Sunday, October 30, 2011

No Surfboard? No Problem.

It's pretty rare these days for me to go on a surf trip and not have my home-made handplane and hand-me-down swim fins wedged in my carry-on luggage so that I can go bodysurfing as soon as I arrive; several episodes of lost, delayed and damaged boardbags have taught me that it's worth having a back-up option with me so that I don't go loco watching good waves breaking whilst I'm sat on the beach without my stuff.
Plus bodysurfing is damned good, simple honest fun.

Hold your breath and go. Image by Dave Homcy.

Swimming into waves and riding them prone without a board has always been a staple and core "waterman" practice for lifeguards and surf coaches to get back to the beach quickly (you can knock a load of seconds off your timed surf-swims if you can bodysurf a wave in) and water photographers who have to swim around with their camera rigs, but it's older than surfing itself and this last year seems to have been stepping out on it's own and getting a bit more attention which is great.
This seems to be culminating now in the release of Keith Malloy's movie "Come Hell or High Water" which is the first mainstream surf movie dedicated entirely to not having a surfboard. Turns out that as well as being a top flight pro-surfer, about ten years ago Keith started swimming into waves in an attempt to reconnect with the ocean and ended up being one of the best in the world, regularly competing in the World Champs at Pipeline. Around the same time his big brother Chris teamed up with North Shore lifeguards Jeff Johnson and Todd Sells to swim and hike a section of remote Hawaiian coastline, bodysurfing along the way, for a Surfer's Journal article entitled "The Body Will Suffice" (available to download here) which was all about taking the search for waves back to the rawest possible form.

When I pulled up to check this super heavy spot near Cape Town, South Africa, the only guys in the water going for these waves were a small crew of Hell-man bodysurfers. More power to you.

Whilst for most of us, leaving the board on the beach and swimming out to get our waves will never become the dominant choice, it's worth remembering that it's always a valid option. Whether it's for fitness, searching for a purer connection with the ocean, because the airline's lost your surfboards or maybe you just love having seawater rammed up your nose into your sinuses, every now and then it's good to ring the changes.

A few weeks ago I met a seemingly mad and immune-to-the-cold Welshman at the World Bellyboarding Championships who was telling me all about a bodysurfing trip that he did up the entire Eastern Coastline of Australia with nothing but a set of swim fins and a handplane. At the time we were bobbing around in the sea as part of a bodysurfing handplane demonstration (I was helping out James Otter who had a stand there) amongst the wedgy high tide bowls of Chapel Porth in conditions that, in all honesty, were only really bodysurf-able. Set me to thinking that maybe there's merit in the idea of a surf trip without a surfboard, and I think I've got the beginnings of an interesting plan in motion.

Kick hard and think of your body as your surfboard.

As Mr Malloy states, it's all about "taking a breath and kicking your feet in the big blue sea".

Why the Hell not?

My long arms spread out trying to fall into the pocket whilst a Welsh bodysurfer wearing nothing but a pair of speedos looks on. WBBC , Chapel Porth, Cornwall, 2011.
Photo by Kate Fewster.

Mid-winter tunnelling, image courtesy James Otter.

Beautifully channelled plywood handplanes made by my friends Rich and Nick at Thirdshade. They look all tiger-striped and rad. Available here.

James Otter's bespoke handplanes produced using leftover hardwood from his beautiful wooden surfboards. Available here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It's Coming, Best Get Ready...

Autumn's definitely bedded itself in here. I can hear Winter knocking on the door; stock up and get prepared:

1 - Soup.
2 - Tea, and a teapot.

3 - A good pair of gumboots and thick socks.
4 - Good friends.

5 - Lots of dry firewood.
6 - A warm jacket.
7 - A good thick winter wetsuit with a built-in hood.

8 - A project to see you through to the Spring.

9- A stack of good books.

10 - A determination to find the fun in the colder months, and a secure knowledge that Spring is on it's way.

Wavecrest's Wellington Boots and A Wheelbarrow of Wood images shot by Dave Williams, Winter 2010. All other images shot by Mat Arney over the darker months of the past few years, Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Glimpse Through the Lens of Mr Mike O'Meally

Every now and then I like to share the work of some of the image-makers whose photographs make me want to go play with cameras.
I've said before how much I dig skate photography (Surfing's Baby Brother post); the ability to play around with props and lights and try over and over again to nail the shot means that skate photographers produce some crazy and creative images.
This set of images is the work of Mr. Mike O'Meally, an Australian bloke with skills. I really like his work, I hope you do too. I'll let the photos do the talking, click here to check his website and read an interview.

Where The Wild Things Are

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Meanwhile in Mundaka...

Harbour Hop Off, Mundaka.

Spectating Spaniard, as some surfer gets slotted.

High tide, and it still looks better than your local spot on it's best day.

