The best, or maybe the worst, thing about social media is you get all the action direct from the front line via news feeds almost as the action happens. When Indo gets this good it’s debatable whether this is a good or bad thing. Good if you are there, or on your way over, bad if you are STUCK IN A FUCKING OFFICE!
Anyway, I have rounded up see of the better moments so you can either tease or torture yourself as you see fit. Enjoy!
I won’t lie to you. I really hate getting up. I love my bed, I cherish my sleep and the daily transition from slumber to a state of awakeness pains me dearly. It’s always been the same ever since I was a baby, in the first few years of my life I apparently only woke up to eat and poop, sometimes at the same time, a few decades later nothing much has changed…
The simple fact is I love being horizontal. There is only one thing in the world that makes me wake up and jump out of bed like a CIA torturer has electrified the mattress. One pure reason: just give me a reasonable guarantee of good waves and a breath of offshore wind and I’m up before the sun has even thought about cracking its head over the horizon. Nothing else has this effect on me not even a fire alarm coupled with an overly pungent whiff of acrid smoke.
“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” Aristotle, Greek philosopher bloke who knew his onions.
Of course that reasonable guarantee of good conditions is a lot easier to come by these days, with web cams, swell buoys and a plethora of surf forecasting systems at our disposal. Not to mention mini-computery iPhone devices that you can hide under your pillow.
The real super dawny days are easy to spot, generally the second day of a long range swell, after a day of big, leading edge, unruly, wobbly swell you know the more lined up, clean, perfect waves are coming on the morrow.
We had one of these days a few weeks ago. I’d been chasing the aforementioned unruly swell without much luck on the first day and after hundreds of miles and what seemed like a whole day in the car punctuated only by a few hours shooting on a lacklustre reef somewhere I collapsed in a delightfully chintzy £35 a night hotel room. The kind of hotel that doesn’t even have a star rating, just a rusty bracket where the star sign use to hang. It did have some snazzy free biscuits that sufficed for dinner, the walls were thick enough to mute the sound of the neighbours dumping and humping (not the same time I hope) and it had a sea view so it wasn’t all bad.
The forecast for the next day was perfect: three to four foot, sunny and offshore- the optimum conditions for Cornwall’s beach breaks.
“Morning glory is the best name, it always refreshes me to see it.” Henry David Thoreau, Early pioneer of environmentalism and log cabin fan.
Of course the night before a dawny is always tricky. You do your best to become a sullen hermit, blowing off invites to barbecues, avoiding drinks with friends and generally switching your phone off. All so you can get some of that magical sleep. Of course it never happens, the excitement of knowing the surf is going to be pumping taps into the elusive feeling you used to get as a kid on Christmas Eve.
The end result is you lie there staring at the ceiling tiles hour after hour as your sleep time ticks inevitably down on the cheap red LED alarm clock.
As animals we are prone to respond to our circadian rhythms: sleep when it’s dark out and hunt when it’s light. In these latitudes at this time of year it doesn’t get dark until gone 10 and starts getting light at silly o’clock. British Summer Time is a right twat for that.
Anyhoose. Exhaustion takes over sometime around three o’clock, and you get a few fitful hours sleep until the orangey-purpleness of first light worries the window. From this point on sleep is out of the question … the dawny is on. Thanks to the cheap hotel being built before anyone cared about land prices in Cornwall the sea view is a killer. Clean three-foot lines are rolling in and the dawny buggering sea mist is nowhere to be seen. It’s at this point you realise you’re exposing your naked self, full frontal, meat and two veg to anyone else daft enough to be up at this hour and go put some clothes on.
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive- to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and the cool old dude in Gladiator.
As the fiery rim of the sun starts peaking over the moors I’m in the car and getting an eyeball check on the surf. The waves are for once, as predicted, the dawny has been vindicated. Corduroy lines are stacking to the horizon, there’s not a cloud in the sky and the wind is a light zephyr from the south-east. Of course more often than not a well-planned dawny comes to naught. The swell will have buggered off overnight, the wind made an unplanned switch to hell onshore and to add insult to injury it’ll be blowing in a heavy sea fog. This is normal, this is why I don’t dawny unless I feel in me bones the day is going to be epic or near as damn it.
