In a moment of respite from the seasonal over-indulgence I found myself absorbed in the December/January issue of The Surfer's Path. The magazine, edited by Alex Dick-Read and, in the U.S, Drew Kampion, has to be one of the premier surfing titles in the world. The blend of thoughtful, well-written articles, environmental conscience and first-class photography is never less than inspirational. Read, or ADR, as he is known, has an appealing editorial voice, and it was easy to sympathise with his frustration at being kept out of some recent killer swells thanks to a broken rib. There is a wonderful spread of cold-water shots from Scotland and Ireland by Al Mackinnon, a great piece on Columbia by Stephane Robin, and an excellent account of a surf trip to Ghana by one of this blog's contributors, Sam Bleakley. The whole kaboodle got me thinking. Where is surfing going, and what can we look forward to in 2007? I reckoned that Sam - twice a European Longboard Champion and now a pro surfer and writer - might have some ideas, and given that we're near-neighbours gave him a call. Here's what emerged from our conversation.
"There's a huge amount to look forward to in 2007," said Sam, whose open-minded approach to all things surfing is an object lesson in the way of the surfer. "One of the most amazing things has got to be the Carve H30 project. It's already captured the imagination. I'm really looking forward to seeing what those guys will find in winter 2007."
Sam is referring to the search for cold-water big waves organised by Carve magazine and O'Neill. Some extraordinary sessions involving the premier UK-based big-wave riders - the likes of Sam Lamiroy, Dan "Mole" Joel and Duncan Scott - have already gone down, most notably at Aileens beneath the Cliffs of Moher on Ireland's west coast. "As winter unfurls we could see some of the biggest waves ever tow-surfed off Britain and Ireland," says Sam. "It's fantastic to see that there's now the financial support for pushing the limits of surfing here." Having been to Lahinch and met the locals setting the standard at Aileens - the local Irish crew led by charger John McCarthy - I ask Sam what he makes of 35ft waves now being surfed as a matter of course on the Atlantic seaboard. "We've always had the swell - for centuries it's been battering our reefs, points and beaches. In 2007 I think the surfing world is really going to take notice of what's going on here."
Closer to his home overlooking Sennen Cove, Sam is excited by a development at the Chapel Idne surf shop. The shop, located in the beachside car park in Sennen Cove and run by Patrick Dowling, will shortly be opening a Surftech Demo Centre. Sam welcomes this as being excellent news "for all mid-range surfers. They'll be able to come to the beach and try out six different boards in a week. Surftech boards are so fresh and innovative, but we still have a problem here with people being ill-advised and paddling out on the wrong equipment. The centre will provide a means for people to get the right advice and feel comfortable about which board to buy before they dip into their wallets."
For Sam, this kind of development is emblematic of where surfing is heading in 2007. "Surfing has got to embrace its ever-growing population of recreational surfers. There are thousands of people who will never slot inside mysto Indo tubes but they're still surfers nonetheless, and surfing should welcome them."
I think of my brother, who visited me over Christmas. Like me, he was a windsurfer before he surfed, and like me, working life took him away from the ocean. I've recently moved back to the sea, but my brother is still - when he has the time - a weekend warrior. But he's no less a surfer for that, and he shouldn't have been talked into buying a 6'3 pintail as his first board. As he told me, "I'm just not getting on with it." He should have been sold a mini-mal or a longboard, and isn't too happy at the surf shop salesmen who laughed all the way to the bank with his misspent cash.
Sam is currently working on a long-awaited, and potentially definitive, book, one whose publication he is looking forward to in 2007. "I'm editing Roger Mansfield's The Surfing Tribe: A History of Surfing in Britain," he says, adding that the Orca-published book should be available by early summer. The Newquay-based Mansfield is a legend in British surfing, and his book is likely to be a must for anyone interested in the roots of domestic surfing.
But, inveterate traveller that he is, Sam's thoughts for 2007 inevitably turn to overseas locations. "I've been on some fantastic, radical trips in 2006 - to Ghana, Liberia and Haiti, places only ever surfed by a few people. But the great thing about these trips is not so much the waves but getting it right, travelling in the right way. I love going to these gnarly places and seeing the look of joy on the locals' faces when they watch me surfing, or when I get them in the water and teach them. Surfing shouldn't be a selfish thing, and when surfers first travelled - to places like Bali, for example - they got it wrong. I don't want to see places ruined by whorehouses next to the beach, by drugs and alcohol and disrespect. It's great to go on these trips, find new waves and encourage the locals - to give something back."
One trip he says he might take in 2007 is closer to home. I mentioned that I was heading to the Shetland Islands soon. After telling me that he thought he'd be too busy, Sam's surfer/traveller's mind started to see the stoke on offer. "Let me see," he said, "In fact, let me know when you're going."
So one thing seems sure for early 2007, at least. I'll be buying a new wetsuit, something a bit better than my old Second Skin 5ml steamer. It's just too cold up there for anything less than a state-of-the-art wettie. Meanwhile, I'm lining my stomach for tonight's festivities, and thinking of a resolution or two for tomorrow.
Photograph of Sam Bleakley (C) Russ Piere. See www.brightboximages.com and www.chapelidne.com for more information