Alan’s Day: Sometimes I get a little carried away with dawn surfs; the boys have been known to call me Sergeant Stokes, and for good reason.
This particular day started pretty early when I went and picked up Johnny Fryer and Tim Boydell. By the time we had driven down to the south coast it was still dark and absolutely freezing, but the anticipation of the day ahead kept us warm as we looked out at the dark sea. Finally it got light enough to see the waves; Porthleven was looking like a messy beach break – sweet!
I hadn’t surfed Leven for over a year, and the last time was pretty small I think, but hey, a view is a view. You really need the right chart to score this place, so I’m never really up for making the trip when it’s going to be less than average, I’d rather surf a beach break and not get hurt! Also, I’m usually overseas in January, so I tend to miss out on those big winter swells that bring it to life.
Sometimes I get a little carried away with dawn surfs
Fryer and Timmy were frothing so much that they had already paddled out in the dark. Usually I am the guinea pig, so it was nice to have them go and test the water for me, literally.
As it got light, the crowd started to grow. Porthleven can get really busy these days; it’s a really accessible surf spot with a channel to paddle out in, so it can get pretty crazy out there with people who, in my opinion, should have a better understanding of their ability, but hey-ho, it makes for some pretty exciting entertainment.
I’m amazed at what people get away with sometimes when they wipeout. I’m no exception; I’ve had my fair share of dodgy wipeouts out there too.
When it’s on Leven can offer up world class top to bottom barrels and it can get heavy on the take off. The reef is actually pretty lethal; there’s a little high corner on the right and if you pick the wrong wave it can go wrong very quickly.
That corner has put some stitches in people’s heads. Even on this day, a clean-up set came through and landed on Fryer, breaking his board and leash string, leaving him to scramble up the cliff to get out of the surf.
It looked sketchy, but he’s a crazy stuntman so he took it all in his stride. Eventually I paddled out and played the waiting game out back. The good ones were few and far between, so I waited all day for the right gem, but sometimes that one is all you need.
Toby’s Day: I had just arrived home after being snowed-in up at Bristol, missing a few days of really good waves on the north coast of Cornwall.
I thought, just my luck, the run of nice waves and very little wind was over, but at dinner that evening my step-dad – Adrian Phillips of Fluid Juice Surfboards – told me that he thought there was a chance that Porthleven would be on the next day.
Excited, I studied the swell charts, even though I don’t really know what I’m looking for because I haven’t explored the south coast that much. Then, after emailing surf photographer Jason Feast, I decided that if there was a photographer going, it was probably worth me going too!
One on the best barrels I’ve had in the UK
My alarm woke me up at 6.30am the next morning, and after a quick text to Feasty to confirm that I should get out of bed, I necked three cups of tea and two crumpets to set myself up for the session.
I cruised down to the south coast in my van by myself; it was bitterly cold and the roads were icy along the country lanes, so the hour drive turned into a cautious two hour drive. Not knowing the way also added to my journey time, but in the end I called Feasty and put him on loudspeaker as my personal sat nav.
The first person I bumped into when I arrived at the fishing harbour was Alan Stokes; he was sat at the top of the cliff focused on the peak.
I was relieved to hear that he had been stood there watching the waves and waiting for the tide to push since first light – I was late, but I hadn’t missed a thing.
I’ve not surfed Porthleven many times; once when I was 14 and then another when I was 17. Both of those times it was fairly average, but this day it was pumping, so I asked Stokesy – a real expert at this spot – to talk me though how to surf the wave when it was good like this.
Watching the waves, there was a growing crowd of bodyboarders and stand-ups on the main peak, all fighting over the nice four foot sets. Feasty wandered up and moaned that this was as busy as he had seen the place, but after a bit of grumbling we decided we should just get in anyway.
I slapped on my wetty and twat cap and scuttled across the rocks, trying not to slip on the way to the jump-off zone. After doing my warm up on the rocks I went to put my leash on, only to realise that, as usual, I’d forgotten something.
I turned around and headed back up the rocks to my van to go and find my leash string. As my parents would say to me; “if brains were dynamite Toby, you’d be the lucky one.”
Finally, I was sat out in the line up with Stokesy, waiting for the big ones. I chose to sit more on the inside of the peak, but still pretty deep so that I could keep moving, because the waves that I wanted were the big double-ups that would open up wider on the shallow shelf of reef.
Before this little session, I had spent eight weeks on the North Shore in Hawaii, surfing lots of sharp, shallow reef breaks.
Sat there at Porthleven it felt like I was surfing at a cold water Velzyland – a place I had surfed everyday on the North Shore – but with a much smaller crowd. This day just felt like so much fun, wearing my thick rubber suit of armour, bouncing off the reef and taking off late on the waves that people were missing.
After a break for lunch, the wind lightened and the sun started coming out. The crowd had thinned and it was even starting to pick up, so I jumped in my van and whacked on the same dripping wet, sandy wetsuit.
This time I started pushing myself hard to take the deep bombs and stand as tall as possible. I got one on the best barrels I’ve had in the UK, taking off behind the peak and knowing exactly what was going to happen – I just stood there. It was great to be back in the water in Cornwall; even if you have to wear all the rubber, nowhere beats home.
This article was originally published in Wavelength issue 224. Be the first to get our articles in print and online by subscribing here.