When we go camping we like nothing more than dunking our tired, stressed out bodies in the sea and getting involved in something physically demanding. It might be skim-boarding, sea kayaking, belly boarding or surfing. They are all great ways to wind down, de-stress, put your world back into balance, exercise without feeling you’re exercising and have loads of fun as you go.
Surfing can seem a bit daunting to anyone who hasn’t taken part in it before, especially if you only get involved during your camping trips and short breaks, but it really is quite simple. This is why Inspired Camping is going to run a series of articles to highlight everything you need to know to get involved. So over the next few months we’ll be exploring:Part 1 – Equipment, Safety and Surf Law; Part 2 – First Steps and Surf Manoeuvres; Part 3 – Waves, Weather and helpful links; Part 4 – The Eco-Surfer, Surf-speak and Surf-world
But to kick the series off we’ve interviewed Rhiannon Thomas surf instructor beach artist to explore the things that inspire so many people to get involved in this sport.
Rhiannon grew up in the Rhondda Valleys in South Wales before moving to the coast to study history at Swansea University. Living so close to the sea, it was inevitable that surfing would soon take over, so she now spends every spare second since with her board in the surf. Living in Penarth with her partner and goldfish, she now travels around the country as an archaeologist and freelance illustrator and spends her weekends at some of Wales’ most beautiful beaches. Rhiannon has also spent the past 2 years managing a local surf and windsurf business and works as a Stand Up Paddleboard instructor in her spare time.
What first attracted you to surfing?
I started surfing when I was in university. Having lived in the valleys up until that point there was little opportunity for me to get to the sea, but as a kid, I spent my summers in Pembrokeshire and was always drawn to the ocean. I think we’re all attracted by the idea that when you start surfing, you’re immediately transformed into a bikini clad surfer babe and sponsored by some of the biggest names in the surfing world, (I’m still waiting for mine!) Also, surfing for me was a chance to keep fit and have massive amounts of fun doing it. I may look and be the right age for an ‘adult’ but surfing has kept me, and everyone else I know that surfs, very much young at heart!
Where and when do you surf?
I live in Penarth so my usual haunt is the gorgeous Gower Peninsula. I find Llangennith to be one of the most consistent breaks in the area, and the scenery is second to none, rivalled only (in my opinion) by north Pembrokeshire, with the likes of Newgale, Whitesands and quieter spots like Abereiddy taking the top. I surf whenever I can, all year around. Fortunately the summer comes with long nights, so after work, I can nip to the Gower for a cheeky sunset session!
How did you learn to do it?
For me it was a mish-mash of friends helping and watching others surf. In hindsight, I should have had a few lessons, but I was always afraid of making a complete fool of myself in front of others. If only id known! What I have learnt is that surfing is ALL about making a fool of yourself, as long as you come up with a huge grin on your face! I once heard a surfer saying that ‘the best surfer on the beach is the one with the biggest smile’ – for me, this really captures the true meaning of surfing! It took a long time of making mistakes to get to a stage where I now, teach others to surf. Top tip – swallow your pride and get a few lessons in!
What does surfing mean to you?
Corny as it sounds, surfing for me is a huge sense of freedom. The sea doesn’t judge how wealthy or successful you are, how you look or act – it’s a great leveler. In the sea, you can forget about the world and just be completely in tune with what’s around you. It sounds a bit airy-fairy, but it’s the truth. When you’re sitting on your board, bobbing up and down in the swell, I defy you not to smile! It humbles you and allows you to take time out of a busy schedule. The only rush you feel in the sea is the one you get when you’re on your board, cruising down the face of a wave! So for me, surfing is a huge part of keeping your mind and body focussed.Subscribe to Inspired Camping...
What are your top 5 tips to learning to surf?
- Do your groundwork! Surfing can be expensive (initially) but then all the waves are free! You don’t want to rush into buying all the kit because you’ve just watched a cool surfing movie and find it’s totally wrong for you! It’s an expensive mistake that’s completely avoidable!
