Over the next few months you will be hearing from some of those women with whom I have explored and adventured, drunk tea and eaten cake with and most importantly all of whom really really love being outside. They are all ladies of the wild, and I hope their stories strike as much of a chord with you as they do with me. First up is Dr Sally Rangecroft, scientist extraordinare, phenomenal sports woman and owner of (quite possibly) the world’s best hair.
I have lived in Cornwall for nearly 4 and a half years, but my time by the coast is drawing to an end, as I am moving upcountry for a job at the end of the month. So when Sarah asked me to be a guest blogger, I didn’t realise it at the time, but it made perfect sense to allow me to reflect on one of the outdoor sports that has now come to define my life in Cornwall, surfing.
The thing is until a year ago, it hadn’t . For many years waterpolo had been a large part of my life, until the draw of the outdoors became too great and I started gig rowing. climbing, and surfing more and more. I have been extremely lucky as I have been exposed to surfing for a long time – with brothers who love the sport, family holidays by the sea, and a group of surfer friends in my Masters year in North Wales – so I have always enjoyed going for a surf. I was, however, mainly a fair weather surfer, only going if it was next to perfect conditions, not understanding the forecast at all, or going when it fitted into my busy weekend schedule regardless of tide or wind.
Now it is a very different matter. A big part of the change is down to a year of constant encouragement from, and the contagious passion of, friends at uni. I now constantly check the surf report, wake up at stupid o’clock to go surfing before work, chose surfing over a gym class or run (or try to do all three when I can) and block a whole day out if the surf looks good. The two main reasons for my progress with surfing, go hand-in-hand and have been: the constant encouragement and offers to go surfing with friends who are better than me, therefore pushing me and taking me out in conditions that I would normally not put myself in; and a steady change of boards from a 7’6 mini mal to my 5’11 Al Merrick (shortboard).
I changed to a shorter board nearly a year ago, which resulted in a frustrating changeover phase of having to work harder to get a wave and feeling like a beginner again. Despite the steep learning curve, it resulted in a huge progression for my surfing ability – allowing me to feel safer on a steep wave, to turn, and to respond to the wave. But it is important to highlight that I have numerous surfs where I mess up, or feel angry at myself for not making it to my feet, or getting my balance slightly wrong. But it is worth it for the waves when I do get it right, or the surfs that go amazingly. The bad surfs are just part of the learning process and are necessary.
Even more importantly, there are also the constant psychological barriers that I have had to overcome with surfing. These include the concept of going surfing on your own, encouraging yourself to go surfing when you don’t know if you have read the forecast well enough for it to be worthy of driving a 45 mile round trip to the North Coast. Also being one of the very few females out in the water and having to compete for waves/ be aggressive when paddling for a wave to not lose it to a more experienced surfer, can be pretty daunting. By far the largest barrier for me has been learning to switch off my sensible brain reaction, the one that tells me “don’t do this”. Only until recently have I been able to override this switch from the word go, when I am in the water. For years I would paddle for a wave and it was like my head and my heart were conflicting; my heart wanted to surf, to go for it, but my head was sensible and knew it was a crazy thing to do – to take off on a steep wave and risk the power of the ocean battering you and holding you down if you get it wrong. However, I learnt that with time and experience, and through being pushed by my friends, that actually it doesn’t hurt too much if you get it wrong. You just have to go for it. You then end up surprising yourself when you just laugh off a massive fall or actually make it to your feet. However, it’s worth saying that I still get those conflicts and don’t go for waves because my heart loses the battle sometimes… but it is definitely happening less and less. Importantly, it is ok to feel like that – it’s just a psychological barrier that needs overcoming with time and effort and persistence… and a slight addiction.
Most recently, I experienced surfing over a reef for the first time. The knowledge that there was rock under the shallow water was enough to really throw me and resulted in a frustrating surf as I felt like I didn’t get many waves. However, I know now that this experience, like the many that came before it will just be part of another learning curve and will contribute to me having an even better surf one day down the line.
As my Cornish countdown is on, I’ve realised that it is always worth getting in for a surf – partly because it is something that soon I won’t be able to do, and partly because you learn a bit more every time. So for this last month, I will continue to live the surfing dream whenever I can.