It was the coldest day of winter and I had decided that meant the perfect time to go for my first solo surf. I psyched myself into pulling on my cold, damp wetsuit, chucked my board in the boot of the car and drove myself to Godrevy beach. The waves were small but lovely, three feet of clean green water rolling lazily in to shore. And there wasn’t a soul there – just me and my board, Big Bertha. On the drive over I’d convinced myself that there would be people on the beach, counted on a few fellow surfers keeping me company in the sea, but there weren’t even any dog walkers on the sand. Just me, and the ocean.
I deliberated for a bit and then made myself step into the water and paddle away from the beach. And it was wonderful. I quickly got over my I’m-all-alone nerves (I usually sing cheerful Beyonce tunes to myself in situations like this) and remembered why I love, love, love to surf.
After half an hour of paddling myself slowly out back and catching waves I was beginning to feel rather confident. Even cocky. Big Bertha and I had caught a few ace (for me) waves and had moved on to humming to some classic Britney when suddenly, right next to us, three huge seals popped their heads up from the foam in unison.
I like seals. They are like playful water puppies, especially seen from afar. But up close they are HUGE, like slick black muscles with flippers. And these three weren’t afraid of me – not at all. They wanted to know what this funny animal wearing a seal-like second skin was doing in their patch. A few choice scenes from Jaws flashed in my head and I debated making a break for shore. My seal companions were diving down and popping up ever close to me in an unnerving fashion and I was sitting on my board, treading water and squeaking a bit.
Luckily a hardy surf dude arrived at that very moment, waved at me and paddled himself out back. The seals promptly abandoned me and went to hang out with this clearly superior surfer, and I watched in awe as they surfed alongside him, playing and diving in the approaching waves. At some points I couldn’t even tell who was human and who was seal – it was the most incredible thing to watch. The surfer and I had an excited chat about our new seal buddies and then I relaxed again and got back to the waves.
When I finally headed back to shore, pink-cheeked and unable to feel my fingers, I realised something – that surfing will always, always make me happy. I don’t care if I’m any good, I don’t care if the waves are big or small, I don’t care if I can get out back or if I end up playing in the white water. Surfing gives me huge respect for the ocean, that mercurial mistress who can be a calm playground or a furious monster at a whim and who hides such incredible wildlife beneath her surface. Being in the sea, being in touch with the simple, streamlined movements of catching waves and standing up on my board – it’s one of the most liberating things I know.
Salty hair, don’t care.
Photo by Oliver Sjöström.