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Summer Skin

I know exactly when it happened, do you?

The zenith of the summer is a moment. A unit of nostalgia that you will hold until your last. For me it was that warm beer we shared in beach car-park after work. At the time I would’ve given anything for a couple of cold ones, but looking back - I’m glad we shared. I’m glad it was warm.

My friend Buster paddled to the ‘Brisons’ that day. A set of imposing, exposed rocks situated some distance from Cape Cornwall off the west tip of Cornwall. Black igneous rocks with a dusting of bird shit as old as the island themselves. I once read on the wall of the local pub that they were named the ‘Brisons’ after the French word for reef ‘Brissant’. They dominate the view north from the beach and are framed by the window of the wooden lifeguard hut that I work from. A distinctly inhospitable zone - battered by waves most of the year and scoured by tide daily. A place impervious to our trivial needs, wants and desires.

I remember watching him leave on his paddle board - A rogue ex-lifeguard rescue board daubed with white paint and framed by shabby handles covered in thin webbing. No plan other than to go for a paddle on a fine summers day. I don’t remember him being gone. When he arrived back some hours later we saw beneath his sunburnt neck, noodle arms and wild eyes - reddened by the salt and spray. We knew he’d been somewhere beyond and had come back on the other side of summer.

To the Brisons we asked collectively? He nodded.

I felt like a child whose friend had just taken one step into the adult realm and we knew everything from that point would be different. The beer we shared that evening was the culmination of our summer. It wasn’t even the warmest day, but it was the purest expression of this summer I found. A moment as fine as a bee’s wing.

We spend so much of our year gearing up for the summer ahead. And then without warning you cross a line and find yourself rolling back down. You look forward to the sunny weekend ahead, or that BBQ with friends; occasionally placing all your eggs in the basket for that rare swell that never quite materialises. That evening we took the time to toast the crest of summer with a warm beer - reflecting on the times we had spent on the coast.

Our local beach down in the west of Cornwall has not had its best summer of surf. Westerly exposure and situated at the end of the land, it is our summer sanctuary to eke out every drop of surf. But a set of uninspiring sandbars have stubbornly refused to be budged by the lacklustre swell on offer.

Without much in the way of proper surf, this has been a summer to explore with a childish enthusiasm, playing in and around the ocean in novel ways. Sharing in warm days and balmy nights. A golden landscape, scorched with a rarity that we have tried to cling tightly to; wringing out every last drop of summer joy that we can. Some of my friends have taken up kayaking, all of us have been swimming - in the sea and down at the newly restored ‘Jubilee’ Lido on the prom in Penzance. Surfing has been about timing the tides to optimum effect. Riding the biggest surfboards possible in weak waves without wetsuits - not something we get to do often. Then Buster paddled to the Brisons - staking his claim for boyhood adventure with it.

The once amorous calls of seagulls seeking mates have now morphed into territorial squarks of couples protecting their young. Change is in the air. As we transition into the latter part of summer, the evenings begin to draw slowly in, but with it an optimism grows.

For surfers, Autumn is time of beginning rather than of end. A few magical months fraught with simmering, opposing tension. When the visitors begin to return home and the frenetic summer tempo of our beaches slows to the gentle patter of walkers and surfers making their ways to quiet corners. Tightly knit Atlantic depressions will tumble across our computer screens, awakening with them new aspirations for the future and dashing others. Some friends have already begun planning how to chase that receding summer dream. Yet many of us remain. Some by choice, others by circumstance.

What we can find between the indifference of the weather thrown at us by the Atlantic and frequently over-hyped swell is what matters. Coastal cliffs covered in tobacco stained bracken and gorse, a clump of slippery leaves pressed to wet tarmac. The lightest touch of warmth that only a clear Autumnal afternoon spent in the water can bring. Double-digit wave periods. Evenings starting to win the siege over day, slowly at first then gaining a seemingly impossible traction. Talk of sheltered spots breaking down the pub. A welcome retreat. Sofa time. A time to shed our summer skin and to start afresh.

Words by Pete Geall | Photographs by James Warby

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