Ride with the new generation

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Delighted squeals and broad grins prove that even those who can't stand up are having have a good time trying. Yolanda Brooks reports on surfing in Cornwall.

Beach life, circa 1950, meant donkeys, kiss-me-quick hats and sturdy, cover-up bathing costumes for the ladies. But swinging into the 60s, things took a more malevolent turn, with Mods and Rockers battling it out for seaside supremacy.

In the 70s, beach life meant scorching Spanish sun, lobster sunburn and bottles of sangria.

Fast forward again to the new century and British beach life - in Cornwall anyway - is enjoying a renaissance.

Seaside life has taken on a newer, sporty, can-do feel. Sunbathers only come out with the sun. But come rain, shine or high winds, surfers take to the waves. And they come to Cornwall to enjoy some of the best and most consistent surfing in Europe.

However, before conjuring up pictures of Hawaii and Bondi Beach - long, blond hair and lithe, tanned bodies in baggy shorts - reset your surfing cliches program. Think now of some perfect, and some not-so perfect bodies, corralled under Velcro and neoprene.

They are a mixture of the young, the more mature, whole families, thrill seekers and tough, outdoor types. Add school children and teachers, and you have a snapshot of the Cornish surfing scene - exhilarating, sensible and open to all.

Surfing is losing its 'watersport with attitude' label. Many people have now picked up that its a lot more than just a sport for adrenaline junkies.

You don't have to go out into deep water to catch a wave - waist level will do for beginners. It's also cheaper than other watersports. Expensive gadgets and equipment are unnecessary.

Chris Rea has been running the Harlyn Surf School in Padstow since 1994. He says: "Surfing is becoming a more mainstream sport with people from all walks of life having a go. Our school business has grown steadily because the sport is to popular. We started with groups making an annual trip, and some schools running two or three trips a year."

Karen Walton from British Surfing Association (BSA) says: "The number of people who surf has been going up about 10 per cent a year. There are about 100,000 surfers in the UK, and that number doubles in the summer."

Although surfing is most popular in north Cornwall, North Devon and South Wales, it's picking up a following in the North East and on the south coast, especially in Bournemouth.

It's easy to understand surfing's growing appeal. As long as you can swim and are reasonably fit, that's all you need to get started.

The first day or two of lessons are taken up with moving from lying flat on the board to standing upright. Once you've mastered your technique, you can work on staying upright. From then on its practice, practice, practice.

It's a great thing to do in a group, as the Year 9 students from Kineton high school in landlocked Warwickshire discovered.

As they waited for the next set of waves, there was plenty of time for chatting and catching up on the progress of friends. If the wading, splashing and falling off was too much, they recuperated on the beach. It didn't even matter that the sun wasn't shining.

The modern miracle that is neoprene meant that they stayed warm in the water for hours.

When Bill Dalton, the head of science at Kineton, was planning the four-day trip for June, he decided to include surfing along with sailing, kayaking and windsurfing.

"A lot of students may have kayaked or sailed before, but very few have surfed - even if they have been to Cornwall," he says.

The surfing session ran for a whole day on Watergate Bay between Padstow and Newquay. At the end a few Kineton students with exceptional balance were already riding the waves to the shore. But it was obvious from the delighted squeals and big grins, that even those who couldn't stand up were having a lot of fun trying.

"We did a questionnaire at the end of the trip and I think there was only one negative comment from the 65 students," says Dalton. "Surfing in particular was very, very popular."

"At the end of the day, it is not about how good they are," says Chris Rea. "It's about how much fun they're having."

But many teachers will be thinking long and hard about the safety implications of such a trip. Chris Rea has worked with a lot of school parties and understands teachers' concerns. He has a ready-made risk assessment pack that Bill Dalton found extremely useful.

To provide extra reassurance for parents, Dalton travelled to Cornwall in advance to film a Harlyn lesson. The resulting video was very well received by parents.

When choosing a surf school, it's worth getting in touch with the BSA. They run the Approved Surfing School Scheme, which ensures that certain safety standards are being met.

All approved schools must have instructors with a BSA Level 1 accredited coaching certificate, together with an open-water life saving qualification.

They must also have life-saving aids, first aid kits to hand, third party liability insurance and a maximum of one instructor to every 10 students. (At Harlyn the ratio is 1:8.) There is a list on the association website. The BSA can also post or email you up-to-date listings.

Like all sports, there is some risk attached to surfing. But with the right safety guidelines and a modest outlay, you and your school can enjoy a high return of exhilaration, exercise, plenty of fresh air - and if you can stand up and stay up, a great view.

Kineton's four-day trip cost pound;110 a head, including food, accommodation, transport and activities. The school party stayed at the outdoor pursuits centre, Tregyre House, run by Truro College.

Please quote reader reply No. GP627

Contacts Harlyn Surf School, 16 Boyd Avenue, Padstow, Cornwall PL23 8ER. Tel: 01841 533 076. Email: chris@harlynsurf.co.uk Web: www.harlynsurf.co.uk.

Prices start from pound;15 per person and include equipment and tuition. To take surfing lessons with Harlyn, children must be at least eight years old and be able to swim 50m. Most primary schools take part in half-day lessons.

Truro College, Tregyre House, Carnon Downs, Cornwall TR3 6JH. Tel: 01872 862 289. Web:www.trurocollege.ac.ukBSA National Surfing Centre, Champions Yard, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 2TA. Tel: 01736 360 250. Email: info@britsurf.co.uk

web: www.britsurf.co.uk

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