As a kid growing up near Blackpool in the 70s and early 80s, I was always going to be a fan of the sea – be it paddling, wave-dodging or swimming. However, despite its famed miles of beaches and gently sloping shoreline, its location on the Irish Sea meant that waves for surfing were just not available.
But there was always a lot of wind, which is why there are a lot of watersports done around the Fylde coast – from sailing, kayaking and sand-yachting through to windsurfing and latterly kite-surfing. As with a lot of kids in the area, I’d dabbled with many of these and of them all, probably enjoyed windsurfing the most as it was just me, the board and the sail against the wind. I got to a reasonably good standard, but like a lot of things, it fell by the wayside as other interests took over.
Late 80s and early 90s I was a student and working in the North East of England, which I know does now have a decent surf scene and great beaches from Tynemouth up to Bamburgh, but back then there was nothing and then from my 20s onwards I lived variously in London and the Midlands, so it’s fair to say that surfing was not an activity which featured prominently on my radar.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t aware of it, as during childhood family holidays in Cornwall I’d seen people on boards at Newquay, Perranporth and Gwithian Beaches and had a go at what we just called Body Surfing, which I remember really enjoying.
I expect nowadays what I felt would be described as “a journey, with a deep connection with the sea”, but back then I was 9 and so it was more of a “wooooooh, yeeeeaaaah, look at meeeee!” kind of thing. The other things that I know I remember about it were:
1. You stood in the sea with the water at chest/neck level with a 5mm thick piece of plywood or a thicker chunk of polystyrene and when any wave approached you jumped on and kicked your legs like mad to catch it.
2. It was mostly me and my older brother doing it whilst our folks watched from the beach. Now I could be wrong and doing them a great dis-service, but they didn’t like the water, but they did like scrumpy with our picnic and this may have been a greater draw for them (this was the 70s after all when Health and Safety didn’t exist and kids were expected to go and entertain themselves…)
3. It was bloody cold – it may have been at the most southerly part of the country and benefited the most from the Gulf Stream, but warm it was not. Plus this was in the days before there were kids’ wetsuits and options for keeping warm were limited – this usually heading back to the beach to shelter behind the windbreak (remember those?) in whatever sunshine there happened to be. That said, my dad did have an upper body wetsuit that I wore once or twice, but as it was several sizes too big and filled with water as soon as I went in, not drowning was probably the main thing that I learnt from it.
4. Most of all though, I remember being better than my brother – and when you’re 9, there’s nothing better than that! 🙂
So that was my introduction to catching and riding waves – not very Hollywood or even very dramatic, but in many ways better than either of those as it was just about having fun.