You never know where you’ll end in this surfing life. Pembrokeshire pro Jo Dennison swapped chasing tour points for a nine to five with a difference.
What’s your official title?
Water Operations Manager.
How did you score the job?
I was visiting the prototype near San Sebastian in 2014 with my coach Martin Waltz who was running a project on the wave for his master’s degree. I found out that they had already started building one in North Wales and it instantly fuelled my interest. Could you imagine the first ever Wave Garden opening in your home country and being involved? I mean, it could have been done in any of the already famous surfing destinations of Australia or America but instead it was in the valleys of North Wales.
Were you nervous about moving from West Wales to the North?
I actually had been living a bit of a nomad life up until that point. After finishing university in Swansea I started chasing the summers for endless sunshine and waves. I spent eight months in France competing in any of the WQS events I could. And in the winter places like Australia, Morocco, Canary Islands, Sri Lanka surf training and travelling, living the dream some would say. Making another move wouldn’t be a problem, however moving nine miles inland for effectively an office job definitely made me nervous.
Jo mid-shoot for German TV, we can’t say much more but the end result should be entertaining…
Is part of your job making sure Surf Snowdonia’s wave is surfable every morning?
Every morning starts with a risk assessment and surf check. It is very important to know the facilities are safe before letting the customers in … You may have noticed the staff surf sessions in the morning!
Would you agree in the world of the surf industry you are one of the few people in the world pretty much guaranteed waves every day?
I have had to change my mind set a little bit because I used to spend six to eight hours in the water a day. That’s 40 plus hours a week. I currently surf about four or five hours a week now, but actually the amount of waves I ride is higher. It is so reliable and consistent it actually feels like a gym session or a proper training session. Sometimes I get 37 waves an hour, really giving me the opportunity to ‘train’ manoeuvres. I would have to say I am one of the luckiest people in the surfing industry to have a Wave Garden as my office.
The whole operation seems to be running like a well-oiled machine, are you always worried something is going to break with the tech?
I think that everyone was really quick to judge when we first installed the machinery and ran into some unexpected problems. Due to the scale of the project and it being the first commercial Wave Garden in the world, it is natural that it takes some time to find systems that work both operationally and mechanically. The engineers do a really good job, doing daily checks/dives to finding any potential issues before they happen. It is literally like running a massive car: giving it regular MOT and checking your tyres but on a grand scale.
How is it going back in the ocean now, do you have to adjust?
When I go back in the ocean, it definitely takes time to adjust, over time I have turned into a wavepool surfer. My equipment is completely different, the rules are different and also the timings. It is more difficult to practice a specific move in the ocean, getting two or three waves in an hour is more likely than the 37 I am now used to!
Can you still remember how to duck dive?
I recently went to France, I forgot how much paddling and duckdiving is involved The energy output to just getting those few waves is incredible and remembering the unwritten rules of giving way to locals, etc. is such a game of chess. I’ve always struggled in crowds. However, I do enjoy the feeling of being free and the unpredictability of the ocean. It’s worth the duckdives for the more soulful surf and ultimately my happy place.
Just how did you break your favourite board? And have you broken any others in the Welsh hills?
Well, I had a very nice invitation, almost a golden ticket if you will, from O’Neill wetsuits. It was to participate in a night surf at Surf Snowdonia with Jordy Smith and wakeboarder Nico Von Lerchenfeld. O’Neill had booked out the waves for a few hours, set up different colour lights on the pier, as well as smoke machines. We all had an hour each to perform an expression session. It was so much fun and also the first ever night surf and first wakeboarder to ride in the lagoon and launch over the waves. It just so happened on one of my waves, riding into the dark I landed a chop hop, rotated into the flats and ran into the dingy. This impact ripped an entire fin out. My 5’4” Rob Vaughan broadsword was transformed into a twinny, I’m just happy it wasn’t a camera man!
Seems like a good crew of staff there, do you have a big staff party at the end of the season in your own bar?
Well all my staff have to pass my vigorous recruitment program so they aren’t a bad bunch. The team spirit is really nice actually but we all have surfing in common. As for a party that’s a question for managing director Andy Ainscough? Please?
What’s on for the winter break?
I spent the last two winters in Indonesia, one on a boat trip in the Mentawi with some of the WQS girls (Sarah Beardmore, Paige Hareb, Kim Mayer, Claudin Hagoncaves) which was the best trip of my life, as well as the best waves. Another winter in Sumbawa at Lakeys which is like a natural wave garden. I would like to stay closer to home in Europe this year, let me know if you’ve got a space on a trip!