First things first on the dawn run: a decent hit of caffeine. Getting a decent coffee at silly o’clock has always been a problem for those of us with a coffee addiction and liking for early surfs. Thankfully the arches that are golden now open at daft o’clock. So there is time for a sneaky cup of java and the ultimate in drive thru breakfast cuisine: the double pork pattie, cheese and chicken ovulation sandwich known by its trade name as a Sausage & Egg McMuffin.
From there it’s onto the beach. This is why we dawny: because there’s a) no one in the sea and b) you can park where you like, nailing those elusive free spots, sticking it to the council’s obscene parking charges and bully boy clampers. To borrow an awful cliche it’s a win-win situation.
The world’s a magical place at dawn you owe it to yourself to see the sunrise…
. DAWN FACTS
•Dawn is defined as the time that marks the beginning of twilight before sunrise. Recognisable by the presence of weak sunlight while the sun is still below the horizon.
•The duration of which varies wildly depending on latitude, lasting mere minutes on the equator to hours in the polar regions.
There are technical definitions of the different stages of dawn:
•Astronomical dawn: the moment after which the sky is no longer completely dark; formally defined as the time at which the sun is 18˚ degrees below the horizon in the morning.
•Nautical dawn: the time at which there is enough sunlight for the horizon and some objects to be distinguishable; formally, when the sun is 12˚ degrees below the horizon in the morning.
•Civil dawn: that time at which there is enough light for objects to be distinguishable, so that outdoor activities can commence, formally, when the sun is 6˚ degrees below the horizon in the morning.
Being a UK surfer is a tricky business. It’s ruddy freezing, inconsistent, and not exactly world class a lot of the time. If it was as simple as rocking up to the beach in your boardshorts like those softies in the tropics it wouldn’t be the same. The wild weather, diverse coastline and capricious nature of our waves make it fun. Character building even. The chase is always on.
Figuring out what’s going on is key. Weather charts are always being assessed. When there’s swell on tap the issue is wind. A kink in the angle this way or that makes a huge difference. The British are widely regarded as being obsessed with the weather and it’s true. Surfers even more so. Making the call for a dawny is tricky. Today was one of those ‘do I drag myself out of bed in the dark or not’ days. Some folks did and were rewarded with what can only be described as a fun session. Not epic but definitely worth fighting in to the damp wetsuit for. Hell it was even sunny from mid-morning onwards with some actual warmth in the air. Roll on spring… And it looks like we’ve got waves for days. A rare treat.
We’re rolling down the spine of an ancient volcano, tumbling down to the sea. Outside the window it’s the colour of deep earth, the colour of an island that’s been turned inside out, exposing its fertile guts and dark green belly. Giant palm fronds high five the car as we twist around the jungle track with 50 Cent and Lucky Dube riding shotgun. Lucky’s crooning right now, telling us, ‘Good things come to those, who go out and make them happen.’
Clearly Lucky never tried finding a road to the beach on the west coast of São Tomé.
‘I think it’s here,’ says John Micheletti. ‘The bay we saw on the map.’ He’s pointing out the window but all we can see is the same thick ribbon of jungle that’s hemmed us in for the past hour as we’ve unsuccessfully tried to poke the nose of the Toyota Prada towards the beach. John turns off the road into a narrow trail that cuts into the bush. Branches claw the doors as he nudges the car further down the footpath, barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side.
‘I don’t think this is a road,’ quips Beyrick de Vries from the backseat. There’s a hollow thud as the chassis connects a hump of rock, followed by a grinding sound that slows the car down, but it’s impossible to turn around. John pushes harder on the accelerator. The car breaks free and is catapulted into a clearing. Ahead of us lies the beach where impossibly tall palms dip down to the shoreline. Beyond that, an onshore breeze licks the back of a wedging beachbreak.
‘Ramps!’ shouts Beyrick, and we start taking the boards off the roof.
