Monday, December 31, 2012
New Years Eve eh? I enjoy the opportunity that it provides to catch up with friends and make an occasion out of something, but actually I'm much more into New Years Day; starting off a fresh new lap of the sun by doing something fun. I try to aim to start as I mean to go on, rather than rolling over the start line of January 1st feeling rotten.
And resolutions... why now, why midnight tonight? Why not just decide to do something and get on with it, or making a change when you it occurs to you that you want or need to, rather than waiting for the same day as everybody else. But resolutions are useful things. Timely reminders to set the wheels in motion, or a good deadline to take a leap.
Recently, I found myself juggling so many half-baked, hare-brained projects and silly ideas that I had to sit down and write SMART targets for all of them. I really needed to prioritise them and set deadlines to give me even a half a chance of achieving just a couple of them, elsewise they'd all be left wallowing on to-do lists covered in doodles and the brown circles of countless cups of tea. I needed to check that each project was "Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound" to stop me from going off on tangents or focusing all of my energies on things that really aren't of very much use at all, whilst neglecting more important or achievable projects. But perhaps the most important thing is just to get on and DO things, rather than just thinking about them (check out this great short picture-book by David Hieatt if you need a bit of help getting started doing). And that is what New Years Eve is good for. Tonight, you're standing with your toes curled over the edge. When the clock strikes midnight, resolve yourself to achieve something this year then lean forward and push off. In the words of my over-achieving friend Tom, "Jump and the net will come".
Have a great New Years, and a really happy and productive 2013. I hope you've enjoyed another 52 weeks of gumpf and will stick with An Tor Orth An Mor for the next lap of the sun. See you out there. Mat
Image above: 25' down, 4' deep, by Mat Arney.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Fire. To me it ranks alongside, if not above, the ocean in terms of acting as nature's very own television set. I can stare into a fire for hours and that's not me being odd, that's something embedded in each and every one of us. That's passed down from our cavemen ancestors. It's in our DNA as human beings.
It's a couple of days after the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere so the days are starting to lengthen in their slow run-up to summer, even if it is barely perceptible. But just because the worst of the darkness has passed, we're by no means out of the woods in terms of the cold. As far as the cold goes, the worst is yet to come, and we'll still be lighting fires to keep warm for a few months yet. But you don't stop lighting fires just because the sun comes out. What do you think a barbecue is after all? What do you gather around on summer evenings after a day on the beach?
In the words of the guys from the Best Made Company in the video featured below:
"The fire elicits a lot of different things, but the two things that come to mind are just conversation, and silence."
A fire can be the nucleus for storytelling, or the catalyst for quiet reflection, and often the same fire hosts both.
Fancy a fire? Here's a quick guide to generating some light and warmth, whether it be in the fireplace in your front room or out in the woods:
- Start small and get bigger. You need small, easily flammable material to start your fire off, such as scrunched up newspaper, thin twigs or wood shavings. This'll catch light easily but burn out fast, but you're just using it to set fire to the thicker, longer burning stuff. This chain goes from tinder to kindling right through to big logs.
- Use seasoned logs at home (wood that's been left to "dry out" for at least a year) and dead wood in the outdoors, otherwise all of the energy goes into burning dampish wood and not into generating heat and light. You'll just have a smokey, hissing and spitting fire that you have to lavish attention on for very little reward.
- Allow air to flow around the flame as you grow you fire. Don't suffocate it, fire needs to breathe too.
- Lay your fire with tinder as it's base. Kindling goes over the top of this, usually leant up around it in a teepee style, or cross hatched over the top. Once the kindling has caught then you can add thicker split branches and logs in the same fashion, being careful not to collapse the structure.
- Keep your blaze small and hot, to develop a "heart" of glowing embers.
- If you want to cook over your fire then you're best off lashing three stout poles together into a tripod from which you can hang a pot. Cook over your fire once it's died down to white-ish embers, just the same as with a barbecue. Naked flame will just burn your food without cooking it through.
- If you need your fire, then tend it carefully and don't let it die out. It's much easier to keep your fire fed and alive than it is to go through the whole process of lighting it again.
