Search and Enjoy

One of the greatest feelings there is when it comes to any kind of wave riding is adventure. That’s the feeling you get when your “bud” calls, or sends a message on every possible device known to man, and won’t stop until you pick up and answer. The 35 year old child on the end of the phone shouts “it’s on” with ear bleeding volume. Then you get that tingling goose bump sensation. It starts in the back of your neck and creeps down your spine over the crown of your head into the back of your legs – why because you know that it’s time. You have been sitting there patiently for the last three weeks, training, eating, drinking coffee – in front of the computer impatiently waiting for that low pressure to stop teasing you. Finally it sits there, growing, pulsing that swell onto your door step. The high pressure hangs on just this side of it creating that perfect formula – a solid swell with light to moderate offshore winds.

You pack your suits, fins, handplanes, dry bag, food, water. The 0430 alarm blows the roof off of the house, but only for a second as you have been awake for the last hour tossing and turning with the excitement of a 7 year old at Christmas. Jumping out of bed with your clothes pretty much on, you run downstairs, coffee brewing, radio on, waiting for the shipping forecast at 5 am (knowing what it going to say of course as you’ve been watching and checking the weather forecasts for the last week non stop, but you always need that last little bit of reassurance).

Checking the buoys with that massive bowl of porridge, the phone goes again. “I’m here” he replies. Doors open, coffee ready, this is the start. Two grown men acting like a couple of teenage boys after getting their first interest from a girl. Giggling, punching, slapping – but as not to get caught by the sleeping lion upstairs (I’m sure that all this commotion has woken her many times in the last 30 minutes). Fed and watered you throw the necessary into the car and are away, free, music blasting in celebration with the tune you listened to 15 years ago on your first road trip. Now you talk tactics, both agreeing to hit your favorite spot first. After all, the tides are perfect for a quick hour while the sun rises.

As we pull into the car park dawn is breaking. Three other cars are there with their occupants starting to suit up. Facing west to the sea with the autumnal cool breeze on you back, you get that little butterfly feeling as the sun pulls up high enough to shine on a perfect 4 feet beachy throwing over creating that perfect, quick, hollow, right-hander. None of the surfers are there yet – it is too fast and shallow for them. With nothing more than a loud ‘YEOW’ and a punch, you sprint to the boot, grab stuff, get changed, and run down the beach. Sitting on the beach slipping into your fins, another slightly bigger set comes in. Now the mood changes. With a serious handshake and a brotherly slap on the back you both run into the sea for that first dive over the white water and instantly, the stress and frustration of the last 3 weeks of no swell and 9-5 bullshit are washed away. The next 2 hours are frantic waves, beatings, shouting and hollering. The other surfers on the beach are now paddling past you out deep, giving you strange looks. You are the two having the most fun – in the purest and simplest way possible – bodysurfing.

Now that the initial adrenaline and excitement has left you feeling energised and fatigued (all at the same time). It’s time to pull out the maps and focus on what you have really come for, that search for a perfect wave with no one else around. A new spot just over that hill in the distance beckons, just around the corner from a little cove.

Over breakfast, whilst letting the suits dry a little, we pull out the map, looking at different coves, reefs, and beaches that have been highlighted in the past (modern technology has certainly helped with this in recent years, Google world and satellite photography both excellent tools). But the coastal knowledge and conditions, i.e. swell direction, tides, and wind are imperative too. We were content, ready for a days hiking. The search will most probably end up being a wild goose chase, but that sense of adventure – and the possibility of that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow drives us on.

Leaving the car behind we head off on our search with suits and fins on our backs, plenty of light, and knowing the next place we will get to is about a 5 hour trek south through fields, valleys and woodland. This isn’t the first time that we have headed this way, its the third time. It’s an endurance event. Some of the reefs, beaches and coves can have perfect conditions, but if you get there just 30 minutes late it’s gone. So, out of a possible 5 spots we know from previous encounters we head for just 2 of the spots we have greatest hopes for. We head to the furthest spot first, the coastal path weaving through fields and forest. There’s just the two of us and the occasional herd of friendly Frisian (dairy cows). We stop for a break at the second spot that we want to check as the tide has dropped a little further. It’s promising, the swell has definitely picked up from this morning, and as predicted the wind has swung a little more south than was expected. The headland there is sheltering it perfectly too, but the same headland is pushing the swell too wide as it drops. If the sand is right we could be in for the waves of the year, or at least we hope so.

We decide to push on and pick up the pace. After all there’s potential at both locations. The sooner we evaluate the first spot we may find we have two options. Another hour has passed and we get there – just as the tide turns to ebb. We have been here at high tide before, but not on these spring tides. Last time it looked a little shallow (rocks showing as the waves peaked to break). This time there is almost another metre of water covering the reef. We get to the top of the cliff to see there is definitely swell getting into the cove but we can’t get a glimpse of the tide line yet to see if the waves are breaking, or if they are even rideable. Scurrying down the path to get to a view point we at last see the sets charging in and crashing onto the pebbly shore – not rideable (unfortunately, how we expected it to be). There are no rocks showing, nobody around, the wind on it is a little more that we hoped, but not as much headland to our south to shelter – but we are learning all the time. We make mental notes, eat some food, relax for an hour (tides this size don’t move a lot in the first hour but towards the end of the second hour it will move and start to pick up pace). We decide to hold on for a while and watch what happens. There’s a definite difference now after two and a half hours. Mid tide is about to hit and it looks ugly, a lot of water moving, forming powerful rips in the middle of the beach, which appears to be exactly where the peak was last time. It’s too much for us to kick against. To keep ourselves in position we notice there’s a shallow spot at the northern side of the cove. As the swell pushes into that side it exits in the middle this place but it has changed so much in the last 6 months. The different sand banks either side of the reef have really messed it up.

