Our British Longboard Union undercover correspondent reports from a wild, windy, and wonderful North Devon gathering of the tribe.
The adrenaline levels always rise as you whisk past the Saunton Sands Hotel and approach the famous overnight illegal camping lay-bys of your youth, from where you get the first proper look at the glassy lines stretching to the horizon in the delicate glow of the early evening light.
So it comes as a mild disappointment when what you actually see, way, WAY below the road level is a wind-smashed swirling maelstrom of grey and blue reminiscent of the early Monday morning output of a very hungover modern art student. Who paints with feet. Other people’s feet.
Despite a large bribe to BBC Weather’s Chief Fortune Teller, Carol Kirkwood, we were getting wind. Swell? Yes. But wind, seriously onshore and consistently windy wind. Only one thing to do; retire to the welcoming arms of The Thatch in Croyde and stuff our mildly sad faces with lovely food and possibly beer.
Despite the above, Saturday morning saw a good-sized crowd of bright-eyed and vaguely bushy-tailed longboarders keen to get in amongst the general chaos and retreating tide. First to hit the water was the Men’s Open, and Round 1 standouts Ben Howey, Sam Bleakley, Chris Webb, and Evan Rogers made enough of the conditions to put double-digit total scores on the board. The quarterfinals, held later in the day at a higher tide, gave the young guns Blake Jones and Arthur Randell the chance to shine, and between the two of them they sent current Masters Champion Sam Bleakley for an early bath.
In the Women’s Open, a small field meant we plowed straight into quarterfinals. Held at low tide, the surfers were a LONG way up the point. Rumour is that Emily Currie was so far out to sea, she won a heat in a totally different contest at Rest Bay, on the other side of the Bristol Channel. The walk across the ankle-breaking reef for the photographers was no picnic either. The highest round scores went to Emily, Claire Smail and Mali Harbour, very neatly covering the U16 to Over-35 age range.
The Single Fin had another great turnout despite a few last-minute withdrawals. The heavier logs gave surfers the chance to actually link up the crumbly 2-3ft faces, make it through to the cleaner reforms and open up much more scoring potential.
Sunday morning saw an early start to make up for Saturday’s lost time, accompanied by slightly blearier eyes and slightly better conditions, and with the Single Fin and Grandmasters quarter finals done, we were in to the sharp end of competition.
In the U16 Cadets a good turnout saw a couple of great semi’s result in Kaz Phillips providing the only male representation in the final and, despite some great footwork from the ladies, it was an early zinger from Kaz that sealed the win over Sylvie Puddiphatt, Mali Harbour and Lola Bleakley.
The Masters final was another close affair, this time between Sam Bleakley and dark horse Chris Webb. The difference at the end probably came down more to the vagaries of wave selection and possibly Sam’s ability to look smoother than a greased otter in pretty much any conditions. Good showing from Alan Reed for 3rd place.
In the Women’s Open, it was all about the British teammates Emily Currie and Beth Leighfield. With Emily defending her BLU title and Beth having pulled a stealth mission up to Saunton to get a cheeky bit of training in a week earlier at a Hotdoggers contest, it was anyone’s game. In the end, Emily linked sections and squeezed waves just that little bit harder to take the victory.
The Grandmasters was another interesting affair, Chris Webb’s victory leaves the title wide open for the final event and must have 2nd and 3rd place finishers Alan Reed and Adam Chell looking over their shoulders with a tad less certainty than before the weekend. There was another great final for the U18 Boys, with pals Arthur Randell and Blake Jones once again tussling over the number one spot despite the efforts of Seth Reed and newcomer Reggie Roynon. Arthur claimed the win, but a victory each for these two frothers leaves it all to play for on the final stop.
The U18 Girls next, and (sadly) the only straight final. A massive positive was our first-ever Danish entry in the form of Freja Pettersson Kristensen! It appears that surfing in less-than-perfect conditions at home came in quite handy for Saunton as she slipped past Sylvie and Lola to take second place, a feat only slightly eclipsed by Mali Harbour taking her first – and well-deserved – win in the division.
Another very open division is the Men’s…ummm…Open. In a close match, it was South Devon’s Ben Howey who took the win over Arthur Randell, Evan Rogers, and Ashley Braunton. It was great surfing across the board, and delighted to see Ashley make the final at his home break despite the waves doing their very best to avoid him.
The Women’s Over-35s was a straight-up North Devon vs Newquay affair which finished with a great win for Jen Pen over Claire Smail, Tina Beresford, and Ingrid Morrison, who seemed to enjoy her first appearance in the final. Last but not least, the Single Fin. With Ben Howey, Sam Bleakley, Tom Fisher, and Louis Thomas-Hudson making up the finalists, it looked super close until Ben Howey took off on an innocuous-looking right-hander that ran pretty much to the beach and claimed his second division win of the weekend.
Huge gratitude to our primary event sponsor, Saunton Sands Hotel for their support and for providing a rather attractive backdrop for many of the photos taken across the weekend, The Thatch at Croyde for their support and for feeding everyone on Saturday night, and Saunton Break Café for making sure the staff and judges were fed to a level that prevented any diva outbursts during competition.
This year we are especially grateful to welcome Tour Sponsors Lisarb Energy, CTC Waste, Ocean & Earth, 10 Over Surf, and Media Partner Longboarder Magazine. Your support is genuinely valued and we thank you for helping to keep the longboard scene in its current vibrant state.