- Splitting logs and chopping kindling is way easier with a good, sharp, axe. But mind your fingers won't you.
- Don't be an idiot with fire. Keep a bit of healthy respect for nature. If you're outside then try to build your fire where others have had campfires before, dig a shallow basin or surround your fire with rocks to avoid it spreading and don't build a fire if it's unnecessary or you're in an area at risk from wildfires.
Rob awakening the embers still glowing from the previous night's fire. I slept curled around this wood-burning stove trying to ward off the draught coming from their spare room nicknamed "Narnia" because of it's icy breeze. This fire would be kept alive for days at a time, and keep the kettle permanently warm.
What the Tree Remembers, the Axe Forgets from Dark Rye on Vimeo.
Does this short webisode not just make you want to take a trip out to the woods for a few days? It does me.
All images by Mat Arney.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
"Polzeath has to be the only wave in the world where going along it is actually worse than just going straight"
My housemate Benny and I were running down the beach out front of our house towards some distinctly ordinary looking waves when he hit me with this statement. It's hard to disagree with him, but we still surf our local spot more often than either of us would care to admit, regardless.
Polzeath is a big old expanse of flat sand, fed by sediment flowing out of the mouth of the Camel estuary. On Spring low tides it's just under half a mile from the top of the beach to the water's edge and the massive tidal range and constant flow of fine sand means that there are never really any discernible sand banks there. At one point years ago a few of us hatched covert plans to hand out shovels to the young kids in the boardriders club to see if we could get them to dig a rip-bank and make good waves for at least one turn of the tide. Waves seem to break sideways faster than they travel towards the shore and the wave faces are kind of fat and flat without much of a lip. This embeds most local surfers with a front-foot heavy stance and an inclination towards running off down the line looking for a section to hit rather than going straight down and back up again. A visiting Aussie friend of mine claimed that it was a bit like snowboarding, stating that you "just s-turn your way down the face until the thing stands up enough for you to tell whether or not it's a left or a right".
And it's usually busy. Busy with other surfers, with tourists, swimmers and bodyboarders, legions of surf-schoolers and hordes of longboarders (and, now, more recently stand-up paddlers). Easy access, a big beach, and nice soft waves. In past summers the lifeguards used to split the beach in two by anchoring a buoy-line out past the mean low tide line. When waves rolled through the buoys used to lift the seaweedy green rope up out of the water like a trip wire, either catching people out or forcing a rapid cutback and kick-out from the more-aware.
But we all love our local. Almost as much as we love to moan about it. Sure, surfing at home usually makes for a bit of "upwards readjustment" any time you go on a surf trip, but it also makes for good paddlers. You can't consistently surf the spot with one of the longest paddle outs in Europe and not develop a bit of shoulder stamina. And almost every other surf spot is a pleasant change when we go up the hill and leave the village. It makes for happy travellers, even if it's just round the corner to the next beach.
Hating your local surf spot? You've gotta love it, one way or another.
Image: Benny - out of season, loving hating on his local, and tearing into it just for good measure. By Mat Arney.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Chances are that nobody but my Dad will read this post all the way to the end, but if a few of you do and it gets into your ears, then it's been worthwhile posting.
It's a shame how sometimes it takes the passing of a great artist in order for their work to be thrust back into the view of mainstream audiences. Dave Brubeck passed away a few days ago, on December 5th, one day before his 92nd birthday. He was a jazz pianist and composer, a figurehead of the "west coast cool" scene and considered to be one of the foremost proponents of "progressive jazz".
Through my late teenage years, in my Dad's house dinner times were often announced by the sound of a cork popping from a bottle of wine and a jazz cd starting up. It was never something that I paid a great deal of attention to; the music wasn't there to be listened to intently (as with most modern 3 minute thirty second songs) but more of a background layer, a decoration, something that you could dip in and out of as and when you pleased. Over time I absorbed a lot of classic albums, and have a healthy respect for jazz as an art form. I grew up playing the drums; jazz is difficult beyond words, it is another level of musicianship that just ties knots in my "4/4" trained brain.