It's autumn in Europe and the migration's on. Just like the birds, as soon as the wind starts to blow the leaves off the trees wayfaring surfers based in Northern Europe start to work their way south down through France and Spain and then onto Portugal, Morocco and the Canaries for the Winter, following the weather and the waves.
The WCT is in France at the moment along with a fair few of my friends who keep telling me how sunny and nice it is, and my mind has been cast back across all of the trips that I've done down to the Basque country over the years.

All that I can think of is Mundaka.

The rivermouth sand bar that sits just outside the entrance to the harbour of this small Basque fishing village can, on the right day, produce some of the best left handers ever to happen to moving water from any of the seven seas. Tom Curren reckons so (Surfer magazine 52.8, The 100 Best Waves) and I won't argue.
I've made the two hour dash there from South West France a few times when it's looked like it might be on and only lucked in once but that once made up for all of the other failed attempts. The swell has to be coming from just the right direction out of the North West and needs to be a good groundswell, it needs the right tide, sand in the rivermouth, the sand bar needs to have settled into just the right shape over a calm summer, and you have to be on it before the secret gets out and every other European surfer arrives. That's a lot of stars that have to align to get good waves here.

But when those stars align you find yourself paddling into a wave that funnels along the sandbar, locking you in and drawing up like a drainpipe being wrung out, completely mesmerising you as you battle with the decision to stall and grab rail or try to stay out front in relative safety clipping swooping turns off the top.

I lucked into all-time Mundaka with my good friend Krede Wright from West Australia back in 2008 when we were driving (slowly) around Europe in a Westfalia named Turtle. We got two days of great uncrowded swell, double overhead on the sets and overhead on the friendlier ones. A local ex-pat claimed that in the fourteen years that he'd lived there working for Billabong it didn't get much better very often. I watched Krede weave through some big tubes on his backhand whilst I sniffed around for some more manageable ones. It still ranks as the only wave to leave me spitting blood without hitting the bottom or my board, just the sheer force that the water smacked my face was enough. I decided that my hair needed cutting to get it out of my eyes when surfing and shaved my head with beard clippers which took almost an hour. Our van broke down and we spent three nights sleeping on a garage forecourt. None of it mattered after the waves we'd got. Just look at the photos: That's after we got out, at high tide when it had filled in and got "a bit rubbish" compared to earlier.

Over the years various factors have conspired to result in the WCT no longer holding an event here; the Prestige oil spill left globs of heavy tar buried just beneath a thin layer of sand (the soles of my feet were stained black for a week after wading in the waveless shallows in Mundaka in 2002), the sandbar was starved of sediment for a few years in the middle of the decade and almost disappeared and the fickle nature of the wave meant that too many of the professional surfing events scheduled to be surfed here had to held at the rubbish beachbreak around the corner.
How fortunate.
The eyes of the world are elsewhere and still this quiet fishing village sits here, sleepily waiting for a swell to light up the rivermouth and keep the fishing boats in the harbour for the day. If it happens and you're anywhere nearby, you have to drop what you're doing and get yourself there before everybody else gets on it.
Just trust me on this one.

There's other good stuff in Spain too; Flamenco Feet, Barcelona.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Negative Ions = Positive Humans

Getting in the sea just for the sake of it...Immsouane, Morocco.
X-processed out of date slide film.

Being by the sea makes you happy.
People have been chirping on about how good sea air is for you since Victorian times, "taking the sea air" was even prescribed by British Doctors back then, and being lucky enough to live down beside the seaside I'd have to agree that there's something in it.
The science is a bit wafty but it's here's the theory: When waves break or the wind and sun evaporate seawater, the molecules are broken apart and split into charged atoms, or ions, and released into the atmosphere. The predominant minerals in seawater are sodium and chloride (sodium chloride is the salt we put on our food) which are both negative charged ions, and the story goes that negative ions make us feel better by increasing blood oxygenisation and having a similar effect to sunlight by increasing seratonin levels in our brains (the stuff that makes us happy). If you spend your working days surrounded by computers emitting that high voltage buzz or standing over a photocopier which spits out positive ions then chances are that your face isn't lit up by a smile when you walk into the office. Not so when you're beside the seaside.

The sea temperature in the UK gets pretty low by the end of winter. 6.5 degrees Celcius this day and this lady still went for a swim in the sea and came out smiling. Huge props.

So now we all have another excuse up our sleeves for going down to the beach and taking a big deep breath. Whether you're just beside the sea taking a walk on the beach or holding a fishing rod, or in and on the sea surrounded by negative ions surfing, swimming or sailing, you can claim you're improving your physical and mental health. It doesn't matter if you don't believe the hype, it's definitely another string for your bow when you get cornered for having a two surf day and not getting anything else done, and I'm pretty sure that any surfers stuck inland in cities will testify.

There's a whole lot of negative ions in the air around here. The Indian and Southern Oceans colliding of Cape Leeuwin, South West Western Australia.