After living in Cornwall for almost a year, I decided that it was about time I tried to surf. While I have been lucky enough to take one or two surf lessons on holiday as a child, growing up in the Midlands meant that surfing was never on the cards as a feasible hobby. This somewhat narrowed my understanding of surfing to the very stereotypical outliers of Bondi Rescue lifeguards and Hawaiian beach babes.
So, it wasn’t until I moved down to Cornwall that I realized real people actually do surf. They surf before work, after work, midday, rain or shine. They grab their boards, throw their wetsuits on (making it look infuriatingly effortless) and glide into the water like penguins on ice.
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Between becoming an expert on tides and swells, and affording gear that will actually insulate you from the prospect of hypothermia, the technicalities and hidden costs of surfing are a vehicle for my procrastination and excuses. Plus, I’m impatient when it comes to mastering new skills. I just want to fast forward to the stage when I’m already fully competent, bypassing the years of commitment, graft and inevitable bruises that are required to get there.
But, sitting on Gylly beach, watching a kite surfer sweep across the horizon in what felt like seconds, I could almost feel the vicarious adrenaline pumping through the air. It seemed absolutely thrilling and I wanted to be in his position, bouncing on the waves at 20 mph. Enough excuses, I decided – everyone has to start somewhere.
So, when the opportunity for a surf lesson at Watergate Bay arose, I jumped at the idea. Watergate Bay Hotel in Newquay is nestled in the cove a few miles north of the famous Fistral Beach and has an ethos of ‘active relaxation’. Will Ashworth, the owner of the hotel, tells me their idea of creating a ‘ski resort by the sea’ and, with its network of hip bars, restaurants, accommodation and sports facilities, you can clearly see the vision come together.
“Instead of the pistes in the distance, you have the sea and instead of skiing, it’s water sports. We hope to create that same kind of relaxed but active atmosphere where people can try things out whatever their ability, ”he said.
The existing surf school, Extreme Academy, is now combining with another north coast school, Wavehunters, to roll out even more lessons and activities all year round. From surf and stand-up paddleboard lessons to outdoor fitness classes and beach yoga, they offer a range of surf and beachside sports for all ages and abilities.
Having been open since 2002, they have fine-tuned their teaching methods with more one to one sessions and specialized equipment hire. Working in all seasons, they provide hot showers, changing rooms, and years of experience and knowledge to guide people in the sea.
Cornwall’s north coast waves have the reputation for being the place to go for surfing. Yet, pulling up at Watergate Bay, the horizon was as flat as a pancake and the gently lapping waves possibly reflected the most important lesson in any water sport: the sea is entirely unpredictable.
So, experts as they are, our instructors – Sam, Andy and Carl – were quick to hatch a new plan that came in the form of a large, large paddle board. This supersized inflatable was more comparable to a small boat or a raft, fit for a small school class, and had been impressively pumped up by hand.
Suited and booted, we carried the ‘board’ to the water and the six of us piled on in a carefully considered position intended to optimize balance. In what felt like no time at all, our smooth synchronized (ish) paddling had us heading for the Seven Seas and leaving the beach hut where it all began fading in the background.
Despite the lack of waves and the sheer size of our small floating platform, moving from our knees to feet was a struggle. There were some wobbles and hairy moments before one of the team toppled over into the water, sending us all flying.
While I was expecting my breath to be taken away by the sharp temperature, I was pleasantly relieved when no stinging sensation came. Instead, it was simply refreshing.
There was something completely serene about being out there in the sea. Yet, at the same time, looking up onto the striking coastline- a small fish in a big pond- gives you a natural buzz, even without riding a 6ft wave. After some steady paddling, we managed to steer ourselves into a snug alcove where we pulled up our super raft and admired the utterly undisturbed view, soaking up the stillness and fresh air.
I’d never paddle boarded before and there was something therapeutic about the rhythmic strokes. You didn’t feel like they were getting anywhere until you looked back and saw how far you’d come. With the friendly team full of local knowledge, it was both a sociable experience (at least on our mega board) and sufficiently strenuous to warrant a hearty meal.
Life can often become so busy that starting something new is far from a priority. It falls to the bottom of a to-do list or yellows on an imaginative bucket-list that gets resurrected at retirement. Or, simply, it can feel inaccessible and intimidating. Water sports have always been that for me- I love the idea of them in theory but always felt they were unrealistic or unachievable some how.
However, my unexpected adventure on a humongous paddle board this week has inspired me.
It’s reminded me that the rewards are simple, pure and undistinguishing, whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you can’t put a price on that energizing peace that comes from being active in nature.
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