We got up at about 6 on Saturday morning and got an eight o’clock train to Swansea. From Swansea, we went via a coffee experience to Llangennith in a taxi. This taxi part of the journey was considered by the taxi driver and the B&B owners as utterly nuts, but I still maintain it was cheaper and more pleasurable than hiring a car or taking a bus. It’s 15 miles from Swansea to Llangennith, but that takes an hour and a half on a bus (we would have arrived too late), and takes half an hour and costs 25 quid in a taxi. We got to our B&B at about midday, to discover a chain-smoking couple with two dogs. Not a problem, but perhaps worth mentioning in the literature? And then we had a half-hour walk to the local camp site for a surfing lesson at 1:30. Oh yes, sometimes life is just very good.
The surf lesson was great. Not so much for the lesson, in which we learnt how to carry surfboards in a high winds and a new technique for standing up, but for the wetsuit (with little boots!) and the chunk of polystyrene on which we got to practice in the sea for two hours. The surf was really choppy and the wind was strong along the beach, so conditions could have been better. We were also in a group with a school group of 13-year-olds, their two teachers, some young men and a couple of women our age who spent much of the lesson sitting on the beach (crazy!). The school group was interesting because the teachers spoke to the kids in Welsh when they were being teachery, and in English to the instructors, which I thought was very cool. But the group of kids itself was a pain to learn with.
However, we were suited and booted and in the sea and it was great. To begin with, we just tried to catch waves lying down. I didn’t really get any, and kept sliding off my board and I got a bit dispirited. Then we went back to the beach and were shown how to stand up. When we were in France we were taught a sort of jump to get from lying down to standing. You go from lying down to pushing yourself up with your arms and literally jumping into position on the board. I can do it no problem on the beach, but on the waves it’s a different matter. Here, though, we were taught a slightly easier way, with the downside being that you might end up on your knees. You go from lying to up on your arms with a straight back, then you pull your front foot through to between your hands, and stand while pulling your back foot forward onto the board. It’s a very similar movement to the jump, but a different way to think about it.
We were also given some great advice. I had been failing to catch waves because I’m a wuss. I was too scared of the fast waves and went for the slightly less powerful ones. This was dumb, and explains why the idiot boys were doing better than me (idiot being a reference to these particular boys, not all boys) – they had the guts to go for the insane waves. The analogy is that of learning to ride a bike. When you go faster, you are more stable, so it makes sense to learn on a faster wave, which is more stable, than a less powerful wave which won’t have the power to keep you going.
So, back in the water, we tried to stand on the boards. I got a few good waves and got as far as both feet on the board before bottling it and virtually throwing myself off. Yes, I’m a wuss. I just couldn’t imagine myself standing. And everytime we came in to the shore on a wave, we had to battle out again, pulling the board and fighting the waves. It was knackering. By the end of the lesson I was exhausted and had managed to catch about seven decent waves and nearly stand on three of them. I had also just overcome the mental barrier with the concept of standing. I could now imagine myself standing on a surfboard, but I just didn’t have the energy to do it. That would have to wait until Sunday morning, when we had another lesson booked in.
So, we struggled back to the surf school, over the dunes with the surfboards, with the screaming idiot children, and promptly (or rather, very, very slowly) made our way to the pub. We ate well and were in bed, fast asleep by 10 that night. What a great day.
On Sunday, we headed down to the surf school for our 9:30 lesson, only to be told that the surf was not good enough for lessons that morning. We were gutted – our real chance to stand up had been thwarted. On the bright side, though, we got a chance to spend the morning walking the gorgeous hills around Llangennith, which are really beautiful. We came back via a long bus ride to Swansea and a long train journey to London, both of which made me want to think twice about doing the trip again by public transport.
A couple of things to note if you’re planning on replicating this experience.
- I got a nasty rash on my neck from my wetsuit. This is probably avoidable by having your own wetsuit that fits well, or getting one of those ‘rashie’ tops to wear under your wetsuit.
- The walk from Llangennith to the campsite (out of which the surfing happens) takes about half an hour. Cars are kinda assumed (but not essential) in that part of the world.