To answer Sulli’s question of did it happen? Of course it happened my friend, you don’t let a 13-14 ft swell slip through your fingers. Let me take you back to the beginning…
I first checked the charts on Wednesday afternoon, and was surprised to see a solid 13 ft groundswell coming through. The winds looked to be strong, and variable, but anyone knows that if you have a SW at Fistral, then Towan etc should be offshore, so I wasn’t too worried.
I put the word out to a few people, all of which either didn’t fancy the cold water and weather, or had work commitments. So I packed the car up, and hit the road 6am on Friday morning. I was full of excitement and anticipation for what lay ahead: how harsh the weather would be, how cold the water would be and how big and clean the ways might turn out.
I arrived at Newquay about midday, after driving through some pretty appalling weather conditions to be met by a semi-clean fistral with waves in the 6-8ft range, and a cleaner, slightly smaller Towan break, with waves in the 3-5ft range. I opted for Towan.
I suited up in my 3/2 with 5mm gloves and booties to match. The water was pretty intense, but well worth it. I got a few nice rides, dragging my left hand along the face of the wave and even managing to kick out of the wave on a face rides. After the first few rides I was reminded of why I do this stuff. The feeling of liberation, freedom, relaxation, and also the challenge of pushing yourself physically and mentally in cold, overcast and uninviting conditions, the stoke had returned.
Friday night I headed out for a few beers with a (now) local chap I had met earlier in the car park. He had moved down from London, giving up a good job and benefits to come to Newquay and get as much surf time as possible. I had a few beers and a nice evening and went to bed ready for the next morning.
I awoke to a stormy day and was greeted by one of Gary’s (her name isn’t really Gary) award-winning breakfasts. That set me up for the morning, and I headed out to check on the surf.
Fistral was big and blown out, and I could see the Cribbar with a little white water breaking on it, a sign that things were pretty solid. I decided to head to the bay again, but this time a little further up to get a little more swell exposure.
The waves were clean and in the 4-6ft range, with a solid swell giving them a bit of a punch. On the basis that I was cold yesterday after 3 hours in the water, this time I decided to try and fit my shortie summer 2/2 suit underneath my 3/2. It all came together nicely and I was nice and warm, albeit a little restricted in the mobility department by having 5mm+ of neoprene wrapped around my body. I scored a few nice waves, speeding down the faces and practicing my little hand along the face trick, whilst moving my board up and down to try and stay in the pocket. Again I was pumped to be out there.
That morning I also managed to get a few heavy ones on the head, being caught out by the odd rogue wave that came through, but in the end I got out back again and waited for my set to come through. mid-session, the sky went dark and then rain came in. This time it wasn’t just a sprinkling, it was a full on squall, with hail coming down at 45 degree angles. I got an absolute pounding, and had to turn my back to the wind as the hail on my face felt like someone was throwing stones at me. As the hail subsided and the wind dropped, a full rainbow appeared across the bay, stretching from the Headland Hotel to Watergate Bay, really beautiful.
It is times like these that you are in awe of nature, you look up and see the total perfection in the way that the rainbow arches across the sky, the full spectrum of colours, and just think wow, the natural world really is an amazing place.
I continued with my session, and again got to the 3 hour watershed, and then through exhaustion I had to get out. I retired to the beach to watch a few people and then headed back to my room.
The cold water surfing experience is so much more intense than that of summer surfing. Not only is the water colder, and therefore more viscous and harder to paddle through, but you have more layer on restricting your movement, the swells are more solid and the waves are move challenging. When you get one on the head it wakes you up instantaneously, with a cold shock to the brain like an ice cream headache.
Another thing about the cold water experience is the post surf warming up. Getting into a hot shower and warming up, usually after about 20 minutes of uncontrollable shivering, really makes you appreciate the shower. Followed by a few cups of piping hot tea and a sit on the bed to relax, you take it all in and think back on the session that just happened.
In the late afternoon I headed down in the car to St. Agnes and Perranporth, ending up having a little fish and chips feast out on the harbour. There was a nice sunset at St. Agnes, and a few surfers still out getting a few rides. Saturday night I I met up with an old school friend, Rob Auer, and what was supposed to be a few quiet beers, turned into getting to bed at 2am. All good fun though.
Sunday morning I opted for an early one, well early for winter as it doesn’t get light until nearly 8am. So Rob and I hit South Fistral for about 8.45 and were greeted by a semi-clean offshore swell, with thick sets coming through in about the 4-8ft range. I grabbed my board, suited up and got in for the rather intense paddle out.
I noticed that the Cribbar (although not ridable yet) was kind of firing, sending up the walls of white water 20-30 ft in the air over the rocks of the headland of North Fistral. Down at the southern end the sets were coming through, and I felt a little out of my league, just like I did back in Fiji. There is definitely something intimidating about a 6-8ft wall of water, probably about 15-20ft thick racing towards you, especially when you are too far inside and get caught with one on the head. This happened a few times and I got worked by the wave pretty hard. I remember holding tightly to my board, only to have it ripped out of my hands, my gloves and booties nearly being stripped from my limbs and somersaulting under the water a good 5 times.
Another time the lip of the wave came crashing right down across my calf muscles. It felt as though someone had come along with a cricket bat and hit me with it.
I managed to get a few nice waves, definitely up there with the biggest I have ever ridden. As the wind was so strong, as you drop into the wave, you can’t see where you are going, as the spray just blows back into your face, so it is a little blind faith and feeling for the first few seconds. I got down the face and along and kicked out nicely, I was happy.
I surfed for about 2 hours and then had to get out to get my farewell breakfast and then hit the road to get back to Essex.
It was an amazing trip, and well worth the effort. It will probably be my last trip before Christmas, and it seems a fitting way to end off this year’s surfing. Not only did I manage to travel the world earlier this year and get in loads of different breaks and further my experience, but I also ended it all off where it all began 4 years ago at Towan Beach, Newquay. I love it down there, and I can’t wait to maybe hit it in the new year, for another cold water session.
The pics from the trip are here.