Brubeck led the charge of West Coast Californian jazz musicians in the 1950's, helping to sign musicians such as Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan to Fantasy Records before then moving onto the Columbia label. His life didn't feature any of the headline grabbing tragedy that characterised the biographies of many of his contemporaries who suffered under the needle and the bottle, it was simply driven by musical curiosity and a strong work ethic. Take a listen to "Take Five" in the video above, and if you dig, then dig a little deeper.
Image: Mat Arney.
Marcus Shelby, performing with his trio at Pearls, San Francisco, December 2007.
Image: Mat Arney.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Talk about a photoshoot that's been a long time coming. This is my friend Dave's Ford Capri; 2.8 litres of fuel injected-fury that his twin brother Mike restored back in the winter of 2008. I've mentioned Dave and his mean motor on here before (The Car Whisperers), and have been hanging out for over a year now since that last shoot for us to get the thing sideways with the tyres screaming in front of my camera. The problem was that just after the last shoot that we did, on his way to a classic car show, some moron managed to reverse their camper van along the entire length of the passenger door and rear wing in a pitiful attempt at reverse parking. The Capri spent the spring and summer having it's near-side panels knocked out and resprayed to restore it to it's former glory, and is now back on the road....and up for sale. Dave's selling his pride and joy to fund his motorsport project, so a couple of weekends ago I agreed to take some photographs for advertising purposes if we also got to have some fun with the car. You can't have a massive muscle car with a bulge on the bonnet (to accomodate the huge engine) and which looks like it should be in a 1970's cop-car chase, and not want to wheel-spin away from a standing start. Every single time.
We headed up to a nearby disused airfield on a damp Sunday afternoon and opened the Capri up for a few goes along the runway, and Dave pushed the rear-wheel drive Ford hard around a few corners.
Kicking up some spray exiting a fast corner
Dab of oppo' at the end of the runway
I don't think my car's ever seen a chamois leather, but then my car doesn't look like it belongs in a 1970's detective film.
The Capri is for sale on carandclassic and pistonheads, click through to view the adverts if you're in the market for a styling set of wheels. It's one well looked after car and needs a home as good as the one that it's leaving.
Monday, November 26, 2012
To hell with computer games and smartphone apps: there aren't many better ways to keep a kid occupied than skimming stones. I used to spend such a long time when I was little on the beach at Port Isaac hunting out good flat stones to skim. Probably more time than I actually spent hurling them across the surface of the harbour and trying to get them to skip over the little waves. I don't know what my PB ever was, but seven seems to spring to mind for good average throw using the slate pebbles that I'd pick up in Port Isaac.
Turns out that there's a bit of a science to it though and the BBC even produced an infographic with detailed instructions for "successful skimming" when American Russell Byars broke the world record with 51 bounces. An angle of incidence of 10-20 degrees is apparently key for those of you who aren't interested enough to click through to the BBC, but hopefully you'll remember that next time you're walking on a pebbly patch of beach or river bank and you spot a good skimming stone.
I'd almost forgotten about how much fun skimming stones is until this summer when I walked down to the pub in Port Gaverne one evening to see this father and son moment happening on the shoreline. It made me smile and ever since, when I'm out walking, I'll often pause to pick up a nice, flat, palm sized stone and slip it into my pocket ready to see how many bounces I can get when I come across a calm patch of water later on. It's a good excuse for achieving a moment of distraction, if nothing else.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Swimming in the sea is one of life's great pleasures. I've banged on about the joys of bodysurfing and the benefits of negative ions on here before (No Surfboard? No Problem, and Negative Ions = Positive Humans), but bear with me. I was fortunate enough to hitch a ride down to Hossegor back in September and, as usual, I stuck a handplane and swim fins in my bag.
We pulled into Hossegor late in the day, with about an hour of light left. By the time we'd sorted the keys for our accomodation and parked the car, it was already starting to get dark. No time to unpack boardbags, screw in fins and rummage around for a leash; wetsuit on, handplane and fins out and in we got. Half an hour of getting properly whomped in the shorebreak at La Graviere was plenty to wash off the feeling of having been sat in a car for almost twelve hours, and a good introduction to the new swell starting to fill in.
