Twelve days deep into a trip to London and I was staring at the reflective glass wall of a skyscraper’s ground floor. The pane was mottled, rising and sinking in gentle depressions like wind chop on water’s surface and distorting the brass interior of the atrium inside.
I was transfixed, the sun’s movement off the ripples was familiar and suddenly I felt it, that unmistakeable pang for the sea. Having managed less than two weeks of coastal cold turkey, I was starting to miss Cornwall.
Newquay is home, one of Cornwall’s geological gems and aesthetic shit holes, but 100% blessed with surf on all of its seven beaches. We have no ‘hubbub’, just queues for ice cream and those neon monogramed t-shirts that make me wretch, but the year round vibe is of a close-nit surfing town. You get easily immersed in the Newquay community bubble. It’s the opposite of the city, perfectly surf obsessed and slowly modernising with contemporary influence. I love it but often crave urban energy. You simply can’t get one without forfeiting the other in the UK.
So how do you satisfy the needs of two contrasting cultures? Over the last few years there’s been a shift; tantalising tasters of each can be found in the other, evidence of a seeping cultural exchange that can remind and tease your resolve into booking a trip.
In Newquay for example, we have a growing coffee and brew culture, a modernistic take on bars and caffeine houses with softly industrial interiors; clean, white washed walls with hardwood and steel furniture; slightly rugged and quietly confident with renovated city warehouse vibes.
For my metropolitan friends, surfing culture is an escape from being stoked up earners, career driven but yearning to find balance to their urban lifestyles. Most love the city and their jobs, but can’t stomach seeing good surf on their Instagram feeds during the week. And if you’re desperate to leave the city grind, it must hurt even more.
So they find islands of surf in the city sprawl; surf fashion, art, fitness, skate, motorbikes and cheap flights whilst clinging to the hope of future inner city artificial wave pools, each planning their escape to find the next wave.
Airport sprawl surfers
With cheap flights so readily available in cities there’s a growing culture of airport sprawl surfers chasing waves by plane rather than by car. Lets be honest, if you can catch the train directly into the terminal and arrive at a warmer climate with better waves in under three hours, you might be tempted to avoid the A30 Bodmin road works for the weekend.
“This weekend just gone, I went to a hen party on Friday night, didn’t sleep and got a 5.40am flight to Biarritz,” said London based surfer, Tia Seymour.
“I was in the water by 10am, surfed for a few hours, slept, surfed again after lunch, then went on a bike ride, had a sunset surf session followed by a magazine launch at the local micro-brewery and stayed at this awesome surf house. Next day, pumping waves – surfed for about 5 hours in all and then got a late flight back to London at about 11pm. Up for work the next morning….
Weekend warriors and caddy conversions
At the same time that Friday night, Sophie Dundovic was blasting the M4 / M5 at midnight under the cover of darkness, in an escape quest from central London to find swell.
“I’ve lived the city surfer existence in two capitals recently, Santiago Chile and London UK. Housemate Stu and I make it work by obsessively checking magic seaweed and blitzing down the motorway in my high spec go-kart whenever we get a chance. This usually results in a chauffeur type situation because there are not enough windows for a roof rack.
“Often we go to North Devon or Cornwall, but have recently been checking out Rest Bay in Porthcawl as the journey is more manageable, and Highcliffe or Boscombe on the South Coast if we are really itching to get a day in.
“At the week we hit the climbing walls and slack line as a poor substitute for the thrill of the water. Stu has recently seen the light, realised surfing is his raison d’être and moved to Indo, leaving Kennington Surf Club est. 2016.”
Converting a VW Caddy into a small, London friendly surf van is Jamie Bacon’s solution to the city to coast commutes.
“I made the choice to stay in the city and it does hurt when your friends are surfing and I’m stuck on the tube going to a meeting.
“So I invested in a little VW Caddy because it’s small and easy for London parking. Now I can escape to Cornwall anytime when I’m free on weekends and do quick trips to France. Works a treat. Last week I did a little trip to one of my favourite spots on the south coast and also I escape to Kimmeridge bay when I get the chance. Once summer time hits I jump in the Euro star to France and head down to Hossegor.”
Standing wave surfers
In the heart of Bavaria, along Munich’s Eisbach (‘Ice brook’) River is a surfing curve ball; a standing surfable wave flowing through the city’s largest park, the Englischer Garten. Strategically placed concrete blocks shape over 20 tonnes of surging water per second, whilst a makeshift rope and pulley system adjusts the shape and size of its face. It was illegal to surf the wave until 2010 because of the danger, but it now attracts a large and close-nit crew of passionate surfers who’ll take you down unless you’ve proven yourself on a smaller wave downstream. Like in all surfing communities, you have to respect the pecking order to be accepted.
Of course, there are many places on the continent that allow urban dwelling surfers to have their cake and eat it. The likes of Lisbon, Bilbao and Biarritz to name but three, offer world class waves a quick drive or tube ride from the city centre. Are you one of these, presumably fairly smug city dwelling surfers? We want to hear from you! Drop us an email at [email protected] and introduce yourself.
Whether you’re a coastal salt bag or silver surfer chained to the city, continue the hunt. Waves are worth it.
Thank you to all who shared their urban surf conundrums with us, from Athens to Santiago. We salute you.
Cover photo: Hagens World