There’s no escaping the fact that it’s not summer anymore. That fleeting window of surfing in our damp islands in a mere pair of shorts/bikini has gone. Did you miss it? Hmmm. So did we.(Don’t scoff it DOES happen … occasionally). Luckily as British and Irish folk we are more than used to the loving confines of a rubber suit. Not often you can write that and not be writing for a special interest magazine.
Winter is looming. Boots and gloves are being dusted off. The key to surviving and surfing right through winter is having a plan and the right gear. That a decent attitude and a love of hot beverages. We’ve endured decades of winters so here’s what we’ve learnt on the way…
• Get the best winter wetsuit you can afford. It’s not all about the top of the range most expensive suits, economy models with the right feature set, fit and good seams will see you right through. The fit is key, as a well fitting suit, particularly in the vital neck/head/hood area will power you through until spring. No flushes equals more warmth. So buy from your local shop and try on suits until you find the keeper. You’ll know as it’ll fit you like a glove.
• Have two. Sounds extreme but two winter suits is the way forward. Then there’s one that’s always veering somewhere toward the realm of dryness. There’s nothing more off putting than the thought of wriggling into a near-frozen, piss-stinking, muddy wetsuit that you forgot to take out of the car. Most folk will buy a new winter suit every couple of seasons, and with modern wetsuits being so good that old one should be good as a back-up for those weeks when it’s really pumping.
• If you’re rolling one suit then the pre-warm can be a good solution. Get an old gallon container, like the one your winter screen wash comes in, give it a really good rinse out. Then just before you set off for a surf fill it with hot water. Wrap your suit around it and wing it in your wetsuit bucket (standard DIY bucket from most big supermarkets or DIY stores for the price of a pint) or one of those more tech dry bags. It’ll give your suit a pre-warm then before or as you put it on you can douse the rest to take the chill off. If you take two you can use one a welcome warming post-surf shower too.
• Figure out if you’re a built in hood or not kinda guy/gal when it comes to wetsuits. Some folk love them some prefer the adaptability of a hoodless suit and twat cap. For real deep winter a built in hood that fits right is the go. Same deal, try on different brands and find the one that works. Make sure the neck movement is not chafing. No one wants to look like they’ve been to an aggressive love bite orgy.
• Heat is key. Get good winter gear, it hasn’t got to break the bank. Thermal underwear, yep, long johns and that, are winter essentials, teamed with a micro fleece, down jacket and a waterproof shell and you’re fit to handle anything the UK can throw at you. Decent waterproof boots, hiking or fishing will keep the tootsies toasty. If you stay warm you stay motivated. Beanies and gloves to keep the heat loss areas warm for deep winter are kind of obvious to mention here too.
• Carrying on the heat theory: make your surf checks short and sweet. Call the session on and get going. Don’t wait for set after set and ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aaah’ about it. Make a call. Yes or no. Every minute in near-freezing temperatures saps your willpower to wriggle into a damp suit. Figure out winds and conditions the night before so you’re not faffing.
• Speed: if faced with a cold, damp, frankly evil wetsuit you’ve got to commit. Get it the right way round and dive in. Dilly-dallying will just make things worse. A DryRobe will also be your friend in this situation. They make winter changing a treat. Unless you have a van of course in which case it’s also nice and warm.
• Get a big van: look at getting a small woodburner in there. With a fire slate underneath and a flue it’s not that hard to add an actual fire to your van. Seen them in standard VW transporters and it’s next level for winter. Obviously installation wise make sure it’s up to spec carbon monoxide wise and all that. There are other heating options, like ceramic heaters as used by truckers for the really committed.
• Hot beverages: a flask of tea, soup, or hell, even Irish coffee if you’re not driving, keeps that warm on the inside. As does a good breakfast before a big day. Winter is all about prep. The more prepared you are the longer you’ll last. If you’re doing multiple sessions somewhere remote and there’s driftwood to hand a lunchtime beach fire is also handy. As always be responsible and tidy when beach firing. For mega coffee heads it’s feasible to have a car inverter giving you a standard AC plug and whacking a Nespresso machine in there. We scored one for £25 from the charity shop. Either that or be mates with someone with a van. Or take a little gas burner and kettle for on the go brews.
