Surfing, on a whim and a wave.

Friday night 8pm in the Kings Arms, Roupell Street SW1. Toya and Dan yesterday took delivery of a circa 1980 Renault Trafic ‘Miami’ Autosleeper campervan they’ve christened Gary Claude Van Gary, and are planning to go surfing tomorrow. “You guys should come!” mrs e looks at me, I cancel a few other social arrangements, and suddenly I’m planning a trip to North Devon to go surfing….Dude.

Being a child of the various great metropolises of this fair Nation, most of which are land locked by about 70 miles, I never got to do surfing as a younger lad, water sports consisted of school trips to Lake Windermere for a spot of kayaking. If you were from the city you did skateboarding, if you were from the countryside, especially the South West then you did Surfing, and if you still called your parents Mummy and Daddy into your teens you were probably posh and went skiing or snowboarding.

Friday night 11.59pm Pissed packing while trying to eat fish and chips. 7am start. After a nightmare 6 hours on the M4 and M5 we arrive at Staunton Sands, [live webcam] big long beach, plenty of room and for £50 hire two wetsuits and boards from Surfed Out for two half days (Where bizzarly the owner has the same name as me!)

The forecast was ‘messy’ so after a 30 second lesson from James, another friend who came along, we were in. The first 20 mins you’re just practicing staying balanced while lying on the board. After a while I managed to ride a couple in successfully, I only managed to pop up onto my knees once though. I had a great time, and would certainly do it again, perhaps with an instructor, but as a taste for the waves, this got me hooked. When you first ride on one, moving only by the power of the sea you get that ‘I’m doing it!’ feeling that you got when your Dad taught you to ride a bike.

We were staying the night at Lobb Fields Campsite – I wouldn’t recommend it, but then I wouldn’t recommend camping full stop. The reception at Lobb Fields has every square inch covered in prohibitive signs. ‘Disposable BBQ’s are not allowed unless on a stand’ ‘Dogs must be kept on leads’ ‘all visitors MUST report to reception’ ‘No children’s ballgames near the toilet block’ ‘All pitches to be vacated at 10:30am’ it’s all about as welcoming as the face of the woman behind the desk, who must have been the inspiration for Roz in Monsters Inc. We weren’t allowed to pitch our tents near the van as ‘it’s against the law!’ So me and mrs e plus James paid a total of £36 for the privilege of pitching two tents on a 9’ by 9’ patch of mud, pitch 67 a.k.a the Quagmire suite, she actually sold it on the fact it was handy for the communal toilets and showers – oh joy!.

A quick shower, a change of clothes and a stiffener in Gary van Claude Gary – which was cosy and snug, and we headed into Braunton for pie and mash at the George and a night cap and a game of arrows at the White Lion,before returning to the ‘Gate Locked at 10pm sharp!’ and ‘no noise after 11pm’ campsite.

God I hate camping, I hate everything about it. ‘It’s only for one night’ I kept telling myself. The weather didn’t help, it was a windy nights, and when it wasn’t windy, it was raining. It was like sleeping in a tumble dryer, only not warm and fluffy. In the end I got out and slept for a few hours in the car. I awoke to see the place in the slate grey light of dawn. Hell, I’m in hell. I wouldn’t mind sleeping in a tent if when I unzipped the door I was looking at the foothills of the Himalayas, the alien vista of Tierra del Fuego, or the majestic Rocky Mountains. What I don’t want to see it a patch of muddy ground leading to the loos on my left and a big white grockle box on my right. Slowly the campsite wakes up, what I thought for a second was a cockerel crowing turned out to be a child crying. Women in the dressing gowns trudged through the mud to the communal showers clutching a basin full of last nights washing up to do. Misery, misery was etched on to everyone’s face, this is a British refugee camp I thought. To think some people work 50 weeks a year, 350 days to come to this… I’d have a 16 gauge buried under my nose if I had to do two weeks here. Can you tell I really don’t like camping?

So, a bit stiff from a bad nights sleep I pull on a damp cold wetsuit and we head back out to the beach, it’s really windy on the Sunday and we both get battered even more, it’s still great fun and I manage to ride one or two in, as well as improve my paddling. After about an hour we call it a day, and get a hot tasty pasty and a coffee from the two bright young things manning the café hut. All the locals we meet looks fresh faced, fit and healthy, no one has that pallid stale look of a Londoner, must be the sea air? I was surprised to see that all sorts of people were surfing, mum’s and dad’s, old guys, girls (wet suits make women look hot!), there was no of the ‘you’re not cool enough’ vibe or mocking of newbies, everyone was really chilled and nice.

So, in short, I’ll be back… in a B&B or cottage…. real soon.

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
August 2007

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