Surf Media

There’s no question that a lot of modern surf media is highly commercialised. There are some publications and communities in the industry that are really standing up for the surfer, but in the most part there are ulterior motives. Behind ukulele chords hide sales objectives, behind those sepia filters lurk viewer rating figures.

But that’s okay as far as I’m concerned. The more money that goes into the industry, the more noise it makes…

I live in England. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’d never have brushed by surfing without the huge noise it’s taken to carry the sport through hundreds (arguably thousands) of years across thousands of miles.

If I had the opportunity to be there from the start, to partake in surfing in the early days – an underdeveloped discovery that a handful had chanced to be a part of – then of course I’d jump at it, but what we have now isn’t a bad second best (think about fins, wetsuits, board wax, booties).

I’m glad to have found the sport thanks to worldwide surf media, but there was a downside. As a kid I never believed in my heart of hearts that I was, or would ever be “a surfer”. Aside from geographical and financial reasons, I never thought I could be capable . And it’s all down to the posters and magazines.

How could I ever compare to the raw power and style of a pro surfer? I was a dreamer, but every new epic photo did more damage than good; fuelling the doubt in my mind. More exotic places, bigger waves, bigger names. Surfing seemed to be on another plain, existing in a fantastical but unattainable world.

A commitment to actually getting in the water changed all that.

One, two,  a hundred sessions in the water and I’m still way off throwing an air or taking on monster waves, but I know that I’m physically able. I know that it’s possible.

For years surf media has done a great job of conveying the fantasy life;  traveling to far reaching countries, riding huge barrels, spending lazy afternoons on golden beaches.  The stories are incredible and they’re awesome goals to aspire to, but it’s important to keep one eye focused on reality. One day you might may well be smashing huge cutbacks, but for the meantime just enjoy your surfing and try not to be put off by how unattainable the far-off surf world sometimes feels.

Lessons Learned:

  • It’s easy to be disillusioned by the gloss of surf media compared to your own surfing. Appreciate the end goal and how fantastic pro surfing is as a spectacle, but try to remove yourself from it when you think of your personal progress. Concentrate on the short game and how much fun you’re having, the rest is history.
Severn Bore Riders

Surfing The Severn Bore

At 6am on Monday 3rd March 2014, 100 miles from home, four blokes forced breakfast on nervous stomachs and made for the “Severn Bore Inn”. It was bore riding day.

In short, a bore is a wave caused by a tidal river’s changing direction during flood tides. The tide turns, rushing toward the shore, gaining power as it’s channelled into a narrow river and occasionally generating surfable waves depending on the water height and the formation of the river bed.

The Severn bore is world renowned; it’s one of the most powerful tidal bores in the world and certainly one of only a handful that are surfable. It had been a long term goal for all of us to take on the challenge and there was a tad of pressure, to say the least…

Preparing For The Severn Bore

Preparing For The Severn Bore

Before we’d even planned the trip we knew that surfing a bore wasn’t like catching a wave in a set; miss the first one and you’ve missed it. No second chances. We’re not talking about waiting another few minutes for the next one either, we’re talking months. Now standing, wet-suited in a backwater Gloucester pub car park, early morning frost nipping at our extremities and the deep rumbling of a far-off tidal wave approaching, the tension mounted. As crowds began to gather and a press helicopter appeared above we shot glances at one another and muttered our chorus. “Do. Not. Miss. This. Wave.”

Fortunately we had the help of a local chap called Steve ( who brought with him a wealth of experience. Quite simply, we wouldn’t have managed a fraction of our success without his guidance and we’re ever grateful. Following Steve to the bottom of a treacherously steep stair set we paused on a concrete bank with our boards in hand and watched the frothing wave bearing down on us apace. After a few minutes, which felt more like an hour, it was time to paddle out.

Lone Surfer On The Severn Bore

Lone Surfer On The Severn Bore

Apparently we’d picked a “5 star” day for the Severn bore. As surfers, we knew 5 star to mean the best possible conditions, at least when it came to ocean forecasts. In the relative calm of the pre-bore river water we chatted nervously on heavy breath, reflecting on our choice of wave, guessing its size and wishing each other well. All 20 or so people bobbing on rafts of all shapes and sizes fixed their eyes on the wave as it trundled on, gaining in size and speed as it came closer. The four of us broke into pairs and steadied ourselves. 5 star or otherwise, when “head height” was the surface of the water, she was a big wave; a thundering mess of brown-white water at the head of an unstoppable snaking tide.