• Surf: tricky depending on where you live and surf but a simple winter thought is this: avoid the duckdive. Surfing reefs, points or beaches with defined rip channels will keep you in the brine longer than fighting your way through walls of closed out beachbreak.
• Bits: alongside your suit your wettie boots and gloves need careful selection. Some folk like mittens, others gloves, and the mm thickness of your boots will depend on your coast of choice and your hard factor. However you roll make sure they fit good.
• Post session: get the suit and bits rinsed and hung up. A good hanger gives vital space to let the interior air and not get fuggy and you can whack them up anywhere. Sooner its drying the better. Leaving it to stew in the bucket in the back of your car will bite you on the ass next session.
• Obsess about the weather: our weather changes on a dime. Keep track of the long range, mid-range and daily forecast. Target your surfs for maximum quality. Be aware of those late and early sessions before the wind swings. Windows of opportunity are key.
• Dawnie: winter has one benefit … nailing the dawnie is easy. There’s no tearing yourself from that wonderful dream at 4am. No. Winter is your friend. Rock to the beach at 8am and dawny the hell out of it.
• Snow: if you’re looking at proper snowy winter session with extreme weather on the horizon make sure your car has the recommended supplies. Food, water, blanket, sleeping bag, torch etc. You never know when you might get stuck. A car phone charging cable is another essential. We like to have a box with camping gas burner, water, soup, Super Noodles etc so you can get a warm feed if stranded. Who knows one year we might get the Snowpocalypse the press predict every single season.
• Share: winter is more fun with friends. And in the event of it going teats up you can huddle together for warmth. Words and Photos by Sharpy
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.
The conversation slash kerfuffle generated by Mick’s run in with the Snake made it timely to unearth this piece from the archives. So many internet warriors are convinced they know exactly where it is posting grid refs with certainty. Hand on heart we don’t know, as the story goes only the handful of folks involved know, and we don’t really want to either.
Knowing moments like this are out there is the point. Not a Google Earth search blabbing lots of potential sandbars in war zones or banging on about inevitable crowds and giveaways when there’s not a landmark to be seen. It’s sandy, they drove in and that’s all there is too it. And FYI it was flat on the date of the shoot in the majority of the popular FB theorists picks. It could be anywhere in the tropics. It might break once every five years. Who knows. That’s all you need to know. It does raise the question of ethics (not Essex, we won’t mention the superbank there) in surfing. Which the following essay explores:
Have you got a secret spot?
A real secret spot. One that you never, ever, EVER, mention to other people. A spot that is only surfed by you or just you and a tight local crew? A wave that’s never been on Facebook, Instagram, in a guidebook, a TV doc, a magazine or pimped in a video?
Didn’t think so.
You’re too late. That ship has sailed my friend. The era of secret surf havens has all but passed (well it had, thanks for proving me wrong Mick).
The reasons: Google Earth, people can’t keep their gobs shut, everyone has a cameraphone with them at all times now and in the last few years the all pervading tentacles of Facebook and Instagram have blown the lid off some spots once deemed sacred. Not to mention the old school: 50 years worth of surf magazines, guidebooks, films and surfer fish tales not all of which were that subtle. Add in the exotic, remote, hard to access, previously awesome, feral secret spots being colonised by expensive pay-to-play surf camps and safari boats and you can see we’re in a bit of creek/paddle situation.
Back in the day (as in last millennia when the years began with a 19) nobody was particularly bothered by the concept of the ‘secret spot’. They existed, of course, but they were secret, and devoted, small local crews knew how to keep it that way.
Crowd pressure wasn’t an issue you see. Surfing was more of a brotherhood back then. You used to honk at another car with boards on the roof and throw a shaka. As it was honestly a rare thing to see other surfers away from the marquee beaches.
Wherever surfers gathered (subtle code for ‘the pub’) they would talk story and share information verbally. This was pre-internet. Information moved at a, from our current perspective, a geologically slow pace. Back then was pre-guidebooks. Accessing Mr Google from a pocket computer and having satellite imagery at your fingertips was a long way off. So being a hardcore British surfer was an ongoing quest. A mission to get the most out of your surfing: to understand the squiggly lines of the weather charts, to learn new spots and figure out when and where to go and to make the most of any available swell. There were no forecast websites. Just a few phone lines like PJ’s. So it was a hell of a lot harder.
Every little bit of info built on your personal knowledge base, maps were scrawled on, journals kept, and when, by virtue of this and some exploration, you found a spot the locals were cool: “We don’t mind you surfing here, just keep it to yourself, eh?”
