When the conditions align and the stars light up, do you head for the steadfast and familiar or risk it on the unknown in hope of uncrowded perfection? A predicament that anyone who pours over the weather charts is faced with that often results in chasing ones tail around the narrow coastal roads.
A fellowship of knowledgeable comrades, a shifting of sand and an appetite to surf somewhere rarely in play. Pete Geall and friends sought out the uncommon in hope that a life spent studying the coast and its variables might just pay off.
“Think you could eat one?”
A thin smirk crosses Jayce’s face as we continue our tramp through a field of decomposing cauliflowers framed by a hedgerow over-run with cow-parsley. With each step we triumphantly squish the yellowing, spoilt winter brassicas into the clay dirt beneath. This is not a winter mission, far from it. We had spent the past seven months largely avoiding mud. Choosing surf breaks for their convenience, tarmac changing opportunities and sheltered aspect to the rawness of the elements.
I had rallied the crew for a goose chase. A solid bunch comprised of folks that understand that a surf mission like this is at worse an excuse for a coastal amble and a pint at the local. At best, the chance to shake off the shackles of familiarity and convenience that had been holding us back through the colder months. More specifically an incessant run of wild, onshore conditions that had ruled our waters and weather reports for weeks; bending bare trees and whipping the sea into a frothed mess.
When the wind finally turned and the swell dropped to a manageable size, we began feasting on the surf on offer at the exposed corners of the county. A welcome respite from the onslaught of weather systems and the chance to feel the sun on our faces as we pulled our wetsuit hoods off between sets. We had found sand where none had been before, and other faithful winter banks lost - shifted by the ever changing whims of the Atlantic.
The decision to venture out to the cove pictured here wasn’t precipitated by our newly found knowledge of sand movements. In fact, none of us knew if this bay had any sand; years go by when it gets bypassed entirely. Despite this, we were united by an overwhelming desire to celebrate the changing of the seasons with a novel take on the land and waters in which we call home.
One of the strange things about growing up next to this coastline is that you start to see the frequently average surf as a known quantity. For example, Jayce is able to check the conditions at his local break of Porthmeor in St Ives and gain a fairly comprehensive picture of what the surf is like across Cornwall. A menagerie of surf knowledge and mental hocus-pocus based on years of experience. Whilst no doubt useful, this expertise comes at a price: the slow erosion of the wanderlust and provisionality of youth. In recognition of this collective tendency to stick with the ‘tried and tested’ we decided to risk it for the goose chase. Knowing we would be sacrificing good surf up and down the coast was no match for the allure of the unknown. A magnetic draw that led our inner-child down the meandering path, through the jagged zawn* and out to waves untapped.
[*A deep and narrow sea-inlet in the British Isles, especially Cornwall and the south-west, cut by erosion into sea-cliffs, and with steep or vertical side-walls.]
We trundled through the fields of rotten winter veg left by the tractors, passing a couple of vacant looking horses along the path; well aware that our surf fantasies were unlikely to be fulfilled, but equally content to live amongst our imaginations for a little while longer.
The track opened into an expansive vista of the cove, affording a view of the offshore wind moving in ruffled packets across the water. A pair of seals bobbed around in the rip in the centre of the bay. A solitary sandbar is left naked and exposed by the zenith of the moons pull. The freshest of banks laid out to rest after the storm. Crispy waist high runners coil provocatively down its entire length. There is no beach. But there is this virgin bar and it’s enough. Enough to re-awaken the dormant stoke within, causing us to slip and trip into our wetsuits.
The bemused seals watched our largely failed attempts to race zippy lefts on our backhands; our hoots rising into the salt-laden air. An entirely novel riff on the Cornish surf experience. An opportunity to dream a little on the long walk down and reconvene with this perennially youthful season.