Got the ferry Saturday night, with the swell forecast that we had been watching all week there was a better than fair chance that it might be a bouncy crossing. So the obvious thing would be to settle down for an early and get a decent nights sleep. Straight into the bar then to get stuck into some vin rouge and Guinness.
This was the first time on the new Plymouth to Roscoff boat, The Amorique, and she is a beauty. . The old bus never had enough decent seats and would rattle, shudder, bang and creak along all night bearing scant regard to the sea conditions. Not sure if it was down to the boat or the particular swell conditions but this one was a bit 'cork screwy'.
Lots of green faces at breakfast and Henry's wet and dry cousin was out on regular duty. Still rocking as I write this and I’ve been off the boat for 9 hours. Anyway we got into the campsite at Les Dunes at 3:15; we chose the slower coastal route via Quimper and St Nazaire eventually getting into familiar ground where we painfully shut down our female version of HAL9000, (what are you doing Dave¿) as we drove past La Sausaire reef. There was a Solid swell showing with a crazy amount of random peaks. Looking across to 'our' beach all I could see was white water. Last time I surfed here with the guys it was pretty solid. This was the same if not bigger. 'Could be interesting'. I thought ,surfing chunky waves with a few mates is one thing, paddling out on my todd in this might well be character building.
Booking in to the site we checked out the accommodation. It was basic but clean and when you take into account that it was not that much more than camping it seemed good value.
We unpacked and sorted ourselves out before jumping on the bikes and cycling off to check out the surf, as if we needed to, it was all that we could hear on the site, even in the mobil home it drowned out the fairly impressive farmyard noises that our fridge was making. Ghosts of pate' past? Who know? What I can say was that the surf provided the soundtrack to the entire trip.
The beach access was very close and having negotiated the numerically coded gate we were soon at the edge of the dunes watching a solid head high set come piling through. Nice.
LOOKING GOOD - LINES TO THE HORIZON - MELLOW ??
Except that a hundred yards or more behind the darkening lines starting to focus their energy were revealing the actual well overhead first wave of a seven wave set each one just a bit bigger and a bit scarier than before. The waves were not full on close outs just huge rolling walls of full fat Atlantic juice.
BETTER PERSPECTIVE WITH THESE TWO - CHECK THE LONGBOARDER OUT
Charmaine thought it looked pretty. 'Going in?' she asked 'course' I said as casually as I could given that my brain had just passed the evacuate signal to my colon. Well jeez you can't look bad in front of your lady can you? And it was the reason that we came here for.!! So back to the van change up and in.
The paddle out was challenging, about five tables of white water to negotiate, I managed the first three on my feet. Looking good Steve nearly there don't cock it up now. Boooom. I was off and for the next hour or so (well it felt like it but actually it was probably only 5 or10 minutes I sloshed about barely holding my position. Off the board, on the board, off the board. . . Etc. as soon as I saw the lull I was onto my knees and short paddling like buggery. I was knackered already, but I was out.
I had already decided that should I get caught inside it would be game over for the day so I paddled well behind the break even so I did not feel that I could look to the beach for fear of getting caught by a rogue set. It was pretty chunky, with so much water moving in, out and across the beach.
My first wave was the second or third of a set. I tried to take it as early as I could and lucked into a fast moving left shoulder. I held on for a short ride and popped out early on my feet and paddled for the horizon. 'Ok one in the bag, out of breath but alive, result'
PLENTY OF PEAKS TO CHOOSE FROM
I had a few more, nothing special just decent size with plenty of punch. I fell off one or two and the thought crossed my mind that I might be better off on a longer board; the Naish was being bumped about that much whilst traveling down the faces. I stayed in for about an hour but I was toast partly from the trip but mainly from the paddle out beatings. I caught a long right to the beach getting out a couple of hundred yards from where I went in.
'You looked like you were struggling a bit' Charmaine said as she met me at the path. 'Mnnn' I mmnnnd.