It was a more caring and sharing environment. Surfing wasn’t cool. It didn’t feature in every second advert on TV. It was cold and hard. Wetsuits weren’t anywhere near as flexible, comfortable and warm as they are now. If you surfed you had weeping sores under your arm pits and around your neck. Surf schools didn’t exist on every beach. People just learnt the slow, painful, hard way, solo, by trial and error. Committed to buying a, usually totally unsuitable, dog of a secondhand board to learn on and persisted for months until it was mastered. People surfed for themselves. If you managed to persist and master the art you were welcomed by your fellow surfers with relatively open arms. If you were born after the mid-eighties odds on you won’t ever remember it being this way. You only know surfing post its mainstream tipping point.
Back at the dawning of the nineties I was at uni. Sure I had a Ned’s Atomic Dustbin inspired haircut, lumberjack shirts de-rigueur, just like Kurt and Eddie, but everything was surfing. Mid-Wales where I spent five blissful years is home to a bunch of high quality but ridiculously fickle waves, they only break properly once, or in a good season, twice a year. Deep local knowledge ensured you scored. Scouring the coast found you spots.
The recently released all-singing all-dancing Stormrider Guide that everyone was frothing about had handily missed out this corner of the world so all was well. For some unknown reason in their eyes there was no surf between North Pembrokeshire and North Wales? But no one complained.
Most of the areas waves were not in anyway secret, one of the mags published a comprehensive guide in 1989 (the reason I picked that uni in the first place), the old classic British Surfing Association handbook had basic maps and guides to the known spots and that was fine not to mention most of the main waves being in plain view from the coast road. Who would ever drive all the way up there through the tortuous mountain roads to surf anyway?
The few secluded gems were surfed by the tight local crew and our devoted handful of students. Max number in the water at the any spot was ten people, generally less, if work schedules/lectures cooperated. Generally you would surf with the few friends you shared a lift with. Or often by yourself. This was cool, some of the spots had tricky access over private land and this was agreed with the landowner. Crowds wouldn’t work.
A new uni year and a new crop of surfers arrived at the college. Doubling the number of surfers in town. No one let the secrets slip. A year passed without any of them finding out, you’d think they’d notice how the main locals always disappeared when the swell got good, but no.
My final college year started, with a strong swell, September sunshine and offshores, we were straight on our favourite secret spot.
The dismay on our, and the locals, faces as we arrived at the, remote, limited parking, gravel patch to see the college canoe club unloading along with ten other mini-mal riding, newbie surfers was palpable. The bare arses and blaring car-stereos only made it worse. The farmer was furious. How did this happen? Who blabbed? Turns out another new guidebook had an entry for this, and every other previously secret spot in the area and pretty much every other around the country with grid references, maps the lot.
After the witch-hunt the source was found to be a guy that no longer surfed, but had in the seventies. The author had befriended him over a few pints in the pub and wheedled it out of him. Result: the landowner shut his gates. Access was denied. The rot had started. And this was decades before Google Earth made it impossible to hide…
Knowing that a secret spot is yours and your mates’ special place is a fantastic feeling. Especially if you’ve bothered to pore over the Ordnance Survey maps (for the youth a ‘map’ is like Google Earth but made of paper), hiked the coast, explored on different tides and found them for yourself. It’s not a localism thing. Entry to these places is not restricted. If you’ve done the hard yards and found a spot as well then no one can begrudge you that. It’s just that a careless word to the wrong person can easily snowball to having half of the world at your once secret little nook (the recent example being the madness at a certain low key, but admittedly not totes secret, southwest left that needs a massive black hole swell to get going and breaks good about once a decade).
But the clue for modern times comes in that word: hiking. If a spot has a beach car park, is visible from a coast road or in a town you’re kidding yourself if you could have ever called it a secret spot. Quiet maybe. Under used perhaps. But secret? No. Secret does not mean hiding in plain sight. It’s the tricky thing, especially in the UK, with it being such a small, densely populated land there’s not much wild space left. The Celtic fringes with their sparser populations and greater stretches of wild coast have much more scope for protecting their charmed spots and thankfully still hold on to a few nuggets that have never been in the guides and the photogs respectfully avoid.
As for the guidebooks… It’s a tricky moral question. The ethics of surf guidebooks could be the subject of a degree thesis.
