If you’ve been following my recent blogs, you’ll know I’ve been based around France for the past four months. However, when a £38 return flight coincided with the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Surf Competition in Newquay, I couldn’t resist.
Each year, thousands of university student surfers flock to the little Cornish town. Journeys range from Falmouth University’s short bike ride to St. Andrews’s 10-hour expedition. (Having just spent a day driving 14 hours across Europe, I can sympathise. But come on: a stormy weekend in England is much less of a reward than the MEO Rip Curl Pro surf competition in 25°C sunshine. Anything to miss a few lectures, eh?).
I was swimming with dolphins in Marseille that week but my flight was from Bordeaux airport, which instigated my initiation to BlaBlaCar. For those who don’t know, it’s a carpooling app in which you publish your journey details and others can request lifts between cities along the route.
If you ever find yourself in the south-east of France, be sure to check out the Gorges Du Verdon
Eager to offset the cost of petrol and extortionate toll roads, I used my limited French vocabulary (with a little help from a teammate) to accept every request for the journey. I scheduled to replace each passenger with someone new at every drop-off point. This seemed like a great plan until I started receiving endless French messages from each passenger. Thankfully, my first guest was accompanying me for the entire journey and could speak English (unlike any of the others). I promptly gave her my phone and itinerary and commissioned her as my PA. Somehow everyone made it, I received all positive reviews (although I can’t understand what they say), and the €90 in fares covered the trip with a profit.
After a quick turnaround in Bordeaux, I was motorbiked to the airport by my Airbnb-host-turned-foster-father (that’s a story for another time) and spent my second night at home since January. The next morning, I rushed off to Bristol to meet the Durham crew on their way past.
We arrived at Fistral (the surf competition venue) about an hour before sunset to glorious weather and super fun waves. With no time to waste, we checked into the hotel – as the 1 adult and 3 children we’d booked for each room – before surfing until dark.
Friday night’s session; equivalent to our “last supper” of pleasant surf that weekend
To avoid airline board-handling fees (almost 3 times the price of my tickets), Lauren lent me her surfboard. It once belonged to Sandy Kerr (@sandytynemouth) – complete with his North Core and Finisterre sponsor’s stickers plastered on the nose, which made for a great intimidation tactic in my heat. You may remember this board from my tutorial a few months ago: Surfboard Repair: An Illustrated Step-by-Step Guide; go check it out if you’ve picked up any summer dings!
That evening it was time to initiate the Freshers with a DU Surf ‘bootie’ (downing a pint from an old wetsuit boot – inspired by The Mad Huey’s ‘shoeys’) before a walk through torrential rain led us to Sailors for the opening-night party.
A seamless welcome to the club
We awoke on Saturday morning to find the wave conditions were almost as messy as the previous evening’s festivities. BUCS released a statement offering free withdrawals from the surf competition if people were uncomfortable paddling out in the apocalyptic conditions, and they changed the format to just a single heat for everyone.
After much debate whether the contest would run at all, the commissioner eventually called a 12pm start. By this point, we’d sought shelter at one of the bays around the corner, where we were blessed with solid lines groomed by howling offshores. So blessed, in fact, that Josh decided to forfeit his early heat to finish the session there, rather than getting beaten up by the soup at Fistral.
Some of the more user-friendly waves scored that weekend
Johnny and I were nearer the tail-end of the draw, so after a quick lunch we headed down to the contest site to assess what we were up against. Very few were making it out back, and heaving closeouts were the only reward for those who overcame the endless walls of whitewater – that was if they hadn’t already been swept to Watergate Bay by the rip.
Nevertheless, the excitement of the surf competition remained independent of the conditions. If anything, the adrenaline was going to come in useful as I heard the buzzer sound for the start of my heat. I say “heard”: we couldn’t actually hear a thing over the wind, and it was near-impossible to see the flags or discs (representing priority and timings) from the water. It was going to be a blind surf – even more so due to the blasting offshores firing little daggers into your eyes every time you paddled for a wave.
“If all else fails, at least I’ll get a cool Insta out of it”
Thankfully, Lauren/Sandy’s board was tiny so duck-diving was less of a challenge than actually staying afloat on the thing. I eventually made it out and, after pulling back on a few not-so-inviting sections, dropped in. I earned myself a 2.9 (not so bad considering the conditions). By this point, the 15-minute heat was nearly over; I snuck in a little backup wave on the inside and rode in to await my fate. Somehow I managed to unanimously win my heat, so I regrouped with the club for a celebratory beer and to watch my successor (Durham University Surf Club’s 2018/19 president).
The winds were increasing throughout the day, thus – in fading light – Johnny was thrown into the worst conditions so far. Unfortunately, this was coupled with an unlucky draw against some absolute rippers. His first words after leaving the water were, “That was probably the worst experience of my life; I’ve never done anything so demoralising.” Needless to say, we didn’t hang around to hear the results. Instead, we headed straight to Spoons to replace the copious amounts of ingested salt-water with something more enjoyable.
A glimmer of false hope before his traumatising ordeal
Disclaimer: this was our experience. Admittedly, we did see occasional barrels at North Fistral, and some sorcerers tactfully navigated the lineup to sneak into bombs. Two of said magicians were Tomos Hawkin-Meopham (FXU) and Emily Williams (Swansea), who won the men’s and women’s comps respectively. Congrats guys!
Trying not to upset ourselves when reminiscing over the conditions during our last surf competition
Thankfully, I’m now in the more favourable climes of Supertubos, Portugal. Stay tuned for a vlog on my travels to the MEO Rip Curl Pro surf competition dropping later this month!
~ Will (@willdavies11)
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