Now let's be clear, when given a choice, I choose to surf. Bodysurfing is just another way that I enjoy the ocean, and the fact that it's not my main aquatic focus was bought sharply into focus the following morning when I discovered that there was a bodysurfing contest taking place right where we'd been swimming around the evening before. Some of France's best torpedo-men were swimming themselves into the heaving shorebreak, throwing themselves headfirst over the ledge in a suicidal search for judges points. The waves were un-surfable here; overhead and with thick lips, detonating into little more than waist deep water. These guys were revelling in it though.
Every evening for the next two weeks, having spent the day surfing and driving the coast searching for good sandbanks, we'd get back and jump in at La Grav for a bodysurf. Not with the intention of filling our wetsuits with sand ready for the following day, but to actually swim in the sea, engaging every limb and immersing ourselves fully in the Atlantic rather than floating on it. An aquatic cool-down.
The bodysurfer on the right, under the lip, is rolling down the face before trying to get barrelled. Skills.
The judges truck, with a rare make-able left in the background.
All images and the short movie by Mat Arney.
Handplane featured is the "Hand Baggage" model produced by Otter Surfboards. Check them out here.
As usual, please take care when bodysurfing. Be aware of your limitations and protect your head and neck. Getting drilled head-first into the sand in shallow water can have awful consequences so exercise caution.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
I sometimes worry that surf photos can be a little bit boring. Straight to the point in a pretty one dimensional sort of way, far too often a surf photo is just a surfer on a blue wave with a blue sky behind them. Sometimes the sea is a bit bluer or a bit greener. Sometimes the sky is more grey or it has some clouds in it maybe.
White surfboard. Black wetsuit. You know what I mean?
But it's difficult to capture something different when, at the end of the day, it is a surf photo after all. The focus has to be the wave and the person riding it. There's not a whole lot of scope for creative lighting, props, or a second chance at a wave or a shot. Foreground, background and a creative angle is all that most of us ever get to work with. But the extra bit of the equation is an important one to keep your eyes peeled for.
Beach umbrella, sand, supertubos and some lucky guy snaking his way through a lefthand sand-bottom barrel.
Peniche, Portugal. October 2012.
Sunday, November 4, 2012
My friend Gideon agreed to paddle out in a top hat and tails with a walking cane clenched in his teeth for part of this photo shoot. No mean feat, considering he had to surf a traditional heavy single fin without a leash.
This is Gideon getting all Gatsby, and doing a damn good job of it.
Images from this series were recently featured in the latest edition of "Kook" surfing newspaper, a brilliant pink publication put together by Dan Crockett for no good reason other than to share and spread some of the special moments from "the other side" of surfing. You can get a copy here.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
"Excuse me Sir, do you happen to have a knife in your luggage?"
It's 5am in St Pancras Station and I'm going through security, about to board the Eurostar to France. Of course I've got a knife in my bag; I'm going on a surf trip. But on Eurostar there's no "checked luggage" and "hand luggage"; you haul everything onto the train yourself so it all counts as "hand luggage". Which means that if they see a knife at the bottom of your surfboard bag on the x-ray machine, then you get pulled up.
"I'm afraid Sir, that you can't take your knife onto the train, and furthermore it's an illegal offensive weapon and has to be destroyed."
News to me. An "illegal, offensive weapon"? It's my pocket knife; the knife that my Dad gave to me when I was ten years old to take on cub-scout camp for a weekend. It's not even that big. And, counting it up, it's been on in-excess of thirty-five international flights (in my checked luggage of course). But no, into the big yellow funnel it went. And to add insult to injury, it fell into a big, clear-perspex fronted bin, so that everybody else can see what's not allowed on the train and what happens to the those things if they find them.
Maybe having a knife with you means something different in the Big Smoke. In fact, I know it does. But to me, having a knife in your pocket is kind of normal; many of my friends and colleagues carry a pocket knife as standard, like a mobile phone or car keys. What happens when you want to sharpen a pencil? Or cut up an apple at lunch time, cut some string, gut a fish or tweak a bit of glass or sea-urchin spine out of the sole of your bare foot? Each time, I'd reach for my pocket knife.
