Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shaping Up Nicely

I wish I'd had the opportunity to learn how to shape surfboards when I was at school.

The grommets at Richard Lander School in Truro, Cornwall, get to do just that and under the guidance of Richard Scott (the head of the Design Technology department who also happens to be an accomplished shaper under his label thirdshade) they turn out some damned beautiful surfboards.
Through last Spring and Summer I put together an article about the process which involved hauling exam tables down to the beach and setting up a classroom on the sand then trying to get the boys to play ball for some shots. It was like herding cats but we got a few images and the guys over at Korduroy put it out this week which I'm real stoked about. If you want the full story and the images then click on through and fill your boots...

Shaping/glassing images by the staff and students of Richard Lander School, Truro.
Surfing, portraits and set shots by Mat Arney.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sam's Car

Every stretch of coastline has a guy like Sam; the person who's always at the best spot for the conditions at the right time, the surfer who has the place dialled. Bottom line is that if you pull up in a car park or get to the end of a bumpy unpaved farm track to check a secret spot and see Sam's car parked up with no surfboard in the back then you know that you're in the right place and you'll be getting the best waves on offer that day.
We all thought that kid number one would crimp Sam's water time and he seemed to be surfing as much as he could before Daddy day-care duties kicked in, but even with a second lighty to bounce on his knee he's still getting in the sea a whole heap whenever it's good.

A couple of weeks ago we went to check a little nook just up the coast, looking for a corner that wouldn't be affected by the big, bumpy, blustery conditions on all of the main beaches. We pulled into the little gravel car park next to Sam's car: No need to walk down and check it, if he's here then we won't be getting better waves anywhere else nearby. There were a couple of other cars with empty boardbags and rolled up piles of clothes on the front seats there too and when we got down to the lookout on the cliff there was a lone figure surfing the next cove along, away from the little pack of local surfers on the main peak, catching wedgy little rights in towards the rocky point separating the two bays all by himself and tearing them to bits before kicking out right on the rocks. Right place, right tide.

If your beach has a Sam then learn to keep an eye out for their car. It might just save you a load of fruitless walks to check the waves when there's a sign right there in front of your eyes that where you are is as good as you'll get today.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cornish Gold

It was St Piran's Day, the national day of Cornwall, last Monday on March 5th so I thought it about time I celebrated the beauty and rich, ancient culture of this little corner of the UK.

The shot above is maybe 9 or 10 years old, straight out of the shoebox archives and so old that I lost the negative years ago and this image is a scan of a print. This late winter's day we'd driven from spot to spot to spot and never once got in the sea; everywhere was too big, too bumpy and battered by the wind so after a fruitless search we were despondently heading for home. I can't remember who spotted the whitewater out of the right hand side of the car as we took the minor b road along the south coast, but we must've nearly tipped the little car over as all five of us inside surged towards the drivers side trying to look out of the window as we slowed down, hoping to catch another glimpse between the trees. We had less than an hour of light left and after a handful of waves each we paddled back in over the rocks in the dark, our day saved. This spot usually breaks just a couple of times over an average winter, when big southerly swells wrap onto the shallow and jagged reef and back then it was still a secret spot that we'd happened to stumble upon. Proper Cornish gold.

Another shoebox special; Celtic knots on the headstones in Sennen churchyard a mile or so from Land's End down in the far south west of the county.

Squawk squawk, tweet tweet: For a long time I've been adamant that I don't have a lifestyle conducive to engaging with twitter, plus I'm keen to minimise the amount of time that I spend looking at a computer screen and increase the amount of time that I spend outside doing stuff. But I've relented, so you'll be able to follow me here or @matarney if you so wish, where I'll be posting An Tor Orth An Mor updates and occasionally retweeting great images or items of interest. You won't find me tweeting about what I had for breakfast or football scores.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Give Up SUP's (single use plastics)

WARNING: Reading this post about the problems of plastic pollution in our oceans and it's impact on the marine environment and wildlife might make you sick up in your mouth a bit. Also, it's a massive, massive, subject area and I can't do it justice in a single post (I've tried before) so I'll pepper this piece with links so that, should you wish to, you can click away and learn some more, and hopefully be moved to become a force of change.

Look what I found on my local beach during a beach clean last October. No needle but the plastic body of a syringe (held by Neil of BeachCare) on a beach that I run down without looking where I'm stepping and which we walk our dog on most days. Barf.

