surf friend Kelly, who had very kindly invited us to stay with her and her husband for the last night of their holiday. I was really looking forward to surfing with Kelly, and hooking up with Pete from Kingsurf to get some pointers on how to work on my pop-up and build my confidence.
The conditions were still very messy and with all the beaches on the north coast around Newquay being blown out, at Pete’s suggestion, we headed south to Praa Sands which I was stoked about. I love checking out new spots and finding out how and when they work best.
When we arrived, we weighed up whether to go in. The tide was high and there was no white water to practise in, just a shore dump, which inevitably meant getting out back. We had driven an hour to get to Praa, it was clean and a beautiful sunny day and ‘just do it’ mode kicked in. Without the safety of the white water it would force me to break out of my comfort zone.
After a brief on the beach including some pointers on how to work with the conditions, I was first up to head in. Pete suggested that me and Kelly would need some help to get out back which I was grateful for.
The waves were bigger than they looked from the high vantage point of the car park, and the biggest I had ever been out in. With Pete at my side, I pushed through, paddling like crazy to get up and over the waves to avoid getting caught in the impact zone. After 2 days of surfing, my arms felt like spaghetti but there was no time for a rest until finally I got beyond the breaking waves…and it was beautiful.
Calm before the storm
I love sitting out the back. It’s so peaceful and it feels like it’s just me and the abyss. It’s my bit of zen time and the only place and situation where my mind completely clears from the everyday noise. Before surfing I never ventured into the sea – I was always afraid of what was underneath me swimming around. Now when I’m out there, it never enters my mind.
By this time Ste has reached me and Pete headed off to get Kelly. I lost track of how long we were there but I was suddenly aware that I couldn’t see Pete or Kelly. Ste and I had been paddling and had travelled along the beach. It was time to grab some waves..and that’s when the fear hit me.
Feeling the fear
I realised how far out we were and the distance I needed to paddle to get back in. I looked at the approaching waves which I reckoned were about 5-6 foot judging by some of the lucky guys who scored some barrels. Suddenly ‘just do it’ evaporated and I started to panic about how I was going to get back to the beach. I didn’t feel confident enough to catch a wave, certainly not with my bad going to knees habit, so I would have to just paddle and maybe body board the last bit.
Ste had to literally coax me in. My breathing became shallow and I started to cry. I knew this wasn’t going to help and it went against everything I had been told. Deep down though I knew that the worst that could happen was that I would wipeout which I have done heaps of times before. But in waves that big I guess I was worried about being held under. Thinking about it now rationally, it wasn’t like I was surfing waves the size of Mavericks even though when I looked over my shoulder, to me those waves looked very similar!
Eventually after feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere, we got nearer to the impact zone. I managed to paddle and use the waves to propell me forward. Along with Ste’s help and him ditching his board just before reaching the beach, I got back in without having to bodyboard or getting totally pummelled. I was exhausted and relieved as I sank into the sand.
Calm after the storm
After I had calmed down and Pete came over to see if we were ok (Kelly too had got out), I stopped and thought about it rationally. I kicked myself for panicking and wished I had taken the time to stay calm and appreciate some of the exhilarating moments I had out there. Like when one of those waves passed underneath my board – the rise and falling motion is a strange but amazing sensation that I can’t quite describe. It’s not like the adrenalin rush of catching a wave but it’s still an amazing ride! There’s also something so beautiful and powerful about looking back at the wave that has just passed beneath you.
Only Ste was brave enough to head back in and as me and Kelly stood on the shore, we saw loads of surfers getting pummelled. It was pretty heavy out there so I took a moment to appreciate the fact that I had just done it and got in in the first place.
After taking one on the head, albeit getting to his feet briefly, Ste got out and I headed back in with Pete to help get over my thing about being underwater. I didn’t venture very far and just dived underneath the breaking waves (something I’m not used to doing as my minimal is too big). It was totally exhilarating and really helped me to realise that I’m not in danger of being unable to breathe.
Sharing the stoke
We headed to the beach bar for post surf drinks and watch the waves and the sunset. It was a great opportunity to chat and catch up, and meet a couple of guys from Germany who surf in rivers because they are landlocked (I wrote about this recently in my ‘7 unusual places to surf‘ article for The Surfing Sumo blog). I love hearing other people’s surf stories and it was amazing to see the footage of the one guy shredding it on a 4 11 board in water so shallow that rocks are a major hazard! Joining him was a guy who, for the first time that day, surfed his first ocean waves. He was out there for hours and when we finally caught up with him he was buzzing with stoke but frustratedly declared ‘Now I have to go back to surfing the f$/^&ing rivers!’ He had obviously scored some great waves and I felt blessed to have shared a very special day with him.
We also met a guy who makes jet powered surfboards. He was really interested in hearing about our recent SUP adventures and whilst his boards are probably a bit cumbersome for the beach, I reckon they would be ideal for landlocked surfers on the canals and reservoirs. He seemed keen to hook up with city surfers so I will be keeping an eye out for an expansion into urban surfing!
The day ended with an amazing meal at Retorrick Mill with Kelly and Carl, and time to reflect back on the day.
It wasn’t the surf I hoped for but I learnt some valuable lessons and it has in no way put me off. If anything it has strengthened my resolve to ‘just do it’ and keep at it. I’m passionate about surfing and it’s something that will never leave me.