I replaced my old, well worn, lock knife with a multi-knife; one of those red ones with a bottle opener on it (you know the ones), but sand gets in it and it grinds horribly when I open it, and I and I also got myself a short, square nosed thing in an ankle-sheath for ocean-bourne occasions. However I miss having a simple, small, sharp knife somewhere close by for those little jobs that, if it weren't for that knife, I'd spend hours trying to find the right tool for the job.
"Hello Trouble", a short advert created for Gerber by Chris Malloy and the guys at The Farm League.
Clearly, this blog post is about the usefulness of carrying with you, when it's sensible and useful to do so, an effective, multi-purpose tool. Knives are dangerous things and should be treated with and handled with the utmost respect and care. If you're camping, adventuring outside, or in a workshop then cool. If you're walking around town, not so. Be sensible. Don't be an idiot.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Christian Beamish for a short piece in the current issue of The Surfer's Path (issue 92 Sep/Oct 2012). Christian is the former associate editor of The Surfer's Journal, a writer, wooden boat builder and wilderness surf adventurer who lives in California. I had a hundred questions that I wanted to ask him, but had to parr it back to fit on a single page. Below is the full transcript of our interview, with some of the images that he sent through and a recent video vignette produced to promote his brilliant book, "The Voyage of the Cormorant"; absorb and enjoy.
How did your ocean attraction begin?
From an early age I spent a lot of time at the beach with my Dad bodysurfing, boogie boarding, and then, naturally, board surfing at around 10-years-old. An L.A. County lifeguard in California’s “golden era” of the 1950s, my father raised me with what I now recognize as an overall waterman sensibility: Free diving the reefs of Laguna, sailing and fishing were all background activities to the main pursuit of wave riding. In my grown up surfing life I have pursued wilderness surfing experiences as much as possible, having nevertheless surfed a lot of “parking lot” beaches in Southern California. What I find most interesting about surfing is the way that it puts us into the natural world with such immediacy. It was in this spirit that I set out to explore wilderness shores in my small, open boat.
Can you please tell us about your boat, Cormorant.
A Shetland Isle beach boat, designed by Iain Oughtred on the Isle of Skye, Cormorant is 18-feet long by 5’4” in the beam. Although modeled on traditional craft, the boat is built in marine grade plywood, secured with epoxy resin. The boat carries about two weeks of food and water. With a mainsail (a balanced lug) and a smaller mizzen, Cormorant makes about 5 knots. There are three reef points in the mainsail and the “double ended” design handles a following sea very well, so it is truly a “sea boat.” Historically, the Shetland Islanders fished banks 40 miles offshore in these boats, and then landed in small coves.
What inspired and drove you to build your own boat for solo surf searches?
A feeling has nagged me that our headlong embrace of electric gadgetry threatens to sever us from an essential, physical, aspect of ourselves developed over the 50,000 years (or however long it has been) of our modern human physiology. I suppose it’s a longing for a forest home and the adventure of open water that informs the notion that florescent lighting, emails and automobiles make machines out of us. I was living on the grounds of a lighthouse, on the North Coast above Santa Cruz, California, and the maritime history seemed to haunt the place. There were historic photos of fishermen plying those waters in traditional craft and a vision hit me so hard that I knew right then that I needed to experience that kind of essential human endeavor.
Where have you sailed her to date?
I’ve got about one thousand miles “under the hull” (as Iain Oughtred has said). Two long Baja sails, a couple of 30 mile crossings to the Santa Barbara Channel Islands (with circum navigations of Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz Islands), countless “local” trips from Dana Point and San Clemente down to Trestles and up to Laguna, and a great month-long journey in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Can you give us some high and a low points from your adventures in Cormorant?
The high points are nice sailing conditions and the quite glide of it all. Low points are abject terror, far offshore when conditions threaten to overwhelm – but in those situations one is too involved in the moment to really judge “high” or “low”. The low is running out of supplies, far from help and feeling the inherent limitations of such a small vessel.
Did you ever miss a surf to work on the boat in the two years that you spent building her?
I wouldn’t have missed “epic” days, but sitting in a line-up with a bunch of people in tiny waves will always be less appealing than the mediation of building a boat (or shaping a surfboard for that matter!).