The next few minutes passed in a blinding rush. We turned and paddled (needlessly with the sheer power of the thing), catching the wave with varying degrees of success. Surf boards clashed with kayaks, people and river banks. Some stood, some fell; the two most successful of our four went on for a mile or so, the least successful a few hundred meters. Nevertheless, there was a point in time when all four of our crew tamed the wave.

Actually riding the bore was a new experience; a powerful surging wave breaking over a thousand barriers along the river’s length; here it was a surfable shoulder, there churning whitewash, changing haphazardly every few meters. Surfing in such changeable conditions posed all sorts of new challenges as you could see in the river riding regulars as they popped to their feet and dropped low to their stomachs at intervals.

Wacky Races On The Severn Bore

Wacky Races On The Severn Bore

Lying prone it felt like you were carrying some serious speed, slicing the choppy river water like a powerboat at sea, head down low. Conversely, when standing there was an air of serenity; time enough to talk to one another and appreciate the bizarre surroundings as they rushed by. It’s not every day you see trees, fields and farms from a surfboard.

Sooner or later we found ourselves having drifted off the pace of the wave or unceremoniously dumped behind it one-by-one.

Getting clear of the Severn posed an entirely new challenge. It wasn’t until the moment came that we were quite so aware of the logistics of escaping a fast moving river with 9-10ft longboards. Exit points rushed by punctuated by thickets of trees, logs, rubble and the occasional tractor tyre, not to mention the precarious mud banks. It was a case of paddling hard and gambling on whatever debris presented itself to haul ourselves back on to terra firma, man handling the boards in the process.

Crowds Around The Severn Bore

Crowds Lined The Banks Of The Severn

Separated by the current each found a way clear of the river and, for all the camaraderie throughout the day; this was the time for reflection. Wandering in solitude past garden gnomes and cows, wetsuit-boots squelching and adrenaline still pumping; realisation kicked in. We’d all caught the wave! We could check the river Severn off the bucket list and now proudly call ourselves bore riders…

Overall it was an awesome, albeit other-worldly experience. The complete unknown gave way to surfing in a truly unique and very English setting, with more support from locals than we could have dared to imagine.

Lessons Learned:

  • It’s easier to get involved in riding the Severn Bore than you might think. It’s not on an elite, inaccessible activity reserved for a certain calibre of person and it doesn’t cost the Earth.  It’s just a muddy, natural phenomenon that happens right in our back garden. Free to all.

That said, I strongly advise that you get advice and support from experts before considering the bore. There’s a lot to learn! The link below is a great place to start.


Info and highlights of the Severn Bore:

I took on the bore with a bunch of my colleauges at Vision Nine and posted this story on our company website. See the original here.

Rip Currents

This video from “Waterlust” was shared with me today, it tackles the idea of rip-currents as killers. Find 4 minutes today to take this in, it could save your life. Watch the video:

I’m learning more and more that one of the essential skills in surfing is spending precious time to take stock of the situation you’re in.

One stance is that if you’re not on a fairly open beach you could be in more trouble than is made out here. If you’re in a rip and the “merry-go-round” happens to include some rocks or reef, you could be in a lot more trouble.

None-the-less, this is a really insightful video. I’ve actually bookmarked it to to revisit now and again to refresh the lesson. It’s one thing to experience a rip in practice, but it’s a close second to brush up on the theory.

No finer advice than “be careful out there”!

Lessons Learned:

  • Rips can fall into repeat patterns. The best way to get out is stay calm (as ever) and look for a sideways movement.

Take care out there!

Surfing and travel go hand in hand. We’re always on the lookout for somewhere worth getting in the water for. When I first started I saw the journey as just another factor in the tedium of the prolonged wait for the surfing itself. On the way I was itching to get in, on the way back I was usually pretty cold and tired. It was easy to miss the beauty of the travel. After a while, though, everything changes.

