This is a feature on my surfing experience, with my very patient boyfriend!
“Are you ready?” Tom asked me enthusiastically. No I am not bloody ready, I thought to myself. For one thing, I am in the sea, in December. And another thing I am in the sea, in December, trying furiously to control my surfboard from blowing out of my hands and clouting somebody around the head.
This is punishment, I thought to myself. I am absolutely exhausted from battling the waves, my eyes are sore from the sea salt, and I have probably ripped the souls of my feet apart from the million stones scraping my skin. The pain and suffering continued throughout my experience, which Tom simply tells me to “get over”.
It’s my first surfing lesson if you didn’t guess, and Tom Hartley is my very patient surfing instructor. I have taken to the beaches of Bournemouth, voted “the best beach in Britain”, by the readers of Coast Magazine in 2008. After all the excitement of Bournemouth’s opening of an artificial surf reef, I decided to check out the scene. The reef situated in Boscombe, officially opened on November 2nd. It has welcomed skilled surfers and body boarders to the experience. The new surf school and Sorted Surf Shop are conveniently right on the front of Boscombe beach, and are encouraging more and more people in to the sea.
After a swift visit to Sorted, I was kitted out with wetsuit and surfboard. I felt like a surfer chick in my billabong wetsuit carrying my board casually under my arm like a pro. However, the reality was quite different; the wetsuit clung to me tightly and uncomfortably. I tried not to think what would happen if I needed the toilet.
“Get over it, get over the wave”, Tom shouted. But the wave was too powerful, it swallowed me up. Holding on to my board, I flipped over it, but couldn’t let go. It felt like a burden, weighing me down. I was only underwater for a matter of seconds, but felt like I would never resurface. At last my head broke through the water. Gasping for air, I clutched my board victoriously.
There was no time to celebrate the fact I was still alive. The next giant wave was about to crash down. I looked frantically around for Tom but he was already flying over the next wave. I clung to my board staring hard at the wave approaching. “Lift the nose of your board up”, I heard Tom shout. Lifting the nose up, I launched myself over the wave. Miraculously, I was still above water. I beamed with pride of my efforts fighting what felt like waves seen in The Perfect Storm.
Crashing back to reality, I heard the words from Tom’s mouth, “Quick, turn your board around”. I looked at him panicked. “You’re about to catch your first wave, if you turn your board around”, he repeated. A feeling of fear and excitement hit me as hard as the waves. I turned my board, careful of not whacking any fellow surfers. I clambered on as Tom had explained, and waited. I could feel every surfer in the water look in my direction. They watched in anticipation, thinking I could actually surf.
I can’t do this, I thought, not with everyone watching. “Keep in the middle of the board”, shouted Tom. I wriggled my body carefully. “Here it comes”. I waited what seemed like a year and suddenly I felt the wave beneath me. I knew what I did wrong before I did it; I hadn’t kept my balance. The wave swept me off my board, I went under, and the board went flying.
Taking a break from the waves, I got chatting to some of the locals. Twenty year old Liam Pryer tells me about what he thought of his first go on the reef today. “It’s different, I’m not really used to waves like this, I think it’s going to take some practice”. “Are you going back out there”, I asked. “Not today, I’m going back to surf by the pier. The reef is good but I was getting fed up waiting for the right wave”.
I asked Steve Brown, an employee at the rental shop about the reef. He told me that the reef has been most popular with body boarders more than surfers due to the type of waves it produces. “Why is that?” “The reef doesn’t make the waves. It just shapes them to make a better surfing experience”. Steve assured me that when the surf improves that “it will be swamped with surfers”. The reef website states that the reef has been “designed to increase the breaking wave height and maximise the number of surfing days”. Obviously, as a beginner there is no chance I would survive out there. The reef sits 250 metres offshore and is said to be approximately the size of a football pitch. It is designed with experienced surfers in mind.
Information provided by the reef website, reports that the reef is the first and only one in Europe and is one in four worldwide. It has cost £3 million to fund the construction of the reef, but it certainly has put Bournemouth on the map. My surf instructor/boyfriend, Tom Hartley, says that he feels “more encouraged to surf in Boscombe now that it is becoming more popular”. That was clear to see from the amount of activity on the beach that Sunday afternoon.
When I arrived at Boscombe pier, it felt more alive than I had ever seen it before, especially being the middle of winter. People were bustling around the pier and the beach front. The entrance door to the well established, Harvester bar and restaurant was continuously opening and closing. The new Sorted Surf Shop (pictured right)added a lively atmosphere, with the surfboards and kayaks racked up outside. It was drawing curious customers in to look at hire prices. Which, I must say are extremely good value. I hired my surfboard out for £10, allowing me 4 hours, which was plenty long enough. The wetsuits were the same hire price.
Steve Brown told me of people’s high interest in kayaking, “One of the most popular questions people ask is if we do 2 man kayaks”. “We don’t”, he goes on, “but we are definitely going to get some in for spring due to the high demand”. It sounds like the shop is going to be very successful in all seasons. It’s not just experienced surfers that are benefiting from the reef, beginners, such as me, can take advantage of the reasonably priced surf lessons and equipment hire.
Don’t ask me why, but I went back in to The Perfect Storm, except this time I wanted to be there. “Here’s your wave”, Tom yelled, “You know what to do”. So I turned my board, and pressing my stomach against it I paddled with my arms. The wave felt like a driving force behind me. I then suddenly felt it take me. In one jagged movement, I sprung up, feet on the board; I was actually standing (well more like crouching), but surfing nonetheless, for three whole seconds. Then I was down again and my board went flying. But this time I could say I had surfed. I thanked Tom for putting up with me, and ended my experience in the Harvester, for a well deserved drink.