Low Pressure’s Stormrider Guide to Europe, first published in 1992, is the most famous and has spawned a host of imitators.
Anyone that surfs and travels will have used one. They come as standard in any Euro-road-tripping van. The Stormrider, as it’s become known in some circles, opened up new horizons for many.
Originally written with the assistance of prominent locals the contents managed to tactfully avoid giving away many secrets and also included some deliberate red herrings.
It’s debatable now whether the inclusion of some sensitive spots, and particularly Easter egg photos of unlisted spots, was the right way to go in later versions, but that’s water under the bridge.
No one that’s travelled can really put their hand on their heart and say they’ve not got more waves because of it. Surfer Magazine’s Travel Guides to Europe and the world’s other surf regions were legendary and oft photocopied way back when also. Keeping in mind that in the nineties the most important method of communication was the fax machine. This was how we got our pressure charts (£1.50 a pop for four days worth of badly printed isobar info) and how, if desperate you laid out the green for the Surfer guides. But they were comprehensive and thorough. So in reality the surf world was 90 percent explored, mapped and shared before most of you were born.
The ‘respecting the locals wishes’ when it comes to guides is a Pandora’s Box. It depends who you talk to. As with anything there are a spectrum of people: from rabid, anti-everybody dickhead locals that hate everyone, including the other locals through sensible, well-balanced people, to groovy, welcoming ‘the ocean is there for everyone’ dudes. If you try it’s easy to find someone that’s not bothered about sharing. It’s the same today.
Case in point: someone working for a guidebook company contacted me, wanting to use my photos from some remote islands off Norway, I declined. Citing our Norwegian surf guide (and friends) wishes that the photos only went in the magazine without naming the islands, only the country and that they didn’t want any to go to any guidebooks. Fair enough.
The company came back saying they had talked to a local from the islands and he said, ‘It was okay’ to put the islands in their book. And the more ‘spots were in the book the more the crowd can spread out’. Seeing as there weren’t any active locals on the island, or any crowd for that matter I was suspicious.
But it’s not just the guides. The world’s surf magazines have to take the major portion of the blame. Surfer magazine especially, as they actually had an active policy for years of flat out naming spots that, intentionally or not, bulldozed many secret spots off the map.
Madeira was a name unheard of in the surf world until Surfer published Ted Grambeau’s seminal trip there. A new Atlantic island big-wave paradise had been found, the photos were great.
They named the article Jardim do Mar, Portuguese for ‘Garden by the Sea’ and also, bafflingly, the name of the village where the waves were. One look in a decent world atlas and there you go. The Euro surfers that had been secretly tucking into the waves on the island since the seventies were mortified. Irony being not long after the island government ruined the wave with an ill-advised new sea defence system.
Bali and much of Indonesia are the mess they are because of unsubtle surf mag (and originally surf movie) exposure.
Kuta was a small fishing village of wooden shacks until the images of Ulus and Padang reached the outside world in the mid seventies. The film Litmus turned the world on, and indeed myself, to Ireland in the nineties. Even though it had been in the mags since the seventies. But the crowds don’t flock to the cold. People want warm holidays and the debate around sustainable development and surf tourism warrants a PhD in its own right.
But not all secret-spots are ruined by the media. The most famous case being Jeff Clark’s gift of Mavericks to the world. After surfing it for years by himself he took it public. The ‘wave will look after itself’ is the oft-repeated quote. Whether he regrets that decision now is a moot point. It is possible to find good waves and keep it on the down low. Tony Hussein-Hinde found one of the world’s great surf zones by accident after getting shipwrecked in the Maldives. He surfed the North Male atolls by himself, and later with close friends for many years, until he took it public to make a pot of cash. Now, it’s a mess of exclusivity rights and suffering from an entitled crowd of folk paying through the nose for the privilege. The certain right hand draining barrel in Mexico that went from known secret to WCT spot is pretty much unforgivable in long time Centro America devotees eyes. Ironically the sandbank there has gone to hell now anyway. Sands shift. Times change. Just look at Kepa, he breaks new spots all the time, in places that took days of travel and a lot of risk to get to. Waves in remote war torn deserts will stay quiet, no matter how sick the tubes.
One plus side: many discoveries in the last decade that occupy the bulk of the column inches in the mags are off the radar of the travelling surfer. Shipsterns Bluff, The Right, Skeleton Bay and Mullaghmore are all relatively recent ‘not secret anymore’ additions to the surf consciousness, but they won’t get crowded with anyone but pros and filmers trying to keep their mortgage payments going, because they are so damn nasty. Actual life threatening spots pandering to our car-crash-but-must-look mentality only tend to get crowded with watchers not surfers.