- Get a few lessons in. Look around and check out the local surf schools and what they have to offer. It will save you a lot of time and will get you on track quicker!
- Get your friends involved. Surfing is a hugely social event. There’s nothing better than getting a group of mates together and having fun (responsibly) in the water. You’ll learn quicker because you’ll have no reservations about looking like a complete novice! Remember, falling off is all part of the fun! Even the pro’s do it!
- Stay committed! Surfing isn’t a quick fix, you need to remember that it’s a life long passion that you never stop learning from. Every time you’re in the water, no matter how long you’ve surfed for, you will ALWAYS learn something!
- Respect. Respect the sea – it’s a lot bigger than you are! Even on a calm day, there can be lots of hidden dangers. These things are avoidable and shouldn’t put you off. It’s just a matter of learning and respecting those around you, whether they are other swimmers, surfers, lifeguards or wildlife.
What are your 5 essential products in your surfing kit?
- Has to be the obvious – an appropriate board (for you to learn and for the conditions) and leash.
- A good fitting wetsuit – this is absolutely critical! Don’t go buying a bargain from your local supermarket because I promise you’ll regret it! Go to your local surf shop and ask advice. A wetsuit that fits properly will be your best friend!
- Waterproof sun cream! We forget how strong the sun is, especially in the summer and in the water! Long times in the sun can do irreparable damage so smooth it on, even if its cloudy out!
- Vaseline is great for wetsuits that rub, which is bound to happen, even with a good fit. Smooth it on where it rubs. Miraculous!
- Chocolate! Doesn’t really go hand in hand with surfing but, after a long and hard session, it’s a great, quick energy fix to keep you going whether you’re heading back in the sea or heading off.
What are the pros and cons of being a surfer?
Healthy for body and mind! Surfing calms the mind like nothing else.
A breaking wave is said to release Negative Ions, which creates a feeling of euphoria in a person. The salts and minerals in the water also help to release the ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain. Ever wonder why you love walking by the sea? There’s your answer!
You get to travel and see the world from a different perspective.
It allows you to get exercise without feeling like you are exercising.
You naturally become part of a bigger picture, a wider circle of friends and feel part of a new lifestyle.
You naturally become far cooler in the eyes of your kids or friends and family! Ha-ha!
It is expensive to start, that said, it is one of the cheapest water sports out there!
Learning to surf takes time and patience. You won’t be a pro overnight and you’ll be expected to put in the hours. If you rely on your parents to take you, you also have to appreciate their rules.
The sea doesn’t always play ball! There will be days, even weeks where the surf is flat! Nothing you can do about this, but definitely keep training, it’ll improve your ability to surf next time.
Surf spots can become a hotspot for crime. Keep your cars locked and valuables out of sight. DONT leave your key on your tyre either, you may think you’re the only one that knows its there as you’re not! Invest in a waterproof key pouch.
Which surfer inspires you?
I love watching all the greats, but for me Bethany Hamilton is a hero. Having had her arm bitten off by a shark, she still competition surfs (and rips too!) and fights to protect these beautiful animals. A very misunderstood and endangered creature that deserves our respect! Additionally, Laird Hamilton, a big wave soul surfer and Jeff Clarke who surfed the big wave Mavericks on his own for 15 years before the big wave community discovered it!! Now that hardcore dedication!
What’s on your wish list?
I’m pretty lucky with my equipment at the moment, I have a gorgeous custom-made long board with Hawaiian inlay, but I’m always wishing for more! On my wish list I have:
- A new Stand Up Paddleboard for those flatter days and exploring our coastline.
- A trip to Indonesia to surf some tropical waves without a wetsuit!
- Some wax (I left my board out in the sun and it melted to one side! yikes!)
- A handy surf guide to all the beaches in the area.
- A membership to Surfers Against Sewage 6. For everyone to appreciate the ocean and work to look after all that’s in it! It’s the least we can do.
Picture Credits: Roy Riley
Interview by Tanya Brooks-Dowsett