Sunday, April 28, 2013

Coffee Teaser...

Today was finals day at the UK Barista Championship and the last day of the London Coffee Festival, so it seems like an appropriate opportunity to put out a teaser image from a shoot that I did with the guys down at Origin Coffee a while back. 

Personally, coffee is a day-off drink.  Making good coffee takes a little more effort than simply throwing a bag in a mug and pouring over hot water and milk, and I struggle to find the time or energy when I'm half asleep and in a hurry to get going as I am on most work mornings.  So I save it for my days off when I can immerse myself in the process of grinding beans, weighing out my ratios (theres a science to good coffee) and allowing the elements to brew for just long enough.  Don't go thinking I'm a coffee snob; I've enjoyed crunching on the grinds at the bottom of a cup of Bali-Coffee and often rely on service station offerings to get me through long drives in the middle of the night.  But I've spent enough time being paid to make coffee in the past that I know the value of following a process and being patient.  Origin Coffee are an independent coffee roasters based here in Cornwall who supply some of the more discerning restaurants and independent coffee shops across the country.  My friend Dave works there as the Barista Trainer, travelling around sharing his knowledge and obsessive scientific approach to hot caffeinated drinks, so I went to work with him one day to photograph what he does and skulk around the roastery taking photos of hessian sacks full of beans and enjoying the smell.  We've since put together an article detailing how to make the best coffee in the comfort of your own kitchen, without the need for a cardboard cup or paper money, which hopefully will see the light of day at some point fairly soon.  When it does, I'll post up a load more pictures...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Slipping, Sliding and Finless Wave Riding

Stop/Go, Surf/Stokesy.

Finless heat #1, Stokesy sliding beneath some seagulls.

"Your feet must be awfully cold?"

Yup.  I'd not had a whole lot of time to mentally prepare for this though.  When the call went out for the first annual Slyder Cup, a finless "friction affliction" wave sliding event, I thought that mid-April would mean a summer wetsuit and some heavy whomping in the shore-break.  Instead, I was stood at the waters edge in my winter suit with the hood up, gloves on and no boots.  I'd realised the night before when I was stuffing neoprene into my day bag that I can only just squeeze my hooves into my swim fins anyway, so I had no chance with wetsuit boots on.  Gwynedd, who I'd guess is easily twice my age, seemed quite concerned for my well being as we waited for the starter's claxon.  On the other side of me stood Alan Stokes, former British Surf Champion, and along from him was a bloke with a warped plank of untreated plywood that he'd cut from a sheet of 8'x4' that morning.  There was also a Welsh guy with the most incredibly shaped asymmetrical paulownia paipo with a drop-knee cut-out.  Five minutes into our paipo/bellyboard heat and Stokesy and I figured that Gwynedd was beating us fair and square (and for the first time ever I wished that maybe I'd had a childhood of bodyboarding to stand me in good stead for moments like this, a thought that I quickly dismissed).  
After twenty minutes, sure enough my toes had turned white and gone numb.  

 Alan Stokes and Gwynedd Haslock lining up for our paipo/bellyboard heat.  Read more about Gwnedd here and get inspired.

Paipo/Bellyboard heat #2.  Check out the craft!

Dream Big. 


Sawboards are the people responsible for the assymmetrical paulownia drop-knee paipo in the photo above. 

The Slyder Cup featured four categories of competition; finless surfboards (anything from alaias and Wegener albacores to normal surfboards with the fins pulled out), paipos and bellyboards, bodysurfing and mat-surfing.  There were a couple of heats in each category before a final…and then a grand final with the winner from each discipline going wave for wave to crown the ultimate slyder.  
The albacore riders dominated the surfboard rounds, with Alan Stokes and the eventual champion Jimbo Bennet getting some insanely long rides with spins, slides, shove-its and even a couple of head-dips.  In the final they were spinning their boards right onto dry sand in the shore-break. 
There were tons of bodysurfers present, including a small crowd who turned up with some old skateboard decks, a load of hand tools and sandpaper to shape their handplanes there and then.  
The South-West's mat-surfing crew were also present; a committed bunch of surfers whose choice of craft would ordinarily raise a few eyebrows on the beach, but not here.  They looked to be having so much fun in their heats and I learnt a lot about these rare inflatable sleds over the course of a five minute chat with mat-maker Graeme, which will probably make another post altogether.

Alan's Albacore.

Bodysurfers on the start line.


Marcus Healan, mat surfing victor.

Jimbo Bennet spinning on to the sand in front of a punk-as-hell spectator.

Bodysurf competitor kicking into a little high tide wedge.

