Facing Waves

Thunder peeled across the sky and the waves began to crash across the deserted beach. There was a visibly strong rip just a few meters out and the grey clouds only grew greyer the longer I stood there, staring with intent at the horizon. I’d been psyching myself up to get in the water for a few minutes. My bare feet and hands were already red from the chilly air and I wasn’t sure if the shivers coursing through my body were from cold, nerves or excitement.

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For the past few months, Arron and I had talked about running away to Scotland and surfing away our life stresses, but for one reason or another, we’d never managed it. When he returned from another stint in Hong Kong, we decided that it was the prime opportunity to jump into our home-on-wheels and head south for some much needed recuperation. We travelled down late on Easter Saturday to try and avoid the busy roads, and pulled into Summerleaze Beach in Bude for a couple of days in the ocean, and my envy watching Arron cut through the waves in his surf kayak grew from a vague inclination to a burning determination to get a board and learn how to surf. After several days of wall-to-wall sunshine, I decided that I no longer wanted to stay on the sidelines watching Arron ride the beautiful, azure waves of the Cornish coast. I wanted to join in!

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A few days later, Arron became unexpectedly unable to surf for the foreseeable future, after he had a rather unfortunate fight with our wind turbine (… the wind turbine won!). We usually mounted the turbine to our roof whenever we parked up, and on this particular day, the wind was so strong it was threatening to topple the wind turbine which would’ve fallen directly onto our windscreen, smashing it and leaving us with a very nasty bill to pay. Arron flew up to the roof to try and prevent disaster, and went to catch the unstable turbine before it fell… A severed artery, multiple cuts and bruises and four stitches later, he was out of the water for the rest of our trip, but that meant we were stuck for things to do, at least until movement in his arm returned.

We took ourselves into central Newquay to mooch around the surf shops to try and distract Arron from not just the pain from the injury, but the frustration that came with not being able to get back out into the water. On our wanderings, we stumbled into The Wave Project, a not-for-profit venture. Their proceeds go towards getting local children out onto the surf, and helping them through issues such as anxiety - a cause incredibly close to my heart as someone who also suffers from anxiety. In the shop, there were a variety of branded products, but upstairs there’s a treasure trove of second hand surf gear, from swimsuits to wetsuits and shorties to surfboards. We scoured the rails and I ended up trying on a few different styles of wetsuit, before falling in love with two of them. They were marked down to around £30 each, an unbelievably cheap price for such high quality, barely-second-hand wetsuits. We also managed to pick up a battered old surf board; my theory was, if the board is already pretty tired-looking, I won’t be afraid to really go for it in the water. With a shiny new board, I’d have been too terrified to even try!

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A day or two later, we found ourselves at Perran Sands. I peeked out of the window in the sliding door of Suzy, our 2013 Citreon Relay van, and watched the raindrops trickle down the glass. The thought of jumping into chilly Atlantic waters off the coast of Cornwall was pretty uninviting, especially as I’d be going alone; Arron was still thoroughly out of action (but thankfully just about able to hold a camera!). Any chance of having a companion out there to give me words of confidence or wisdom had disappeared and instead, all I’d have was Arron’s distant, inaudible shouts from the all-too-far-away beach to guide me.

I lug Tyler (named after a character in the cult -and completely terrible- surf film Point Break), my new/old surfboard down from the roof of the van and wander tentatively down to the beach. Rather unromantically tucked behind a sprawling holiday park, Perran Sands is a bit of a hidden gem. After trudging through unrelenting sand dunes, we were treated to a golden sandy beach that stretches for miles. And we were the only ones there. A rare, near impossible feat on surfer’s beaches in Cornwall! Aside from the grumbling weather, it couldn’t have been a more perfect place to try surfing.

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With a few words of encouragement from Arron, I took a deep breath and stepped into the water, charging into the knee-high breakers and attempting to feign the confidence I was absolutely not feeling. By the time I was waist-deep, my forced confidence slipped away with the waves. I turned my back on the water and jumped onto the board, lying myself down with my head facing the beach and paddled with my arms as if my life depended on it. A small wave caught me and I travelled a few meters forward, much faster than I anticipated. I got so distracted by the speed and stared down at the nose of my board in disbelief, which knocked my weight displacement and sent me crashing into the freezing water. Spluttering, I got up and shook myself off; not the most ideal of beginnings.

Turning around, I marched back into the flat area behind the breakers and tried again. The next time a wave caught me, I was a bit more prepared for how it felt, so I paddled and looked ahead. When it caught me again, I pushed upwards, hard. I’m on my knees this time and rushing forwards on the rushing water, before I, again, end up under the icy water, my nose and mouth filled with the stinging liquid.

I stormed out of the water in a rage. I’m hopelessly bad at being a beginner, and my first few tries at anything new usually end up with a very angry Katy. Arron is pretty well-versed in how to snap me out of this, and always makes me laugh and encourages me to shout out my anger, before sending me back off with some positive words.

“Just go and catch a few more waves”, Arron encouraged, “You don’t have to be perfect today. Just try.”

I tried to swallow my frustration and impatience but my throat was raw from inhaling the salt-water. I stumbled back into the water, my lungs and legs aching. I headed out further than I’d been before and the water lapped at my chest. I jumped on my board and turned myself towards the beach a final time. As the wave built behind me, I paddled frantically until it caught me and sent me hurtling towards the shore. I jumped up onto my knees again and stayed balanced there for a few more meters, until the wave lost its momentum and I ground to a satisfying stop.

I walked out of the water with pride, feeling a vague sense of accomplishment. I decided to call it a day at that point, not wanting to push myself any further. I wanted to love this activity, and letting frustration get the better of me would only get in my way in the future.

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Arron and I walked back through the dunes, lugging the heavy board back up to our van. I peeled off the wetsuit and pulled on warm, woollen layers while Arron boiled up water for hot chocolates, and then perched myself on the floor of the sliding door to process the events of the afternoon. Maybe I didn’t manage to stand up, but this is a work-in-progress skill. Adventures don’t have to go exactly to plan, you don’t have to be perfect first time, and that’s something I’m learning… slowly.

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We rounded off our Cornwall trip with some time spent in a sunlight-dappled forest, where neither of us had to face our sea-themed frustrations. That time allowed us to rejuvenate and re-energise ourselves, and with hot mugs of hot chocolate in our hands, packs on our backs and walking boots on our feet, we ended the break about as far away from the surf as we possibly could. But we’ll be back!