São Tomé is located off the west coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea, a dark speck that rises abruptly from the sea. Along with its smaller twin, Príncipe, the islands form part of the Cameroon Line, a 900-mile chain of volcanoes that stretch from the hinterlands of Nigeria into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
The entire island is in fact a volcano, formed by hot spot that has steadily bubbled up lava from the Earth’s mantle over millennia. The same type of volcanic activity forged the islands of Hawaii and has imbued São Tomé with its dark soil and wrinkled coastline. A coastline that, for the most part, remains unexplored.
The exception is along the east coast, where our eclectic crew had convened like the start of a bad joke: William Aliotti, a Frenchman raised in the Caribbean Islands, Beyrick de Vries from South Africa and John Micheletti from Nigeria. We were hardly the first surfers to visit this former Portuguese colony, however.
Back in 2001, Sam George and Randy Rarick had made their way here with legendary photographer John Callahan. George wrote that he thought they were pioneering the fun right point breaks they found, until he was joined in the water by a gaggle of São Toméan kids, riding boards fashioned from wood. It was a startling discovery.
São Tomé is isolated, lying 200 miles from the mainland, yet here was a wave-riding culture that George hypothesised had evolved independently of the Polynesians’ influence. He claimed the island holds definitive proof that surfing is an authentic African tradition. Proof like the board 12-year-old Jardel Félix holds under his arm when we meet him on the first day of our trip.
The board is four foot long with thin, pinched rails and a rolled bottom deck that ends in a sharp squaretail. The wide nose is rounded and mostly symmetrical, except for a kink on the left rail where the axe used to carve it had splintered the solid piece of wood.
‘Este é meu tambua,’ says Jardel proudly. This is my board.
It’s late afternoon and the tropical sun has unclenched its boiling fist. The air is warm but pleasant. We are still wet from surfing a zippy point break in front of the village of Santana where a group of kids on a flotilla of surf craft had joined us, riding the snapped halves of a thruster, an old bodyboard and even a block of Styrofoam. But mostly they were on tambuas, the rough-hewn boards made from the acacia tree.
We had heard about São Tomé’s homegrown surf scene and expected to find these local surfers in the water. We had not expected to find them busting airs.
Unlike the young kids on the inside, Jéjé Camblé was riding a fresh 6’0 Chili. Every time he did a big turn or hucked a frontside reverse, the small pack erupted in cheers. His face stretched into a broad grin when he paddled up to us and introduced himself in Portuguese.
Jéjé later tells us that he started surfing on a tambua after seeing an expat named Peter riding waves outside his village. ‘When I saw surfing for the first time I thought it was some kind of magic,’ he says. ‘Like walking on water.’
He soon discovered São Tomé had its own wave riders and, with their help, carved his own board. He started bellyboarding the whitewash, then catching open faces. Before long he was at backline.
‘For a long time I thought our generation were the first ones to surf using wooden boards in São Tomé’,’ says the 17-year old. ‘But then I started asking the adults. One of them told me no, we were surfing these boards long ago, when I was seven. Then I asked a man who was 50, and he said the same. He said when they were kids, they were surfing with wooden boards already. Then I asked my grandmother, she is 77, and she said back in the days when she was my age, younger people surfed with wooden boards. They rode waves just for fun.’
Aside from a trickle of tourists, São Tomé remains largely cut off from the outside world. Swathes of the island have no electricity and the economy relies on fishing and cash crops. The few scraps of modern surf equipment come by way of the occasional airline pilot who surfs and a handful of Portuguese expats. But São Tomé is the landing point for a deep-sea fibre optic cable linking Africa to Europe, and has excellent connectivity.
The following morning we spot the Santana crew hanging out on the wall of an old whitewashed church that sits on the water’s edge. They aren’t drawn there solely by their piousness. The wall offers the perfect vantage point to check the waves and pick up free Wi-Fi signal from the church. With thumbs scrolling, they sit glued to their phones, connected to their heroes around the world courtesy of the good Lord.
‘If I want to train my rail, I watch Tom Curren, or Mick Fanning,’ says Jéjé , looking up from his phone. ‘If I want to progress in surf, I watch videos of Julian Wilson and Gabriel Medina. If I want to be inspired, I watch Andy Irons.’