In the Britain there’s a strange stalemate. Many of our finest waves are rightly not in the guidebooks, because they are considered secret, which seems at odds with them being:
a) visible from a car on their respective coast roads
b) being surfed by all and sundry, photographed and videoed every time they break and pimped out on Instagram the very same evening.
Anyone with a bit of knowledge knows exactly where the secret-not-secret waves are. Locals serve their time and know their local spot best. Hence should get the best waves, as any visitors, hopefully, respectfully wait in line. The ugly spectre of localism, intimidation and bad vibes is not something we want in British surfing. We’re too nice for that and thankfully with a few minor exceptions we’re a good natured bunch.
It’s a simple fact: our good waves are not going to get super-crowded, you need local knowledge of the weather, they are fickle as all hell anyway, often only working for short windows of a few hours and sometimes not at all for a whole season. The last decades upsurge in surfing’s popularity doesn’t take away the fact that 95 percent of surfers are scared shitless of reefs and rocks and will never progress past beach break surfing.
And when I write “super crowded” I mean dysfunctional, Superbank/Mundaka/Uluwatu style crowds of 150+ frothers. 20 people in a line-up is a mellow crowd these days. Something which needs to be appreciated more here as in the grand scheme of things we are very lucky. And year in year out, no matter how many webisodes you see those spots maintain at a constant level. Unless you’ve been surfing for ten years plus you’ve not got anything to compare it to anyway.
There are few true secret spots left. The Internet, iPhones, Google Earth and social media have seen to that. Once a secret is out it snowballs. One FB post can be the surfing equivalent of the butterfly flapping its wings that starts a hurricane.
If you know a secret spot keep it that way. Don’t talk about it; especially online. Don’t brag about it and certainly don’t let someone get you really drunk and tease it out of you.
Don’t scoff, it happens. The location of a carbon-copy of Mundaka in the southern hemisphere, with no surfers for hundreds of miles, was divulged this way, and it’s still secret. You’ve just got to know how to keep your powder dry.
My girlfriend read something I’d written on t’interweb the other day and reacted like a proper Daily Mail reading shocked of Tunbridge Wells:
“You really piss in your wetsuit?” she exclaimed in horror.
‘Err, yes. Everyone does, what of it?’ I replied.
“So you mean to tell me that even Kelly Slater pisses himself when he wears a wetsuit?”
She, like most human females I know, has a bit of a soft spot for The Jedi™ and whilst he may be the King he still needs a wee now and then. Although as we all know he pisses excellence…
This got me thinking. Surfing has a dark damp secret. One that is curiously absent from the mainstream media golden-tinged, Endless Summer ideal of what surfing is. Surfing is not all VW combis, beach parties, sunshine, attractive tanned people, wild sex, longboards, guitars and Jack flipping Johnson on the stereo as London ad agencies would have you believe.
Far from it, but then again the more realistic version, the one you will actually see in Britain and Ireland’s beach car parks on a daily basis is as far from that rose-tinted ideal as possible.
Namely: cold, pale-skinned people, wearing rubber suits, gleefully urinating on themselves, as they nearly freeze to death.
While enjoying it.
Which is wrong on so many levels. It sounds like a water sports website that even lovers of all things kink would find a bit gross.
From early childhood we are taught that peeing your self is wrong. Wetting the bed is evil and will get you sent straight to damp pissy hell. In fact if you still piss the bed at a late age they consider you a mental. Pissing in public will get you a caution from the boys in blue and if you do it again, unavoidable after 10-pints of fight strength lager, you will get arrested.
Not so in the more libertarian France where you are positively encouraged to slash outside, anywhere, at any time.
So how it is that whilst in a wetsuit it is considered totally fine, nay, encouraged in the winter to have a good, long wee? Or am I talking completely out of left field here?
Hands up who never pisses in their wetty. Thought so…
Jeez, I make sure I drink heaps before going out in the winter just to make sure I have enough in the tank for a couple of those delightful warming episodes.