Not too disappointed we gather our things together, take a couple of pics, then start heading up the path to join the main coastal route heading north, back to the first spot. As we get to the turn we look back to watch a set just hitting the reef, turning inside out. There’s a left hand shoulder super hollow one among them, then 3 fire through quickly. We decide to stay and watch another set line up. “Here they come” I say, is this going to do it? Nope…this place could now be described as a write off, much too fickle (we never did have a great feeling about the place to start with). Sometimes gut feelings are not to be ignored, but this place might be worth a revisit in a couple years time – just let the sand sort itself out first.

Plodding on (and only a little disheartened) we get back to the second spot, but the tide has dropped too much here now. It’s pretty much low tide and all the sets are closing out on a low tide bank. Back to the car we shuffle, tails between our legs. We head back for a late afternoon “body whomp” at the same beach we were at first thing this morning.

As we arrive we see at a glance maybe 70-100 boards in the water, a sign just as useful as the internet is for seeking out great waves. Every wave hungry person in the country now knows exactly when and where the surf is going to be good! We decide to get suited and jump in, despite the numbers. Running down the beach we hear aggressive shouts. Looking up, we can just see two boards clash in the glare of the late afternoon sun. This isn’t going to be pretty, but hopefully we can find a nice little shoulder in the close outs. The swell is peaking and there’s a lot of water moving round and out. We pick a spot and I immediately catch a beautiful fast right hand drainer. Coming up, I hoot with joy. Probably the biggest mistake because within 5 minutes we are surrounded by 12 board riders – some body boarders and a few stand up good ones too (which is exactly why we walked all day searching for that perfect wave – and isolation!). 2 hours later the sun is finally setting, autumn gold into red, into pink, all stunning. I’d only had 3 waves in all that time, although there wasn’t any aggression, there was a lot of hustling, snaking and just bullying.

Time to set up tent and eat. We drove back to the place we leave the car for walking, lit a fire, got our heads down.

I like waking up in a tent, especially when not in a camp site. You feel the whole area awake with the sun. Noticing the sky getting lighter, the coffee and porridge go on. After last nights surf in the mosh pit of beaches we decide to take provisions and set off to the most promising spot once again and watch it through an entire tide cycle. It will be good to see if it’s even accessible from the cliff. As the sun breaks on the easterly horizon we pack and march on. The ocean still has the corduroy effect, swell stacked as far as you can see, just a light easterly wind this morning. The swell has dropped a little overnight, and the wind is less strong. The swing to an east south east, that should mean perfect conditions, now its just down to fate.

We get to the cliff line.  The tide is at about the same stage as yesterday afternoon, too low. However, if it works today we will see it. We find the little break in the hedge row. The last time we walked down here it was easy. This time it is a lot more overgrown. The nettles and brambles tug on our clothes and bags as we try and negotiate the path down. We do have an occasional treat though, grabbing a handful of blackberries every few metres. The swell is lining up into the bay perfectly, still a little south in it. The water is glassy, as the light easterly is blowing a little mist over the back of the breaking waves. The tide is still too low at the moment and the waves are closing – but are holding their shape. Now I get excited. There’s not another sole in sight, just the two of us. Straight away our pace quickens – not concerned about our clothes being tugged, our hands and necks getting scratched, or the odd sting. It took us 40 minutes to descend the slippery, stingy, scratchy path. We occasionally pause to look up and see yet another beautiful set roll in. The curl or each wave making a clapping noise as it slapped the water in front of it. The waves folded over themselves out the back of the white water water spitting 6, 8, 10, feet into the air. Ha, ha, ha, the childish giggles start… just one more obstacle to negotiate before we are on the beach.

I hate heights, I hate climbing, and more than climbing I hate abseiling. The only way to get down the last 10-12 metres of the cliff is by using a frail old fishing rope, tied off around a wooden stake which has been driven into the ground (lots of fishermen do this for access). I volunteer to go second. “No you go first” bud says. So, deep breath, about turn, looking back up the cliff, I cautiously and slowly start the decent. All that is going through my mind is – should I fall down the cliff how am I going to get back? There’s no phone signal, no road in or out, nobody to help. “What the hell am I doing here”, I ask myself? However, by the time I switch these thoughts off inside my head I am there, feet firmly planted on the pebbly shore. We stood there in awe both looking up at the amphitheatre of cliff line surrounded us. we are now ion proper isolation. No matter what we’ve endured these last 2 years, all the blood, sweat and tears were finally worth it.

The waves were by no means perfect that day. Don’t get me wrong though, they were still good – real good. Were they better than the waves on the main beaches? Hell yeah – because it was just the two of us. We surfed there for two hours with not another sole in sight. This is what it was all about, the perfect scenario. We managed to surf the same spot 6 times that autumn – and every time just the two of us (but for one very inquisitive seal). The conditions varied sometimes, but there were always waves. However, the search, the anticipation, and the reward, that is without a doubt where it’s at!


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