He pronounces Irons’ name with reverence, his Portuguese accent drawing the syllables out in a long shhh.
From Santana the road hugs the coastline heading south, giving way to impenetrable bays that we circumnavigate by driving inland. We had scoured the same coastline on Google Earth before arriving, marking off potential setups, logging GPS co-ordinates. But on the ground, amongst the crush of thick foliage, we are quickly disorientated.
John takes command, matching up the maps with his phone GPS, guiding the car west along the twisting dirt roads until we find a path to the beach or can drive no further. Then we get out and hike.
‘Are you kidding me?’ says Beyrick at the end of a sortie on foot. The band of dense bush we have just trekked through gives way to a crescent shaped bay. To our left is a rocky outcrop where a blowhole shoots plumes of water into the air as swells hit the headland, then refract into a left bowl. The wind is onshore but the waves are surprisingly well formed and powerful.
‘This reminds me so much of the setups in Costa Rica,’ says William out in the lineup, in-between sky-high punts. ‘Except there’s nobody here.’
That night back in Santana we tell Joao, a Portuguese expat who occasionally guides visiting surfers around the island, that we found the wave at the blowhole. He looks at us quizzically and shrugs, ‘I don’t know this wave.’
The next day we’re loading the car when William asks, ‘Who’s got music?’ But our iPhones are useless on the Prada’s old sound system, a frontloader and tape deck combo. Instead we make our way to the market where we find bootlegged copies of 50 Cent and Lucky Dube amongst piles of fruit and fish. The duo become the soundtrack to which we navigate São Tomé’s hidden coast, finding our way to beaches and bays where we are unsure if we are the first to ride these waves on our modern tambuas. We wonder what the punchy wedges would do in the dry season offshores and contemplate the slabs we’d heard about further north. But mostly we just surf and hunt fish along the reefs. Reefs that are dark and rich like the jungle, forged from the same volcanic basalt that the island is built upon.
‘I’m the diamond in the dirt, that ain’t been found,’ Fiddy spits out the speakers as we climb higher into the interior. The sea has gone flat so we are making our way inland, cutting deep into the belly of the island, throwing faux gangsta shakas as we go.
Eventually we reach Pico Cão Grande, the highest peak on the island. The needle of rock twisting into the sky was formed when a volcanic plug exploded abruptly, hinting at the powerful forces bubbling just beneath the surface. On the way back to the coast John points out the cacao plants that grow along the sides of the road, their bulging orange pods dangling on thin stalks.
Cacao makes up 95 per cent of São Tomé’s exports, a throwback from its colonial past when it was cultivated on large plantations that remain dotted around the island. The seeds are plucked from the pod and shipped around the world where they are processed into chocolate and other delights. But here in the jungle, the plants grow wild and free.
When the swell rises again we head to Radiation Point north of Santana, where George and Rarick found the loping righthander that would come to define São Tomé’s surf potential. The tarred road disintegrates the closer we get, until we are bumping along a rutted track where wooden clapboard houses lie squashed against one another, piled up in a settlement that runs down to the sea. The bad road forces us to drive slowly, a few miles an hour. A stream of kids run out the houses as we pass by, pushing their homemade skateboards behind the car.
When we come to a stop they gather round, showing us the boards. The deck of the ‘rolling car’ or trote is a block of wood joined to trucks made from smoothed-out branches. Old wheel bearings have been fitted onto each end of the branch, which has to be carefully selected: too thin, and the branch will snap or the makeshift wheels will wiggle off. Too thick, and the wheels won’t be able to turn around on the wooden trucks.
The kids squeal with laughter as Beyrick and William give the boards a go, jerking stiffly from side to side down the road. ‘Oleo, oleo!’ shouts a tiny boy, no older than eight. He whips a small plastic bottle out his shorts and grabs one of the boards, squeezing a few drops of used motor oil onto the bearings, then flips it over and skates expertly round in circles, the steel wheels hammering the ground loudly.