So. Who else pees for fun when engaged in sports? I guess swimmers have sneaky ones, they kind of take it for granted they are swimming in a soup of water, chlorine, skin flakes and other folks urine, they might as well make the pool water yellow and be done with the pretence. Canoeists, windsurfers and all our supposedly related surf disciplines like kiters and wakeboarders will all be pissy boys (maybe that’s why they wear boardies outside their wetsuits? To hide the stains?) Cyclists and marathon runners must have something taped to their bits cos stopping for a leak is gonna ruin your world record attempt? F1 and rally drivers probably just put a bolt in the end or something technical.
We are pretty unique. Hell, I’d even say we are more advanced, we aren’t repressed in relation to our bodily functions. A pee in the winter when the sub-zero temps are really starting to bite is a magical thing.
The only problem is modern wetsuit technology. It is getting too good. Time was a duckdive or good beating and you’d get a decent injection of cold North Atlantic brine to flush out the fetid urea flourishing within. These day wetties are so warm, so well cut, so ruddy tech that hardly any water gets in … or more crucially out.
When I take off my hooded 6mm I steam. The wetsuit lining fabric is not wet, only damp patches from sweat, and the aforementioned downstairs mistake.
So. This leads to an unenviable dilemma. When getting out from a winter session, when you have most definitely gone to the toilet on yourself, do you pull the neck out and go for the bracing flush of ice cold Atlantic water.
Or do you pretend you haven’t then hope no one smells the overpowering stench in the car on the way home?
As long as everyone’s gone for option B then it’s fine. No one will mention it as everyone will be equally embarrassed.
I tend to go for option A, but I am a masochist. Keeping hydrated is key. Drink lots and your wee is clear. Don’t drink enough and it’s like snotty honey. Which ain’t healthy.
The other question is when is it okay to wee? Some people think if the suits on then its toilet time. Be it in the car park or walking down the beach. But beware, I was ankle deep about to go out in Ireland a year or two back and just doing up me chest zip which broke terminally. I couldn’t get it done up so retired peeved to the car. Regretting the piss I had done on the walk down. As I had to sit in the car for two hours marinating in fresh wee waiting for everyone else to finish their session.
Going back to the disgusted partner of mine, who by now is looking at me like she really doesn’t know me anymore, she had to ask:
‘Do you poop in your wetsuit as well?’
My answer: ‘Not intentionally.’
Not that I have. But I know people who have. Everyone does. When people are ill, it can be unavoidable, a shart in a wetsuit is probably the best place for it … and that’s a warmth that really does last.
It’s holiday time for the World Tour guys and gals. Traditionally a welcome break for a bit of downtime and once the batteries are recharged some pre-season training. The off season is now a bit more tense as the new fad is hunting for sponsors who dig the idea of putting their sticker on the beak of your board. It’s tough times for a lot of pros unless they’re talented enough to reside in the gilded John John/Jordy/Medina/Tyler stratosphere.
Folks with massive profiles like Josh Kerr have come down on the wrong side of the balance sheet and for the mid-level pros it’s even harder. Budgets aren’t what they were, there’s lots of newer, smaller brands without the clout to afford a large team so the short version: tough times in pro land. Unless you’re actually hitting the finals and getting those oversized cheques on a regular basis.
Sure being paid to surf is a dream job, available to a few charmed souls, and if you’re not bringing huge exposure and value to your brand then why should you get a lavish free lunch? If you’re not in the top 16 on tour or get Dane/Ando/JOB/Dion video views then a six figure salary is unlikely.
Managing a surf team is tricky biz for any brand, ideally you’d want a marquee freesurfer or two, a top CT guy and girl and a big wave dude. Then a top level domestic guy/girl in the countries you operate in to support the local market and media; that and a few promising groms on product/travel deals to help the next gen. Anything past that is going to be frowned at by the accountants department. Every pro needs a niche now, and to be a one man production team, giving the brand a return on their investment is more essential than ever. Seeking out sponsors outside of surfing is also vital.
So is the news that the WSL boss Paul Speaker is kicking out of the WSL a harbinger of doom or just innocent boardroom restructuring? The temporary CEO taking over the reins is Dirk Ziff, the benefactor and co-owner of the WSL with pockets so deep you need caving gear to reach the bottom, it’s his families ample funds and interest that keeps the wheels turning at the WSL. So thanks DZ!
There’s no question the WSL is going in the right direction, sure we were all suspicious of the motives and ‘sports!’ branding when it changed from the ASP to the WSL. The webcasts are now consistent and polished, way ahead of the game when it comes to live streaming even if we headbutt our phones occasionally with the mangled English that sometimes emits from the commentators. The flip side: commentating on a live event is ridiculously hard. Just think about the reality of trying to bring colour, commentary and insight all day when sat in a metal box out the back of the event site watching the same feed as everyone else. It’s a hard job. The whole production team delivers, whatever the locale.
