The Beginner's Edit

The Beginner's Edit

I’ve surfed before but I’m still very much a beginner. As a teen I’d given it a go and quickly lost interest when I realised physical exercise was involved. In my early 20’s I returned to surfing with a little more patience and some friends. Surfing is still a strong word at this point as it was more ‘rolling-around-in-the-sea-and-miraculously-standing-before-falling-off-with-surprise’ than surfing. Yet I’d often find my mind wandering back to that weekend.

I decided to take surfing a little more seriously and visited Newquay last summer. I’d ridden a few waves, caught the surfing bug and, declaring 2017 my year of surfing, I’d vowed to go as much as possible, as soon as possible. It was time to find a surf school.

I’d booked with Westcountry Surf School after finding them online and felt that with a family friendly surf school was likely to be my best bet as a solo traveller. I spoke with Joel, the owner, about what would be best and booked a three-day course. I soon found myself standing at the shoreline with 5mm of neoprene staring at a grey sea and greyer sky. I’d been assured by Joel within moments of meeting that this was a ‘perfect day’ to learn to surf. “We’ll see.” was all I could respond.

Adjusting into the brand-new winter wet-suit that was included in my lesson, I took a moment to take in the location of the surf school. It’s not hard to see why Watergate Bay is one of Cornwall’s most photographed spots and the surf school itself sits perched amongst rolling green hills facing an endless ocean view. It’s close to civilisation (being only 10 minutes from busy Newquay) and easily accessible by road but there was something delightfully remote and adventurous about getting changed in a shipping container conversion and flitting across fields and cliffs in pursuit of waves. My heart-rate was already picking up and we hadn’t even made it to the beach.


Board in hand, I began to think about past experiences. I know how good it feels when everything is just right and you find yourself riding a wave (no matter how small!). I also know how it feels to swallow copious amounts of saltwater and find sand in places you really shouldn’t find sand after wiping out. I had accepted that falling off was one of the best parts of learning to surf but…

I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stand again, even the most ‘perfect’ of learning conditions.

“You will.” Said Joel without second thought. His confidence in his ability to get everyone one their feet by the end of the lesson was reassuring but, as we laid our boards on the sand and the lesson began, my nerves continued to linger.

The lesson began with an in-depth explanation of the basics of surfing, including the very definition of a wave. 20 minutes and a whole lot of patience mixed with gentle encouragement later, Joel had us clued up on beach safety. We learned vital info about riptides and how to avoid and escape them and the anatomy of our boards. After a quick warm up and a few waves caught lying down, we were ready to roll.

This was it. The moment I had been dreading. Would I be able to wrap my head around the fine art of standing on a foam board whilst balancing on the edge of infinite tonnes of saltwater?

‘Yes’ is the simple answer. With extra emphasis on the word ‘simple’.

Joel’s explanation was broken down into steps which made the whole stand on a surfboard thing sound as easy as putting the kettle on. His friendly attitude and positive mindset demystified a sport that looks so miraculous to 90% of the population. I even wondered if he was betraying the rest of the surf world by sharing his technique with us – magician code style.

We headed back to the sea with step by step instructions on how to stand up and, somewhere between deploying my chicken wings and lizard neck, I realised that surfing had become fun again. The laid back but informative approach of the surf school had untied the knot of fear in my stomach without me realising.

The sky was beginning to lighten over Newquay from grey cloud to white sea mist as the lesson progressed. I didn’t stand first time, but some did and most came close. Joel watched on proudly from the water as he whooped encouragement to the class. The grey water silvered as the sun made its way through the mist but as I emerged from another icy dunking due to sliding off the rail, I realised everyone had now stood apart from me.

As if sensing my gloominess, Joel made his way over in a carefree manner and explained tiny tips that would have a big impact on my balance and overall surfing. As usual, he made it sound very simple without being patronising.

Armed with these gems of information, I pushed off into the next wave and I felt it all come together once again. The pressure was off. I was surfing and the newly present sun couldn’t shine as brightly as my smile as I rode the wave right to the shore.

I had two more lessons with the school over my weekend stay in Cornwall. I stood fairly often and began to work on paddling to catch waves. The most precious result of the lessons however was the newly instilled sense of confidence I found myself with. I even hired equipment and go surfing solo one afternoon with the sun shining the whole time. Spring had sprung in Newquay and thanks to Joel his Westcountry Surf School, my year of surfing was off to an amazing start.

Originally posted here


Nomadic writer and designer