“The valley is gone. And now every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool at Bakewell in Buxton”– John Ruskin
Does modern life leave you yearning for a time long since passed?
Perhaps you’ve more in common with John Ruskin, celebrated 19th century English essayist and precursor of the environmental movement than you thought.
Ruskin was beside himself at mankind’s folly for technological advancement, notably the building of a railway bridge across the delightful Monsal Head, a beauty spot in northern England’s bucolic Peak District.
Personally, I tend to look back fondly on the 1990’s. No, not for the fashions. Not for the clearly superior music, not for the general mystique and cultural caché still associated with a lifestyle centred on wave riding, not for the thrilling surf discoveries yet to be made, both internal and real world.
Not for a time when a phone app that featured real time webcams, live wind and accurate 7 day forecasts were still the stuff of a madman’s dream.
None of these things.
What I miss most is a golden age of surfing equipment when utility had yet to come to the fore. When stuff either didn’t really work, or hadn’t been invented yet.
A time when surfboards didn’t really paddle. And bicycles didn’t have tractor tyres and secret engines.
Not so long ago, I used to like to dabble at a medium wave spot in Hossegor called La Nord. You could go out and get a few on a step-up of sorts; dudes were generally on banana-y 6’8”s, craft that gave the impression of float, when that was still very much a relative term.
A few old farts had longboards of course, you’d get the odd freak on rescue kneelo thingies, but the out and out gun was a rarity.
‘Bruce & Andy surfed it 10ft on shortboards’ went the flawed collective logic of the deluded recreational surfer.
Riding a Waimea board meant you were probably something of a blaireau. Which is French for badger, and means kook, of course.
Then sometime around 2010 Nathan Fletcher appeared in a surf mag paddling Belharra.
His board looked like a cross between one of those Peruvian reed canoes that The Surfer’s Journal used to like, and a Molokai Paddle Race board. The nose was so thick, he explained between lung dart toots, it won’t nose dive on huge chops.
All of a sudden, everyone’s bigger boards started getting beefy. Not for paddling 40ft Belharra, but just because. Soon, every clean 6ft plus swell would be greeted by a flotilla of fifteen hundge Euro beak nose 9’8”s with inch thick spruce stringers and more glass than the tropical hot house at Kew Gardens.
Try snaffling a peak out there now.
So not-really-big wave surfing has gone to the dogs, or rather, badgers. Fine. There’s always the smaller days. If I’m being honest with myself, much more my natural environment, anyway.
Besides, when it’s small, there are so many more options around here in SW France. When it’s under 4ft, pretty much every spot works, there are waves literally everywhere. The main spots can be crowded of course, but you could always go ‘up north’ a vaguely defined area without car parks, often involving long walks through the woods.
It used to require a degree of commitment; walk in, and if the bank’s gone/wind’s up etc, you’ve probably missed your chance of going anywhere else.
If you were feeling really bold, you could try taking your car through the forest illegally and maybe incur a hefty fine from the ONF (Office Nationale de Forets). A genuine risk-reward dilemma.
Well not anymore. These days, an ever-growing cavalry of electric fat bikers with board racks have the whole thing figured out.
A hefty investment meant initially the uptake was relatively slow… you could name your local e-fat bikers a few seasons ago, whereas these days it’s easier to name locals that don’t own one. Now you’ll see the sinister outline of a swarm coming up the beach not entirely unlike the approach of an Aufklärungsabteilung division atop Zündapps.
Your motivated e-fat biker can check the entire coast within a really short space of time. Those little banks you might score that weren’t exactly secret, but just were a pain in the arse to get to, and thus more likely to be quiet-ish, are very much accessible.
E-bikes are now pretty much standard issue. From ex-pro surfer rippers to local groms, they’re almost becoming as much a surfing essential as a board and wetsuit. Given the lie of the land and the way the coast is accessible, they make total sense. No nasty plume of SUV diesel choke to check the surf, just a pleasant, berm top wave check with the Atlantic swash licking at your wheels.
Finding myself very much on the wrong side of both history and the argument, once again, I wasn’t too proud to admit being beat and tried to join. That was until I saw the price.
At three grand or so a pop, I couldn’t help but conclude that, if you used your fat bike, say, 150 times in its lifetime (before it died/rusted away/got stolen) which is probably a massive overestimate, wouldn’t you rather just struggle on your rickety regular bike (and then walk) board under arm, and sure, leave earlier/arrive later, more knackered, but then just pay yourself twenty five bucks when you got back home, after each and every sesh?
“Pagan in its origin, proud and unholy in its revival, paralysed in its old age…” Ruskin would later observe, “Invented, as it seems, to make plagiarists of its architects, slaves of its workmen, and sybarites of its inhabitants; an architecture in which intellect is idle, invention impossible, but in which all luxury is gratified and all insolence fortified.”
He was talking about Venice of course, rather than 21st century surfing.
But we had you there for a minute, right?