[As Wavelength celebrates its 40th birthday in 2021, we revisit at some of the more colourful chapters in European surfing history.]
When was European surfing born? That is of course, a trick question, depending on what exactly you mean by European surfing. Perhaps it was in the late Cretaceous, as the European and Iberian tectonic plates diverged, creating deep submarine trench in Biscay. Could it be in 1890, when two Hawaiian princes shocked Victorian society with a display of surfriding at Bridlington, Yorkshire? Or in 1988, when a coal miner’s son from Swansea called Carwyn beat the reigning Australian World Champion at a French beach?
There’s an argument to be made that was in fact 1991, when something called the Stormrider Guide was published by a group called Low Pressure running a surf shop of the same name in the swanky west London suburb of Kensington, typically more Sloane Ranger than surfer frequented.
At the time, the European Union’s Maastricht treaty and its ‘freedom of movement’ clause was the source of much heated debate in Britain (sound familiar?).
But freedom of movement was also a potent call to action to curious surfers on the shores of Europe.
Suddenly, no surf vehicle dashboard, from well-appointed VW van to modest 3 door hatchback was complete without a copy of the A4 sized, 160 page oracle.
A long lens shot of a fresh faced Maurice Cole deep on a wintry looking Hossegor foamball adorned on the front cover, while Curren casually arched into a sunlit aquamarine pocket on the back, beside a simple question set in the lip line in yellow type.
Do you like riding waves?
Even the book’s title was beguiling, seductive. Perhaps part inspired by the recent UK chart rerelease of Riders on the Storm following the success of The Doors movie.
Perhaps out of a sense of inclusiveness, with windsurf wave sailing getting shots and shout outs in the book. Perhaps merely out of pragmatism. We do have storms. Lots. We must have lots of waves too. Look, Tom Curren even lives here now. It must be kinda… good.
From Channel slop to Portuguese points, spinning dartboard depressions were the wave chaser’s holy grail, published in broadsheet newspapers’ synoptic charts and on the BBC news weather (but not low-brow ITV).
With the tech available at the time, you couldn’t much model a swell for next week at a set location. But once you were in a spot looking at the day’s offering, you could hatch a decent plan armed with your copy of The Stormrider Guide.
Or simply drive as many motorway miles as you could until you got bored, usually heading south, then pull off at the next exit and see what the Stormrider reckoned.
Besides practical back up options for maxed out main breaks, the book’s tone was probably key to its success; part Wikipedia, part GCSE language vocab, part history lesson.
With 500 surf spots and lineup shots of a cosmopolitan array of waves, it was informative and entertaining. You’d read that “England and Wales have never had an entirely easy relationship” while flicking through the chapter on The Gower for somewhere to surf on a southerly, or the Spanish translation of “Your eyes are like the moon” while going the wrong way down a one way street in San Sebastian.
The list of writers and contributors were some of the best of Europe’s national surf mag scribes, and in a stark sign of surely more innocent times, they even printed the contributing photographers’ home addresses and phone numbers in the back.
For £15, which was the same price as an E, you had every surf spot from Scotland to Canaries described and explained, which for all intents and purposes was the known Euro universe. Maybe not ideal for wave count at the break that you lived in front of, but canny handy for the hundreds of others that you don’t.
“We hope that this publication helps to engender a spirit of camaraderie in the oceans which we all communally own,” writes Tim Rainger in the book’s introduction, part author’s credo, part T&C’s disclaimer. “Surfing is a sensation of pure pleasure and in a troubled world, great care should be taken to ensure that the problems of stress induced by modern life do not encroach further into one of mankind’s most sacred pursuits.”