Spring is starting to show it's sunny self here in the South West of the UK which means that the beaches are getting busier; there are lots of people coming down to the beach, and there is also a load of litter on the sand that's been washed ashore by the winter storms over the past few months. This is a year-round problem on almost every single stretch of coastline on the entire planet and it's a problem that we can't tactfully ignore or shy away from.

The beach that I live on is part of a Marine Conservation Area and is cared for by a group of legendary volunteers. Part of their work is undertaking regular beach cleans alongside the BeachCare programme run by Keep Britain Tidy who organise beach cleans on 17 beaches across Devon and Cornwall. Neil who runs the project just sent out a newsletter detailing the past years work; 790 big bin bags of rubbish were removed from our local beaches over the course of 113 beach clean events utilising 2200 volunteer hours on the beach. Most of these events last for around an hour and they finish with tea and cake so it's well worth it, and if you can't make it along to one then here's an idea...why not take a couple of empty bags with you when you walking along the beach and pick up any plastic and trash that you find (use one as a "glove") or pick up anything that shouldn't be on the beach when you're walking back up the beach after a surf. If everybody picked up just three bits every time they visited the beach then it'd make a massive difference. Check out the inspirational Pick Up 3 campaign started by a 16 year old kid in California fed up with the state of his local beach.

Some friends and I explored the coast of Oman towards the end of Cyclone season and it seemed that all of the litter in the Indian Ocean had been pushed up into this corner and washed up on the mostly deserted coastline.

The two repeat offenders on the list of items picked up from our beaches are plastic pieces (aka nurdles or "mermaids tears") and fishing flotsam and jetsam such as line and nets. 2011 has seen a large increase in fishing related litter which is being investigated and combated by Fishing For Litter. The impacts of fishing nets and monofilament line, alongside plastic packaging straps, are best illustrated by the Gannets of Grassholm Island, just off the coast of Wales. Each year 40,000 nesting pairs arrive on the island to build or repair their nests, and often the nest-building males collect plastic litter from the oceans in preference to seaweed because it floats and is highly visible, then return to Grassholm to weave it into their nests. Juvenile gannet chicks often become entangled in this synthetic material and as they grow become trapped and tethered to their nests. When the colony returns to sea in Autumn the trapped juveniles are left behind and slowly starve unless released by the small team of RSPB volunteers who visit the island each year to cut them free. Grim. On Midway Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, miles from anywhere, seabird corpses decompose revealing just a skeleton and a gut full of plastic crap that they've eaten.

A juvenile gannet that perished after becoming entangled in plastic litter that was woven into it's nest on Grassholm Island. Image courtesy of the RSPB.

But it's not just seabirds. Plastic bags bob around the oceans looking remarkably like jellyfish to the large marine animals that feed on them. Postmortem examinations carried out on dead cetaceans and turtles frequently reveal guts full of plastic bags which do not pass through or decompose and accumulate and starve the animals. I've harped on about it before, but the fate of turtles who eat plastic bags and then float to the surface because of the increased buoyancy and bake to death in the sun particularly grosses me out.

A lot of this crap blows around in the wind as well as being transported by ocean currents. The correlation between onshore winds and beach pollution is plain to see. The wind blew from the west every day in December, and in January BeachCare removed over 200 bags of litter from local beaches. For ocean borne litter, much of it floats around in the currents until eventually winding up in one of the five Oceanic gyres which are points of confluence for major currents in each of the major oceans.

Maximenko's Plastic Pollution Growth Model from 5 Gyres on Vimeo.

So that's all pretty depressing. How do we, little old "us", make a difference? Here's a few ideas of how you can think global, act local and be a small cog in a bigger engine for change:

  • Pick Up 3. Or more if you can join a regular beach clean event, details here and here.
  • Refuse plastic bags. If you visit the supermarket then take your own bags, buy a bag for life or if you're in the USA use a paper bag and recycle it. If you have your groceries delivered then click the option for delivery without bags so your shopping arrives in crates that the driver takes back to the store.
  • Carry A Cup. Keep a cup or small flask in your bag or car to take into coffee shops rather than getting take-out cups. Those plastic lids are particularly evil.
  • Drink from the tap. In many countries tap water is totally safe so if possible drink from the tap or refill bottles rather than buying expensive and pointless bottled water. I grew up just a few miles away from a plant that bottled water for a supermarket. Exactly the same water that came out of the tap at my home.
  • Try to buy grocery items that aren't overly packaged (loose vegetables immediately spring to mind). If enough people refuse to buy based on excessive packaging then the supermarkets will stop using it. It'd save them money too after all. If you're funny about the possibility of other humans touching your food at some point then wash it or peel it when you get home.