"I don't know of anything so exciting as getting a perfect surf. Timing one's shoot off from the waves, and riding along on the crest and coming far inshore. By jove!"
The first Sunday in September each year is really rather special around these parts, and today was no exception. The World Bellyboarding Championships is a wonderfully "British" event; a competition celebrating traditional wooden prone surf riding (judged primarily on smiles and length of ride) with the air of a vintage village fête. Wetsuits are definitely not allowed, the Junior category is for the under-60s and the cake bake-off is as hotly contested as the surfing. It's a day rich in bent plywood and cups of tea.
The Polzeath contingent; my former housemate Matt and Andy Cameron, who runs bellyboard company Dick Pearce and Friends.
Today I took three photos. Last year I took about a thousand. I had been commissioned by Coast magazine to document the champs and the article that I produced appeared in the September issue this year, which because of their slightly funny publication schedule was on newsagents shelves for the duration of August and has recently been replaced by the October issue. It was great fun shooting the 2013 event and having an excuse to really research the fascinating history of prone surf riding in the UK - I geek out pretty hard on the history of surfing, vintage surf-craft and stuff made from wood - as well as getting to sit down and chat with so many of the people involved in the champs.
The Expression Session
This year I entered again and had a thoroughly enjoyable and really quiet uncompetitive ten minute heat as the high tide started to push up into the cove. The water was warm and I wore a pair of mid-century US navy seal canvas swim shorts in keeping with the spirit of the event. I have no idea how I did. I don't think any of the entrants outside of the podium finishers do, and most probably don't care. It's not really about the competition, you see, but more about sharing the enjoyment of wading out to waist depth with a group of smiling folk (whose ages probably span 44 years), turning around and pushing off to ride a wave back towards shore on a flat piece of wood - the design of which hasn't really changed much in more than fifty years.
These are some of my favourite images, shot at the World Bellyboarding Championships over the past few years. They were all shot on 35mm film and I like them because, to me, they are the ones that really capture the spirit of the event. I hope that some of you have had a chance to pick up a copy of Coast and check out the article that I produced (and that you enjoyed it!), and I hope to see some of you at Chapel Porth on the first Sunday of September next year with a thermos of tea in one hand and a bent plywood bellyboard in the other.
Jenni is the sister of the event's founder, Chris Ryan. Chris (who works for the National Trust who own the beach) and local head lifeguard Martyn Ward held the first competition to celebrate the life of regular visitor and surf-riding enthusiast Arthur Traveller.
Photographer and bellyboard revivalist John Isaac, leaning on his Model A Ford.
Sally Parkin of the Original Surfboard Company (who very kindly lent me a lovely board to compete on this year) and John Isaac, next to the Museum of British Surfing's old van.
The Starter's Claxon
The opening spread of the article that I produced for the September issue of Coast magazine.
It was great to see so many competitors this year riding bellyboards that they'd made themselves whilst attending a one-day "Build-Your-Own" workshop at Otter Surfboards. Click on the photo to see the short video, and click here to find out more about how you can make your own bellyboard to carry you to victory at next year's event.