How did your experiences with Cormorant lead into you surfing Mavericks?
I can’t say that building and sailing Cormorant led directly somehow to surfing Mavs. But once on that program I recognized a real similarity to the feeling of being in “big water” with just yourself and your equipment (self-built) to rely on. But neither pursuit – solo expeditions or big wave riding – has ever had an element of being something I wanted to “challenge,” “overcome,” or “conquer.” The inherent danger is not to be dismissed, as much as accounted for. Then I make an assessment of my abilities and the conditions for any particular day. Luck plays a huge role for anyone involved in ocean work.
Is/was Cormorant just the start of a much deeper relationship with the ocean?
Yes. I sometimes shudder when I think of some of the situations I’ve put myself in. Oddly, I think I’ll be more cautious now in my ocean forays… they’re not done, but I want to make a few adjustments.
What lessons did you learn from reducing your immediate world to an 18’ x 5’ space?
Hard to say, but Cormorant was my transport and shelter, and traveling this way is much like traveling by bicycle with a tent to sleep in at night. So it wasn’t quite like a monk in his cell… I sometimes rowed ashore and set up a beach camp, or, if staying aboard, I’m off surfing or fishing most of the day, leaving the boat at anchor. One of the great feelings is having a snug cove you’re anchored in, a good meal you’ve cooked (and caught) on the camp stove, and a good book to read by lantern light. It’s sort of the small boy and his “fort” made in the woods feeling.
What’s next for Cormorant and your boat building exploits? Do you have plans to extend your fleet at all?
Solo expeditions have their place, but I’ve also greatly enjoyed traveling with friends. The vision I have is to build two new boats (need to speak with Mr. Oughtred!) scaled-up to 22- or 24-feet. I want to sail with 2-surfers per boat in wilderness areas. The boats will stick together and share camp duties and of course the fun and challenges of these adventures.
Were your trips simply surf trips, or were they by their very nature more multi-dimensional?
Multi-dimensional, but guiding by a foundation in surfing. A lot of the old timers say that “it’s all surfing,” and with beach boats that really is true.
And finally, on a purely inquisitive level based on my own boat building experiences (and not part of the main interview), how many clamps did you have to use??!
Always about twice the number I had was what was needed it seemed!
Christian recorded some of his adventures as a podcast for The Dirtbag Diaries a while back. I listened to his piece and immediately reigned in the plans that I harboured for adventures in the boat that I was building at the time. Click here to listen to 3/8th of an inch to eternity.
Here's how it looked in print...
You can purchase Christian's book, The Voyage of the Cormorant, here.
All images are copyright Christian Beamish which means that if you want them then you have to ask nicely, please don't just take them - it ain't cool.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Word from the work front: Over the course of the past few months I've been busy shooting the imagery for the new Otter Surfboards website, and it's all just gone live for the world to see.
Otter Surfboards design and build hollow (skin and frame) wooden surfboards, run week long "Build-Your-Own" workshops and make bodysurfing handplanes in their workshop in Cornwall, and the boards that leave the workshop are a sight to behold.
The website coincides with a new look for the brand, and James pulled in Karl Mackie to design the new logo, and Steven Daoud from Little Whale Studio to design and build the website. If you sign up to the newsletter or follow the Otter Surfboards blog then you'll get to see and read more of my work as I'll be continuing to work with Otter to produce regular content.
Take a look at the new site by clicking here, then come along and see James and myself in London over the course of this next week where we'll be opening The Storyboard exhibition at the Patagonia Store in Covent Garden on Wednesday evening from 4-7pm (it'll be on display there over the winter), and then exhibiting boards at the London Surf Film Festival from Thursday 11th through to Sunday 14th. James will also be giving a presentation about his boards and how he builds them on Sunday after the screening of "Endless Winter". There's loads of great stuff going on at the LS/FF (Chris, one of the directors appears in an image below unloading a board from his volvo) so if you're in and around the Big Smoke then come on down to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, if for nothing else then just to check out how twitchy I get when I have to spend more than a couple of days in a big city.
Meantime, here're a few of the images from this summer of wooden surfboards, old cars, sunshine, waves, friends and tea for you to enjoy.