our mini adventure
A few weeks ago my brother Jack and I went on a sibling jaunt to Cornwall. He’s 16, just finished his GCSE’s, he’s been saying years ahead of time that the 2 of us should go on holiday together to celebrate the end of his exams. His main suggestion was Tobago, where I went two years ago with our cousins and admittedly had an amazing time, which of course did appeal to the side of me saying you haven’t actually been anywhere Isabel and this is your gap year! Go and relax in Tobago where the sun shines and the sand glistens…..but no! I can’t, couldn’t and won’t. Flying there last time was traumatic enough for my conscience, and considering the depths to which I have plunged more recently there would be no way of justifying the flight bar actually moving there. So! Next best holiday destination, why Cornwall of course!
We both wanted to give surfing a proper shot; give it some time and dedication unlike the half-arsed attempts we’d managed so far. By word of mouth and reputation we decided on Newquay as our main destination in Cornwall.
Top Tip: Don’t follow in our footsteps.
On arrival it was as expected really: (except the train station which smelt of sewage, but we left quickly so no harm done!) there’s a street of surf shops as you leave the station, lots of restaurants, some charity shops, but then as you descend into the centre and the main drag it soon becomes chav central and kinda grotty. There was nothing charming or Cornish about a constant stream of 2 for 1 offer of meals for £1.99 in chain pubs and gangs and gangs of kids! Really weird! Take into account that we come from a very quaint and touristy village by the sea, where there are gangs of bored young people and tourist shops and chain pubs, and you can see that I’m not a disillusioned citified person expecting small village simpletons and cheap prices, but was genuinely shocked at the lack of normalness, not least a corner shop in a such a large place! Newquay has to its name, 4 bays and beaches, and a large portion of the headland. It’s renowned for its surf at Fistral Beach, and the surfing communities and competitions which have arisen from it. This must have come from somewhere……
We found our surf school and place of residence for the next 4 days-Bluewings surf school; it was a normal house in a normal street, which was refreshing after what we’d just walked through! The next morning we got up and went round the back of the house to be kitted out in a damp wetsuit and matched to a yellow long board. At 10 in the morning it was already a beautiful day.
The beach was a good 15 minutes walk away down a massive hill (which I noted with actual physical pain, we were going to have to ascend on the way back!) When you get down onto Fistral Beach you realise why it’s still so popular and why the surfers haven’t just left the chavs and the chain pubs to get on with it themselves.
So we did the usual thing you will have seen on beaches where there are surf schools, we were all lying on our boards on the sand learning the basics of paddling, jumping up etc. I did stand up on the first day, and of course Jack did, he was pretty good from the off, so I just swore at him underwater and kept pushing through the waves. I surprised myself in becoming really addicted to being in the sea, because although I have lived right next to the sea all my life, we don’t have a very inviting beach and used to have issues with people becoming ill because they’d swam on North Beach or in the harbour where the sewage could get you. I always preferred to stay on top of it, messing around in boats as Ratty says. But the better you get at the surfing, and the more the sun shines, the more you can’t imagine you spend your time doing anything better!
Our main beef with Newquay is that it’s totally kitted out for clubbing, and because I was with Jack, who doesn’t have fake ID, there was nothing for us to do of an evening, especially as the weather started to get worse. Inevitably we did a lot of TV watching in our cubicle of a room, but that was alright because we were soooo tired from the surf lessons in the morning. Any plans of surfing all our days away went out the window as the aches and pains set in. We browsed the surf shops, steered clear of the tourist shops, and ate lots of pasties and crab sandwiches. As someone who loves exploring and can’t bear to sit it in a stuffy room during the day, I would leave Jack with the bunk beds and go walking along the cliffs and beaches around Newquay. There were people fishing from the rocks surrounding Fistral bay, and the cliffs lifting out of the water, which get more sparsely populated as you keep walking, were the perfect place to just walk and walk and walk. I looked out at the sea, which was my favourite mackerel blue colour, and had the most intense urge to just dive into the sea from the cliff and swim without stopping.
So, on the 4th day, fake-lifeguard hoodied, Roxied, Chavved, and pastied out, we decided to move on for our last day. The Tourist Information office recommended Perranporth, only half an hour away on the bus. In the absence of any other recommendations off we went. We arrived mid day, to be greeted off the bus by massive waves rolling onto the wide expanse of beach. We’d booked into the YHA youth hostel on the cliff, but had no idea how to get there. After asking the lovely Sam (more on him later) we found ourselves walking past all the house and small hotels, past the signs for the cliff walk which began as the dirt track ended, and practically off the cliff and into the sea again! Through a gate was squat building hanging on like a limpet to the edge of the cliff, where the sea pounded the bottom 100 meters below. We were greeted by Phil, another lovely guy with whom I ended up having lots of long chats too, and we were shown around the small but perfectly formed hostel that dared cling to a cliff in such a precarious a manner. It turned out it had been doing this for a while, as it used to be a secret base where the submarines would be tracked in world war 1.
Perranporth turned out to be the Newquay we had been looking for all along- minus all the consumerist, fake crap that over rides what Newquay probably used to be like. It combined a modest array of touristy shops, normal shops (including a whole foods shop) and the all-important evidence of surfers. More importantly, the beach was magnificent! I have never in my life seen a beach so long as I have Perranporth’s. The sandy expanse went on for yonks, and we could see everything from our birds eye view at the youth hostel. The caves and potholes when the tide was out meant I didn’t see Jack for a while, and when I did he just had a big grin on his face.
Unfortunately on that particular day the sea was so rough the RNLI had red-flagged the beach, meaning no one could even go in the water. Bang went our surfing plans. No matter, I thought it would be good to talk to some of the locals who had been surfing these waters a while, just to see if they had noticed any difference in what they’re surfing on….the results of my chat with Nikko and Sam are coming up soon after this post. (When I get my act together basically!) Although we didn’t get to surf Perranporth, the two of us would definitely recommend Perranporth above Newquay as the place to go for a beach and waves, oh and take a fishing rod!
Anyway, what I did learn from our little trip is that on the surface surfing can seem simply a physical dedication, a chance to get out there and just rip. But just like lots of things, there is a mentality to it, an addictive thinking side not just an addiction to the adrenalin of riding a wave and carving a path across its surface. More than the physical reward of being able to do something perfectly in tune with one of the biggest forces in nature, just like environmentalism it’s a mental dedication too. And I think it’s because with the physical dedication comes the awareness of what you depend on for that hit, and that’s the sea and your body. The beauty and simplicity of the marriage of the surfboard, body and wave is what will always remain the underlying appealing factor about surfing, and that’s the lack of fuss. The desire to just get up go and do it. Where there’s simplicity there’s less stress and where’s there’s less stress there’s surf.