'The short boarders seemed to be having a few good ones'. I explained that they were in first and had the pick of the peaks. Tomorrow’s going to be fun.
Decent meal at Cafe Sol et Luna and back to the van. I was totally out of it and I crashed at nine. It was quite cold through the night and all I could hear every time I woke was raging, pounding surf. It did remind me however to make a note to bring a thicker duvet or sleeping bags if we came this late again. The days might be warm but the nights were bloody cold.
Next morning I was not the eager beaver that I usually am on holiday. I hung around the van fiddling and fannying about before jumping on my bike to check out the waves. It was very misty, foggy even, all I could see was two lines of white water appearing from the gloom. The constant freight train roar told me that there were more unseen waves out of sight. I have to admit I was pretty spooked. So I abandoned any thought of an early morning session and bimbled back.
9:00 AM - SWELL BUILDING - BOTTLE FAILING - CAR PARK EMPTY
'Didn't think that you'd get in this morning' Charmaine said. How do they know all these things about us? I called her bluff. 'I was shit scared' I said. She smiled, she knew.
We jumped onto the bikes and cycled along the 13km or so along the off-road cycleway into St Giles. There are hundreds of kilometers of cycle paths both along the coast and towards the interior. All well way marked and easy going, a far cry from what I jibbed out of earlier.
Later that afternoon the sun burnt off the fog and the beach came alive. I could see a dozen or so out further down the beach at the far end but no one where I was. I paddled out having stood and watched for a while. The were no permanent channels but between the two access paths seemed to be a spell of rippy fast moving water that seemed to be an obvious entry point. It was, I knee paddled through the rip and made it to the line up easily. It was only now that I was out that I could see the half dozen or so short boarders that were hidden from view in the turbulence. Paddling away and out a bit from them I took up station and waited. It was not a long wait.
PADDLING OUT INTO A WARM OCTOBER EVENING
What followed was an endless succession of rights, lefts, cutbacks, and under the lip rides. I felt good. I did not feel scared (I didn't honest) exhilarated, pumped and knackered maybe but my previous apprehension had faded with the fog. I think that I have said this before but for me there seems to be a key to unlock each successful session find the key and I’m sorted. These waves had their key. As high as they faced up simply paddling in front of them did not automatically result in a catch, I had to paddle down the face with the lip just feathering otherwise the wave would simply pass me by. It felt wrong almost suicidal but the nature of this break meant that the shoulders were long and workable. Back home I would be paddling into closeouts. Here you either went under the lip and pull round to the shoulders or you didn't go. The prone surfers were also suffering a few abortive catch's.
I got hooted at by a French lad on a short board who beckoned me over.
'Bonjour ' I said with a big smug smile and a lousy accent.
'Bonjour ' he said.
'Le wav c'est bon' I said trying to organize my best nasally, throaty French.
'Oui c'est tres bon' he said with a smile. I paddled off happy that I had spread a little bit of SUP ‘Entente-cordiale'. I have to admit that I stretch my Franglais every trip with the same conversation.
In my usual fashion all the things that I wanted to work on technique wise went straight out of the window as I made a complete pig of myself.
I took my last big right all the way into the beach and stepped off the Naish onto the sand pleased that I had faced down a few personal gremlins. Shane would have laughed at me and called me 'his gay dad' but I was stoked. Standing back on the beach where there used to be a lifeguard hut I looked back out at the break across dozens of families soaking up the last of the late October afternoon sun's heat, all blissfully unaware of the dramas unfolding in front of each wave just a few hundred yards away..
Very humbling today, revved with my performance yesterday I thought today was going to be a doddle. Checked out the wave on the bike first thing, the tide was high and the wind was offshore. Huge clean lines striding in from as far as I could see, perfection!!!?