Radiation Point gets its name from the towering radio beacon that dominates the peninsula and sits perched on undeveloped government land. We duck under a dilapidated fence and make the 20-minute walk through tall yellow grass the colour of wheat, catching glimpses of the wave until we get to the shoreline.
‘No, no!’ shouts one of the local surfers as we start walking over the rocks to paddle out. He points down to a fat clump of urchins wedged between the boulders, then motions for us to follow him to a gully where we slip easily into deeper water.
A handful of São Toméan surfers are at backline, riding hand-me-down surfboards, some with no fins that they still manage to rip gracefully. The wave runs for a hundred meters from the outside to the inside, a mellow pocket that accommodates noserides as much as big turns, much like an African version of Malibu.
‘How good is this?’ says John, sweeping his hand to indicate the waves, the bay, the entire island.
Back in the water in Santana, Jéjé tells us surfers from his village and Radiation Point rarely surf together. The long hour-and-a-half walk between the two spots makes it difficult. None of them has a car. But when one of them does make the trek, the local surfers are stoked to see each other.
‘There are not many surfers in São Tomé,’ he says. ‘Modern surfing is just beginning here. We see each other, we learn together.’
A set rolls in and Beyrick takes off, races down the line and launches a frontside air. Jéjé lets out a loud whoop before stroking into the next wave and attempts a huge alley-oop, almost landing it but he comes unstuck in the flats.
The kids on the inside go wild as they watch this tit-for-tat unfold, then go back to bellyboarding the reforms. But one of them starts nudging further up the point, eyes fixed on Jéjé and Beyrick. His little arms are paddling hard, legs kicking off the back of his wooden tambua, as the past and the present draw closer.
The Thurso Surf Festival at the back end of 2016 saw big swells and changing winds for days resulting in a pretty epic event with pumping waves at Thurso and Sandside. Despite making the final, Jayce Robinson still found time to search the north coast of Scotland for tubes. So with an abundance of swell, favourable winds, and perfect, heavy, slabbing reefs around every corner, here’s what happened Between Heats… and a few Qs with JR and filmmaker Mr B.
There seems to be a lot of different spots on this video, how long were you there?
Jayce: Yeah we were lucky, we stayed were there for a week and managed to score all those epic little slabs and also a few other waves that didn’t feature in the clip. Whilst Mr.B was shooting the Juniors in the contest there were a couple of other cheeky sessions at secret spots (as seen in the current issue of the mag).
Some of those waves look fairly shallow, any heavy wipeouts, close calls, bumps or bruises?
Jayce: They are all very shallow, I had a few falls which I thought for sure i’m going to hurt myself, but as fate has it we all came away with no broken bones or even bruises. It does help having all that rubber on mind, if I were surfing in board shorts I think it would be a different story .
What’s your favourite thing about surfing in Scotland?
Jayce: I still never know what to expect from Scotland, every time I go there i find myself surprised with how changeable the waves can be on different swell directions etc. Theres also a loads of spots that I haven’t surfed up there yet, so it adds to the excitement factor of surfing new waves.
There’s a lot of water footage in this clip – any reason?
Mr B: The waves are perfect for shooting water and I pretty much jump in whatever chance I can. Plus you can’t beat Scottish Winter light, the sun’s always quite low in the sky making great colours in the water (when it’s out that is!).
What was the funniest, scariest and most annoying moment of the trip?
Mr B: Funniest may have been the morning we got there, we drove through the night to get in the water at dawn, the sun was just getting up, they were paddled out just before me as I got my housing ready, then the car locked itself with the key in there! Luckily I had all my wetsuit and cam gear out, so swam out to shoot, but had to tell Jayce I’d just locked us all out of the car! After a couple hours surfing it took us about 45 minutes to break back into the car!
Scariest was possibly on a small day at a shallow little slab, there’s one clip in the film where Jayce gets taken out by a bit of a thick lip, I was stood in about ankle deep water and had to run and dive through the back of the wave, nothing too bad but wasn’t sure how bad Jayce had been hit cos he copped it to the head and went down awkward, was also pretty funny.
Annoying moment – probably when the waves are pumping and the sun sets and you know it’s still pumping all night!