“You must be crazy!” “Isn’t it cold?” “Are there any waves here?”
Just some of the responses you get when you tell people you are a surfer (even a paddle surfer), let alone telling them you surf in Kent. Unless you live in a surf town it seems the average person still thinks of surfing as a sport that is limited to far off lands with constant sun and waves. There’s something special about being a Kent surfer though. Something that is difficult to explain and verbalize but I’m going to give it a go… with some help from my fellow surfers.
As any surfer will tell you, although it begins as a choice or a new hobby to try, it quickly becomes more than this. A lifestyle, a calling, it takes over all other things. I’m not one for being cliche but you often hear of people being drawn to the ocean. This is something I believe and I even wrote a dissertation to this effect, which I may even post on this site. From the memories of my childhood and trying to get in any body of water to my current love of sup surfing. I have even heard surfing likened to sex, it doesn’t matter how good, long or energetic it was, you can’t wait to have another go! It can become all consuming, constantly checking weather reports and swell forecasts not to mention the live buoy readings. All of these reports are fairly inaccurate in the south east due to so many variables including a shallow narrow channel and temperamental winds. Plus the swell has to navigate its way to the most difficult to reach section of the British coast. Despite all of this, I – like many others – find myself watching intently in the hope of scoring some ride-able bumps. Then there’s the cold weather to consider as the best waves are often in the depths of winter! Although I have yet to score a sesh on a snow covered beach. One for the bucket list me thinks.
The cruel temptress that is the Channel will often tease us with what seems like ideal conditions only to take them away as we arrive, it’s like she was waiting and watching just to see our disappointment. There have been times that I’ve turned up for a session that is predicted to be good, but in the end I either not bother getting wet or settle for some super challenging windy and bumpy rides! This is one of the reasons I chose to SUP – it provides access to waves that would be unridden on a surf board and allows for other uses such as flat water paddles. Kent has some pretty impressive coast lines which helps. There’s one thing that keeps us going and that is the feeling you get when you catch a stonker. It takes you back to the very first wave you caught, each and every time a feeling of pure elation and excitement with an adrenaline boost to match.
Let’s have a quick look at the average day of surf in Kent:
The Night Before:
9pm – Message your surf crew on noticing some potential swell, spend the next hour or so pondering over weather charts and surf forecasts decided where and when would be best to head to the following morning. Load van with gear and boards in anticipation.
11pm – Check the live buoy data before getting some sleep, just to check the forecast was accurate. Check tides again. Dream of epic rides and clean barrels.
The Next Morning:
4:30am – Alarm goes off, take a few minutes to wake and move from your pit. (I don’t even get up this early for work!) Wearily get ready to leave the house still half asleep.
5am – Hit the road in the van stopping on route for some breakfast to eat on the drive. Notice the wind is edging the van from your lane as you coast down the motorway.
6am – Arrive at the agreed spot, check the conditions. Decide the tide isn’t quite right or wind hasn’t dropped yet. Wait a while to see if conditions improve.
7am – Give up waiting, brave the 0 degree wind chill and suit up, head to the beach struggling to hold your board as it acts like a kite in the wind. Spend the next few hours battling cross or onshore winds to catch a knee high wave where you can just about fit a turn or two in. Revel in the fact you managed to catch a wave that allowed you to hit the lip more than once.
10am – Exit water once tide as shifted enough for the waves to not be ride-able anymore. Reflect on the sesh with your pals, talking about the one that got away or the wave where you managed a solid 10 seconds of riding. Buzzing from the successes and elation of catching a wave.
It’s that feeling of elation and adrenaline rush that gets you going. Once it has got you,it is pretty hard to shake. For me, the focus is dialing in the next thing, that next little step to improve my riding. Then taking this and putting it all together in larger and more consistent waves when we get to travel. I think that being a Kent surfer makes you more appreciative of when there are good waves, it increases your riding skills as you battle conditions that others wouldn’t even think about going out in, it gives peace whilst out on the water. That time on the water all you think about is the surf, watching for the next wave and predicting where and when it may come. Once riding there are no thoughts, no hang ups from the day or week leading up to now, it is pure action, pure instinct.
“It depends what sort of person you are. If you’re the sort of person that can take it or leave it then you can wait months for some good swell and be satisfied, but if you are like most Kent surfers and passionate about your sport/hobby/release then very quickly it becomes about finding a wave, studying as many charts as you can, dreaming about repeating the last time you had some sweet rides. You come away from that last session stoked and buzzing for days but knowing it could be weeks before the next.
To be a Kent surfer you need to be patient, humble and definitely grateful.”
– Stewart Gilson
“For me it’s the fact that when in the water nothing else matters. I think it is genuinely one of the only places where I switch off from absolutely everything else and forget about life’s stresses. I still get butterflies when driving to the beach and feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve. I’m an odd one and actually prefer cold water surfing and everything that surrounds it. The preparation beforehand, the coffee afterwards to try and thaw out. Nothing beats a surf in the rain and I think that helps when being a Kent surfer. I like the fact that when everyone else is trying to avoid the cold water I’m raring to get in!
I’ve enjoyed seeing the surf scene in Kent grow over the last 10yrs or so and how a real sense of community has been built.”
– Martin Francis
“The lack of consistent waves gives a ‘take what can get, get up and go’ attitude towards every surf.”
– Daniel Holliday FBRC
“I think that Kent surf is amazing, although it is not consistent. It makes you appreciate every single moment when you are out. It is easy to underestimate surfing when you have the chance of going in everyday and that is why it is so special to me: I feel blessed every time I am out, no matter if it’s onshore wind swell or small sized. Plus it gives you the chance of not losing much if you decide of going somewhere for a surf trip ;)”
– Marco FBRC
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This week’s podcast recommendation is Invisibilia.
Invisibilia explores the invisible forces that shape human behaviour – thoughts, emotions, assumptions, expectations. The first series was one of the first podcast series I listened to and it gripped me. Their website says ‘Invisibilia interweaves narrative storytelling with scientific research that will ultimately make you see your own life differently.’ And it really did. Check it out.
Episode recommendation: How to become Batman