Changed up and in the water inside of ten minutes, I was keen. Twenty minutes later the distinct possibility of a blank was was racing through my mind, along with another major rinsing. Getting caught inside was only the half of it. Three or four times I thought 'That’s it, I’m out', before another huge clean up set from way outside dumped it's load all over me. 'FOR F**KS SAKE' I shouted as the last wave of the last set knocked me off my knees. As if someone had heard me the path to the outside went flat, I needed no second invitation. Onto my feet and paddling like I was fitting I found my self in the safe haven of green water unstained by speckled foam. My heart was pounding my arms were limp and my balance was shot but I was out. Now what?
I had expected to be half way down the beach such was the nature of the beatings that I had taken; in fact I had made it out pretty much in line with my flip-flops sitting safely at the top of the beach. Not that I could see them or anything else on the beach for that matter, I was miles out!!! Bugger.
I told myself to catch my breath and paddled up and down behind the break for a while, trying to gauge where the peak was and where the shoulders were. Hah! I was kidding myself. From the outside I could tell nothing. Worse I could see no one else out. Paddling in a bit made me feel super vulnerable to the huge dark faces that seemed intent on finishing their thousand mile journey on my head. Tentatively I tried paddling for a few. Not a chance. Each failed attempt at re-entry was followed by a manic panic to turn and flail towards the deep water sanctuary of the horizon. The gentle offshore breeze seemed to be accelerated a hundred fold up the wave face. I just could not get into them. My priorities were beginning to shift from 'how am I going to catch one of these buggers' to 'How the hell am I going to get in without getting proper bum raped' and 'Will my dental records be enough to id me'.
I'd asked Charmaine to come down and take some pics. That'll be nice I thought.
I paddled for the second wave from the next set, missed, stay cool, stay here, paddle from deeper, next wave, dig in gasping, missed, bugger - shit or bust now the next wave was rearing up behind me. Stop paddling, stop paddling, don’t get deeper just take it steep and hope it does not fold. The foothills of the wave lifted the tail of the Naish and I dug in in and BAM! It felt like an Apollo second stage kicked in. I crouched as the board accelerated from pretty much zero to Mach 5 in a split second. STILL GREEN STILL GREEN STILL GREEN. I hung on to ride the right to the inside painting a pretty white paddle trail down the green face. The wave felt huge the photos say 'what's all the fuss about?' I was just happy to walk up the beach with a board that did not need a Pope Bisect sticker.
LOOK'S NICE AND EASY NOW
SAME WAVE - TUCKED IN, HOLDING ON AND PAINTING PADDLE LINES
OUT-RUNNING THE FOAM BALL - JUST!!
NOW WANDERING WHAT ALL THE FUSS WAS ABOUT
MORE OF THE SAME THREATENING OUTSIDE
'Nice wave' Charmaine said, ' I just got here! I was going to take some pics. I got some of that last one though.' Bear with me as it's the sequence that's needed to actually give some perspective.
This was beginning to worry me a bit now. Big waves are ok but you have to get out to get them. Plus the majority of these buggers were going no-where. It's like - you get battered trying to get out, finally make it and all you have are monstrous clean up sets to work with. The alternative is to hang around for the non too small inside waves and risk racing out again as the sets comes in. Thats the joy of beach breaks I suppose.
One thing I did learn however was that it pays me for me to stay on my feet as much as possible when paddling out. I have been getting lazy recently and knee paddling through the wash, which is fine up to 2-3' but anything bigger and I'm better off attacking it on my feet. The shift / balance control is better than simply leaning back when on my knees. Plus the wider stance and sea-saw shift in weight from my back foot to my fore foot seems to 'pivot' the board over the wash better. Not having to short grip the paddle shaft lends a bit more power to that first steadying stroke should I actually make it up and over the other side. I had plenty of opportunity to contemplate paddling through wash and work on my technique.
So that's how the first few days shaped up. Don't expect too many surfing pics though, one it's hard to get Stand Up Body Doubles and two staring into a compact digital camera on full zoom for a couple of hours into a setting sun for pics for hubbies blog is not a whole bundle of fun. Can't quite understand why but there you go.