Travelling with your surfboard is a ritual. The company you keep, the music you listen to… it all adds to the amped up feeling of hitting the waves. When you get into a groove there are certain things you’ll never go surfing without. To kick us off, here are a few tips for things to remember:

  • Food. No matter what you’ve eaten in the day you’re ALWAYS going to need something after a good hard surf. You may not have an empty stomach, but the energy levels will be dwindling. I try to keep a back up snickers or two in the glove-box.
  • Water. Dehydration is one of the quickest ways to get bored of surfing. You feel sluggish when you get out of the water and there’s obviously no benefit to being in sea water. I NEVER FORGET to bring a bottle of water. Essential.
  • Big Jumper. Every regular British surfer will have a go-to jacket of some kind. When I’ve dried off it’s heaven to wrap up in the big fat jumper. If it’s a hot day you’d still do well to make sure you’ve got one ready for those long nights around the beach-fire.
  • Wax. Everyone needs wax. You might find people approaching you in the car-park to ask for a “smidge of wax”. I’ve got into the habit of stashing half bars in here and there – board bags, shorts, glove box…
  • Camera. I’ve noticed after recalling surf trips that they begin to meld into a single memory. Now it’s at the point where we always take a few snaps – even if it’s just one of everyone in the car on the way home.
  • Phone. This goes without saying – avert danger by making sure you’ve got a point of contact.

Of course these things aren’t always on hand if you’re outside your usual hunting ground. If you embark on an adventure that takes you far from home you’d do well to get some measures in place that will see you right in any situation that could prove troublesome. All the examples are the same, and you’ll be able to find local food, water, wax and even clothing – but contact is a different story all together.

For travellers there’s no better solution to calling home than the internet. You can get hold of calling cards so that it’s cheaper to pay for calls, but for the ultimate in international calls Skype and other internet based platforms are where it’s at. It’s another level of contact when you can use video calls. I’d assume at this point that a strong majority of people will already know about it, but it’s worth mentioning. I for one have relied on them when the money has run low – when you’re far from home it’s nice to see a familiar face.

It’s all about common sense, I’ve said before that forward planning is the key but that sits hand in hand with learning as you go along. There is no better learning curve than experience, but there is no easier way to quash that than poor planning. You need to get it right to know when you’ve done it right!!

First Surf Lesson

It wasn’t until a few years on from my first time in the surf that I got up close and personal with a surfboard for the first time.

The last week of every year at my secondary school was called activities week. The school would pin up a selection of activities, from geography treks half way across Europe to Warhammer clubs in the dusty maths rooms. You had three choices and it was dog eat dog. Hundreds of kids scrambled for their favourite options, weighing off availability and the likelihood of their parents coughing up the funds. It was a sort of divide and conquer to see the year out.

“Abseiling, kayaking, coasteering, surfing” were the four words I had the time to read before legging it home to my parents and pleading for their signatures.

I’d spent years of my youth since bodyboarding as a kid “acting the surfer” in the various provincial landlocked towns we lived in. I sported Hawaiian shirts, a snazzy metal surfboard on a cord around my neck and covered my walls in posters of Bobby Martinez. This was my chance to be who I dreamt of being, who I’d pretended to be every day.

The feverish excitement of seeing my name under “Adventure Week” lasted for weeks, peaking the day we finally arrived at TYF adventure camp, Pembrokeshire. As the bus pulled in to a grass clearing we were met by a small bunch of young adults who exuded coolness to my 11 year old eyes. Dreadlocks and ripped jeans, board-shorts and flip flops even in the most bitter evenings; I was in awe and I hung on every word.

They sat us down on the beach, drew a few surfboard diagrams in the sand, and explained the technique for a “pop”. Because we were so small they told us to hop to our knee first so that we could get up easier [DON'T]. Propping us up on big old fun boards [DO] we made our way out into the water, and after half a dozen attempts I was on my feet.

Over the next few weeks my wardrobe filled up with Hawaiian shirts, and my bedroom wall was covered in pro’s getting 10/15+ ft of air.

And there I was. Over 100 miles from any beach, with no equipment, and as much social pressure as any school-kid is used too. Surfing took a back seat for football, computer games, and skating.

At the back of my mind there was something missing, and the smell of Neoprene still made me double-take. One day there would be a chance.

Climb the sand and find the blue