At the end of the day, as the drizzle started to thicken, the final claxon sounded and Jimbo Bennet climbed the podium (a small slide) to hold aloft a tiny trophy.  There was a brief "run-what-you-brung" session in the high tide shore break with tea trays, polystyrene kids boards from the '80's and me trying to ride a canoe paddle like some sort of polynesian grommet with no success, before the crowd retired to the scout hut for a surf movie and then a few beers and some music.  This is slated to be the first of many events (some competitive, some not so) put on by the Approaching Lines crew, and I can only imagine that they will grow in popularity as word of the good-times and smiling spread out radially.  A competition where you need no prior experience, can borrow your vehicle, line up alongside champions and senior citizens in the same heat and nobody gives a damn about the scores, statistics and rankings?  Sign me up already!

Ben Sousek's homemade handplane quiver, crafted over the previous 24 hours from old skateboards.

Fins and Flags.

The final line-up…from left to right, Jimbo Bennet (surfboard sliding), Alan Stokes (bellyboard), Joe Brown (bodysurf) and Marcus Healan (surf mat).

You can read more about the event here, and keep checking back if you want in on the next one.

Huge thanks has to go out to the organisers Chris Nelson, Demi Taylor and Nick Holden for putting together such a great event, and to Reef and the other sponsors who put their faith in such a quirky, edge of the surfing spectrum, event.  There were a whole load of people who pitched in judging, tabulating and marshalling who did an incredible job just for the love of it.  Thank you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Itchy Feet

I challenge you to find anybody, alive or dead, who can describe so completely and so eloquently the incurable desire to experience new and different places even half as well as John Steinbeck:

"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch.  When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age.  In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job.  Nothing has worked.  Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping.  The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage.  In other words, I don't improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum.  I fear the disease is incurable.  I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.

When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going.  This to the practical bum is not difficult.  He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from.  Next he must plan his trip in time and space, choose a direction and destination.  And last he must implement the journey.  How to go, what to take, how long to stay.  This part of the process is invariable and immortal.  I set it down only so that newcomers to bumdom, like teen-agers in new-hatched sin, will not think they invented it.

Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over.  A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys.  It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness.  A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.  And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless.  We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.  Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip.  Only when this is recognised can the blown-in-the-glass bum relax and go along with it.  Only then do the frustrations fall away.  In this a journey is like a marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.  I feel better now, having said this, although only those who have experienced it will understand it."

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley (1962)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

"Drive It Until It Dies"

Sheared bolts and a missed ferry, France 2008.

My car croaked last week.  Without any warning, on Thursday morning I turned the key and the starter motor made a horrible grinding noise and the engine refused to start.  I was marooned at home for the long weekend and right now I'm awaiting a diagnosis from my magician of a mechanic.  He's kept most of mine and my friends cars running and road legal for years because most of us around here figure that our hard earned cash is better spent on surfboards and chasing waves than on four fancy wheels and leather seats.  If a repair bill comes to more than a few hundred quid then it's probably more than the car is worth so it's time to hunt out another banger.  It's a "drive it until it dies" mentality that keeps the dream alive.

I hid my bus in the West Australian bush for three days whilst I hitchhiked home and organised a horrifically expensive tow-truck.  I was pleasantly surprised to return and find tht it hadn't been burnt out.

What little mechanical know-how I have has come from dealing with my broken down, limp-along cars; blown head gaskets, rusted out exhaust fixings, mashed splines, knackered distributor caps and all sorts of broken belts.  I'm not much good with repairing any of this but I'm getting to the point where I can tell what's what under the bonnet and understand what car whisperers tell me about my petrol-related problems.

When it's too windy to surf it's the perfect time to crack a beer, lift the bonnet and (in my case) try to pretend that I know which bit does what and pass the spanner.

Cars are almost as important to surfers as surfboards are, although none of us probably realise as much.  They're freedom, transport to and from the beach, to and from different beaches, they're the planes and trains of regular ol' road trips, accommodation, look-out stations and changing rooms.  And there's a certain sort of dirtbag pride in eeking a few more miles out of a car that's as old as you are.  If I had a brand new car then I'd wreck it within a week by smearing wax on the seats, filling the foot-wells with sand and making it smell like wetsuit boots.  On the outside it'd be caked in a paint-wrecking cocktail of salt and guano.  I'd probably be embarrassed to pull up in the car park to check the waves and I'd no doubt be skint.  Beater cars are brilliant.  They have character and they take on personalities to the point where you give a rolling metal box a name and include it in the surf-trip stories that you tell:  "You remember when Turtle broke down on the way out of Mundaka and we camped on a garage forecourt for three days" or "I slept in The Falcodore for three straight weeks that summer" and "how's about the time you set fire to the Casbah's engine?"
Little did I realise just how big a part mine and my friends beach-beaters had played in just about every surf trip for the past decade until I sat down to write this.  I wonder how much it's going to cost to repair my car this time around, and whether or not the story can continue or if I'll be looking for a new wagon to build some memories with?  Whatever happens though you can guarantee that I'll be patting the dashboard and saying thank you next time I successfully arrive at another beach to go for a surf.