University – ‘First Surf’

Wandering about halls in my first year of university I came across a chap who is now a close friend of mine.  We would often talk about going surfing and how hard it seemed to get it arranged. Similarly to me he’d only been once or twice when he was younger, held back by geography and finance. He’d dream about surfing and rely on skateboarding to fill the void, despite a desire to use wax on the deck, rather than the curb-side.

A year passed and we each went our separate ways: I moved in with my closest friends and he did the same. We would only really see one another on campus or at parties, until the day I first visited his house. Stepping in the front door I was confronted by all sorts of junk (the same sort of thing any uni house has: traffic cones, extra sofas, skates, footballs… you name it), I clambered along the entrance hall to find the stairs when something caught my eye. In the corner of the small room, all but covered by posters and other bits and pieces, was a tall, black padded case. He had a board! Turns out he’d had it in first year, but never had anywhere to store it when we were in halls.

After a few weeks of pestering he finally caved, so we squeezed it into his car and set off for the coast. At this point we had no idea of conditions (at all, let alone locally) or the whereabouts of any nearby beaches, so we aimed for the blue in the distance and spent a good 2 hours following our collective nose. Every beach we came to either hadn’t ever heard of a break, or wasn’t showing any promising signs of swell (the extent of our knowledge at this point was “can’t see any waves”). One of our friends had come along to drive us (he wanted to come, but had no intention of getting in the sea: so he took the wheel), and decided to honk his horn around every corner we took. This was an early sign of the insanity that was washing over us as we failed beach on beach to find anything worthwhile. We took a few wrong-turns, punctuated at one point by the highlight of a car-boot sale.

Eventually we arrived at Bantham: revered by other people we’d talked too as the best in the area. We bounced out of the car and sprinted up the dune to see half a dozen kite surfers and no sign of swell. Bummer. Looking back on it now I don’t remember a flatter day since.

We got to the next beach along the way (I think it may have been Challaborough) to find the same result and decided it’d be worthwhile to have a go anyway. I slipped into my £29 Banana Bite wesuit (Sainsbury’s finest), and hot-footed down to the waters edge. Paddling out on a board is a good feeling: especially when the board has never seen salt-water before. Today was different. Today a surfboard saw the sea for the first time on a day devoid of the waves it would love so much. Ashamed, wet and cold we dried off and got back in the car.

The success story for that day? We managed to get a BBQ going on Bantham’s rocks in just enough time to watch several experienced boarders (and quite a few Stand Up Paddle (SUP) boarders) arrive and head out as the surf picked up. We were too deflated and cold to think about getting back in.

It was about this time we realised that heading out for a day of surfing without any surf is one of the more frustrating things in life…

Either way: we’d experienced Bantham. We could confidently say that put our words into action and tried to get surfing. We’d also given ourselves a reason to learn how to read the conditions. Queue the internet.

Lesson Learned:

  • It’s essential to physically get in the water. It sounds basic, but even on a completely flat day we gained confidence and faith in just how easy it is to get surfing. This laid the foundation of every surf trip we’ve taken since. It took utter failure to learn how to succeed, and this was a fundamental lesson.