Thursday, 28 October 2010


As the British Surf Team compete in the world championships in Peru, a taster of some surfing experience from the book:


She Who Dares Factor ***

My first encounter with surfing was in the form of a lesson with the excellent Harlyn Bay surf school, a result of a mother’s day gift from my children. Perhaps they were tired of me wistfully gazing longing after athletic surfers on our annual holiday, or maybe they were just tired of me. This seemed more likely on a rough and unwelcoming day in North Cornwall. I sat huddled in my car, alone in the car park, skin speckled with goose bumps from cold and fear, gazing out over the empty beach and the restless sea. The temptation to turn round and snake back through the narrow lanes to the warmth of the holiday cottage was a strong one. Yet hopes of escape were dashed as two figures suddenly emerged from the concrete hut nearby, donning wetsuits and the bright t-shirts of the surf school. I shuffled over and introduced myself to the affable Chris Rea, the man, not the singer. He’s run Harlyn Bay Surf School for over eight years, and shot up in my estimation when he sized me up and handed over a wetsuit labeled, ‘small’.

I listened carefully during the lesson on the beach, paying particular attention to the distress signal as I eyed the waves. ‘Jaws’ had fevered my imagination for sea swimming, who knew what was lurking threateningly below? Even if we were only going waist deep and it was early May, hardly conditions to attract a great white. I tried to ignore my thoughts and focused on jogging behind the nubile instructor as he darted up and down the beach. Back on the boards and practicing the standing position, I leapt upright with an impressive goofy (right) foot first. A position I have never repeated on the water. I hauled my board to the water’s edge and marveled at a young instructor who dashed into the sea like a merman, swimming out and flipping up on the first crest of a wave, before inverting and surfing to shore in a headstand. As I struggled to lift my board with my little arms, I knew any such skills would be a long way off for me. There followed a day of intense physical activity, sheer exhaustion and total immersion, I never knew water could come out of so many orifices at once. At one point I took umbrage with the constant battering of the waves and began swearing and punching the water, to no avail. I was beaten into submission and respect.

At lunch I staggered to the local pub encountering a shocking woman in the ladies. Her salt scorched hair was twisted into blond ringlets, skin covered with a thousand tiny freckles, deep creases round her eyes. When this surfer dudette glared back at me from the mirror I didn’t recognize myself. I staggered to a corner of the pub with my sandwiches and ordered a brandy at the bar. Somewhat fortified I made my way back to the beach and struggled back into the sticky wetsuit. Despite the fatigue dragging me down, something began to happen that afternoon. The clouds rolled back, the sea glittered and calmed, and I began to enjoy myself. The sheer thrill of catching that first wave has never been beaten, my tired body caught and lifted with ease, shot forward on the crest of a wave. I was hooked enough to book several follow up lessons on return trips, sometimes alone, sometimes with the family, in the wet and windy spring and baking summer when the beach was packed with holidaymakers.

So I was quietly confident as our SWD mini bus approached the wide sweep of Bude bay that I could show the other girls a thing or two, maybe this would be the year I would actually stand up. We changed in the car park (where else?) donning wetsuits, wet shoes, and in Pippa’s case a rubber balaclava that made her look like a cross between an escapee from a bondage dungeon and a demented seal. We stopped laughing later when she was warm and insulated and we were all follicle freezing. The beach was empty as we trotted through a running warm up and settled at the end of our boards for instruction. Soft rain fell and wafts of ozone opened our lungs and minds. I dug my toes in the sand, impatient to get in the sea and warm the wetsuit, which was rapidly cooling in the spring breeze.

The sea was rough again, but instead of fighting the water this time, I floated my board over the frothing swell and allowed my body to bounce lightly over the top of each wave. The instructor pointed out an incoming wave, and as one we turned, ankles strapped in leashes, body to the sea, board to the land, gripping the rails (sides), launching on to the deck (top) and sliding toes down to the end. I began paddling with the wave behind me, waiting for the lift. My timing was misjudged and it broke over my head, washing me under the surface and tumbling my body over and over in the shallows, until I’d forgotten which way was up as I struggled to the surface for air with a mouth full of sand. Looking down the beach I could see the others had shared the same experience. I waded out to try again. This time the wave found me and I felt the sheer joy of a natural force lifting me easily and speeding my body towards the shore. Several attempts and a lot of exhilarated whooping later, I was able to exert some control, and made it up to kneeling. My technique was impressive in this area – slicing, diving and gliding easily like a pro, a new sport was born, I could now be the champion of kneeling while surfing – knurfing.

Lunch was taken in our wetsuits, nibbling sandwiches with frozen fingers clutching hot chocolate outside a nearby kiosk. Linda’s newly acquired bothy bag wasn’t quite big enough for all of us, we’ve since bought our own. We staggered back into the waves in the afternoon as the rain persisted, as did we, demonstrating that Sarah Beardmore, British champion, has nothing to fear from She Who Dares

A bit of history

Women have been surfing as long as men, from surfing birth in Hawaii and Polynesia, There are many great female surfers competing today, and many who just like to surf.

Where to try

There are an increasing number of surf schools dotted round the coast of Britain. Surf hot spots include the South West, Wales, Scotland and the West Coast of Ireland, even Northumberland, if you’re hardy enough to brave the North Sea waves.

We’ve personally tried:

The excellent Harlyn Bay surf school, who do holidays, weekend packages, day and half day instructions, stag and hen parties, everything really, and the instructors are lush.

Extreme Academy
Watergate Bay (try lunch at 15 afterwards)

Bude – Okehampton YHA
Or look through British Surfing Association:

Female only surfing at:


Hibiscus surf school

Ripcurl run annual Girls go Surfing days involving some of the top female surf schools in the UK, see:

Try Surfgirl magazine for lots of hints, tips and schools: