Some things are better left remembered…
I’m a lucky man. I grew up on a ragged, cracked part of the British coast where green sloping hills are severed by the sea, over thousands of years a geological smorgasbord of different sediments and strata’s have been whittled into windswept coves, dark broken bays and kelp forested reefs.
It was just on the other side of town, you had to pass through some dark old woods, down to a dark old boulder beach in the shadows of a looming headland. This was our stomping ground, a skinny militia of awkward groms. To be surfers in that part of the world is to truly know patience.
You prayed for Bay of Biscay lows and nor east winds, you’d sprint down the beach after school or at weekends drag yourself from a pool of juvenile vomit, before first light, excited, wild in the eyes, you’d get that first glimpse of a deep grey horizon, maritime air filling your lungs, ‘This is what I live for- I am a surfer’, and as you got closer you’d realise that yes, indeed you where a surfer, but unfortunately for you,…….. there are better waves in Clapham.
So many times we’d sit there bored, rejected, swindled and broken, watching quarter of a foot cross shore, wind shagged ripples splashing nonchalantly on the shore. Seagulls and old people would laugh and jeer at us time and time again. We’d all be there, banana shaped body boards, dinged up pop outs, piss ridden cardboard steamers, in the rain, the glow of neon of street lights, the stench of an old rotting Nissan Micra with a brimming ash tray and spilt milk in the foot well.
It was like this a lot; I mean more often than not, it was shit, proper shit.
But no pubescent man, can live like that forever without some kind of silver lining or occasional triumph, after all, good things come to those who wait.
At the beach the word went round, ‘Dinosaur bay is working’, we slid into black plastic bags, into the stench ridden Micra, bolted down through the woods, the sun was beaming through the canopy in bright shafts, the sea looked lime green and we could hear the rumble clunking of a post-storm sea on the boulders.
We got to the gap in the path where you can see the sea, perched above the bay, below us where the best waves I’d ever seen. Four foot ,fast walling rights, wrapping round the headland, moving through deep water before peaking then reeling down the line, they where back lit by the mid morning winter sun and there was no one else in neoprene for miles around.
"What followed was the best session we ever had there, wave after wave, just a happy band of underage cider quaffing adolescents screaming and hooting"
What followed was the best session we ever had there, wave after wave, just a happy band of underage cider quaffing adolescents screaming and hooting. That one surf had a bigger affect on my life than I’d like to admit, it was a mile stone, there was surfing before that moment, and surfing after it, the unsettled, impoverished and damp life of surfing was for me forever.
It always seemed that just as you got to that point of no return a decent swell would decide to drag its self up the channel, the wind would swing right and the weak winter sun would shine. Four or five hour winter sessions after big long hikes, cliff face scrambles and cold faced lies to parents, teachers and employers.
It was ours, this green pleasant land. Swells where so fickle, the conditions so unpredictable that the hand full of visiting surfers that did risk the mission to come surfing down there would all be stoked , friendly and respectful. It was all about the weather charts, risking the mission and hedging the bet.
As the years went by, things drifted apart, people went their ways, I’d moved away in search of better waves and things, but those memories of dinosaur bay where etched in my mind, for the next twelve years I never got to surf it again.
Fast forward a decade and things weren’t exactly going to plan, I wasn’t on the WCT, I wasn’t teaching skimpily clad vixens how surf, I wasn’t travelling the African coast in my van with my loyal dog. Indeed it was quite the opposite, I was labouring for dismal wages in the bleak horizontal rain in the middle of the Cornish winter, getting loose around the gut and starting to ache in the mornings, my girlfriend secretly hated me and I suspected wanted me maimed horribly and the mice had in the ceiling it seemed; had taken up tap dancing.
I got up one morning, pulled my screaming bones in to the dank bathroom, and splashed icy water onto tired face looking back at me. As I sat there chomping on cheap dusty muesli looking at the mildew on the wall,suddenly my archaic, age-of-steam- mobile phone chugged into action having epileptic spasms across the threadbare carpet, it was a text from the past ‘Dinosaur bay is working- get down here’.
Sometimes you just have to leap without looking.
I took all the blunt and heavy objects out of the room and tentatively told the Mrs I was off for the weekend, coughed and spluttered my excuses to the boss, loaded my battered, inadequate and not entirely trustworthy Japanese import and set off in gale force winds and driving rain for dinosaur bay.
The journey was sent to test me, a taste of purgatory, it felt more like a biblical quest than a drive, the wind screen wiper failed on the M5, in torrential rain, I stuck my head out of the window with driving glasses on, which proved not only ineffective but dangerous and stupid. After a ridiculous amount of fucking about, involving pliers, thick wires, rubber bands, metal putty, a change of clothes and lots and lots of swearing the RAC man finally came and fixed it in approximately three and half minutes with a single stainless steel washer.
After four very stupid, very pointless hours, quite frankly feeling very small indeed I was back on the road, as night fell the wind picked up even more, flinging soggy branches and estate agents signs at me, fortunately that tiny 990cc engine (a feat of Japanese industrialism) held true, and valiantly almost eight hours after I’d set off yet before last orders I limped into my home town.
The screaming headache and sore throat indicated that I had probably drunk more than I should off the night before; I got up off the floor, grabbed my board and wettie and headed for Dinosaur bay. I was buzzing; it had been over a decade since I surfed here I started re-living all those rose tinted nostalgic memories, the sun was shining and the storm had passed, as I rounded the corner, my heart was beating like a furious wank.
"The sun was shining and the storm had passed, as I rounded the corner, my heart was beating like a furious wank"
As I got closer I noticed a sea of shiny bought-on-credit-vans and family estate cars, ‘uh –oh’ I thought and sure enough as a I passed back through the old woods with the same trees , my worst fears became true, dinosaur bay had turned in to Malibu. The sea was pebble dashed with neoprene clad dots at least fifty in the water and another twenty on the beach and on the cliffs, low cloud drifted in and my heart sank.
I made my way down to the beach, running all the way slipping on the mud, ducking the branches, past the place we used to have fires and barbeques as I got to the paddle out point, there was a group of balding, middle aged misers, binoculars round their necks, all pigeon chest and old spice.
There is nothing sadder than the sight of mini-mall riding out-of-town gits attempting to give other people shit, trying to claim local’s rights, they shouted something intended to be semi- intimidating at me, I replied with the kind of stare that could strip the gloss off a picture rail.
I paddled out angry, hung-over and wishing I’d looked before I’d leapt, it was a good four foot and clean, for the next two hours I got hassled, paddled round and almost run over time and time again.
Now know this: I don’t agree with localism, dropping- in, snaking, we all have to get along in this crowded world, I embrace that, I really do, BUT as another set rolled in, the Jeremy Clarkson-look-a-like on the expensive long board paddled round me for the eighth time, I lost it.
I paddled so hard, my eyes bulging, a vet would of diagnosed me rabid, I dropped in on Clarkson, fading him on a good-un, drove off the bottom and for a few wobbly, blissful moments I was back at dinosaur bay, with my friends in the sun.
It was joy. It was how I remembered it.
Jeremy skulked back to the beach and I calmed down and stayed in till dark, the crowd thinned as the swell died I got a few more.
As I made my way back up through the dark woods, I felt a pang of guilt for dropping in, I realised that times have changed so much, that most of the guys out there had travelled from miles around (including myself), thanks to the internet they knew where and when to be there, how to get there and where to park, the day will of been documented and posted on blogs and websites before the next dawn.
I don’t mean to sound like a bitter technology hater or anti-progress, coz I defiantly surf more than I would thanks to those sites, but if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon a secret, do yourself and those that already know about it a favour and keep it that way.