The structure of the WSL is strong, the events are delivering, as to viewing figures, who knows. No surfer watches them all but most of us will tune in for events and surfers that pique our interest. The mainstream will, of course, never tune in. It’s like expecting someone that has no interest in tennis watching every Grand Slam. When personally I might watch Murray in the Wimbledon final.
Read the release below, draw your own conclusion. One key paragraph: I am incredibly excited for our future. The Kelly Slater Wave Company offers a tremendous and unprecedented opportunity for the League to dramatically shift the landscape of high-performance surfing around the world with guaranteed conditions, total fairness for the competitors, greatly enhanced live viewing, and major television coverage at a scheduled time. Our sport’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympics is a testament to the continuing rise of surfing as a global participatory and spectator sport, and will allow WSL athletes to represent and compete for their countries for the first time ever on arguably the greatest sporting stage in the world.
Interesting times lay ahead for professional surfing. We’re not so sure contests in pools are the answer…
To the WSL community:
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday with family and friends, and is looking forward to 2017. For many of us, the turning of the calendar is a time for reflection, and sometimes, a time for decisions.
Holding co-ownership and CEO positions at the World Surf League over the last five years has been an incredible honor for me. It has also been an awesome task that has required long hours, heavy travel and family sacrifice. It has always been my intention to pass the baton to someone at the right time to lead the next phase of what we have all created. I believe that time is now. With the acquisition of the Kelly Slater Wave Company, we are at a remarkable inflection point in the League’s history and we are ready for a new leader who can guide the organization to even greater accomplishments.
It is with this in mind that I have decided to step down as the CEO of the WSL at the end of January. I will continue to be a co-owner of the League and will work with the ownership group and Board of Directors to ensure a smooth transition until a new CEO is in place. As many of you are aware, Dirk Ziff has been a deeply committed and passionate co-owner of our League and he has agreed to bring that commitment to the role of interim CEO until a new chief executive is brought on board. Dirk and I have a close and collaborative partnership and will work together on a seamless transition.
Nearly five years ago, I journeyed to Australia to meet with the Board of Directors of what was then called the Association of Surfing Professionals to raise the audacious idea of an acquisition. Since the transaction was completed some months later, I have done my best to build an organization with a best-in-class product and culture. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to oversee the transformation of professional surfing into the globally-recognized sport it is today. I have been privileged to share this journey with a great and committed group of people, and I owe so much to all of you who have worked tirelessly to elevate this sport to new heights. Your passion and dedication brought us to where we are today, and will be the driving force of our future success.
Among our many accomplishments together are: the remarkable increase in fan engagement; the highly professional quality of the broadcast; our stellar event production; the various athlete development programs, and the introduction of the sport to a new group of non-endemic corporate partners.
The commitment to our athletes in and out of the water has led us to many firsts for surfing, including: a pension plan for our athletes; the creation of the commissioner’s office to secure the integrity of the sport; prize-purse parity between the men and the women of our championship tour, and the first multi-year surfers’ agreement.
The WSL has pioneered new technologies and digital strategies that have been ahead of the curve, and have led to recognition throughout the sports industry as a first-mover in many areas. With a focus on the fan, surfing is now enjoyed on multiple media platforms around the globe, through traditional broadcast, but most frequently on our mobile app, website, and social media channels. We have also acknowledged the global nature of our sport by delivering our live event broadcast in English, French, Portuguese and Japanese.
I am incredibly excited for our future. The Kelly Slater Wave Company offers a tremendous and unprecedented opportunity for the League to dramatically shift the landscape of high-performance surfing around the world with guaranteed conditions, total fairness for the competitors, greatly enhanced live viewing, and major television coverage at a scheduled time. Our sport’s inclusion in the 2020 Olympics is a testament to the continuing rise of surfing as a global participatory and spectator sport, and will allow WSL athletes to represent and compete for their countries for the first time ever on arguably the greatest sporting stage in the world.
I have enjoyed working with all of you more than you could ever imagine and now I am going to enjoy being a co-owner and a fan and spending time with my family who have been incredibly supportive over the last five years. I will miss you all dearly. You are a dynamic, committed and fun group that in many ways have become an extended family. Please keep up the incredible work.