Well, I guess I have a new hobby now

Almost every summer of my life, I’ve spent a week or two at my grandparents’ house in the West Country. It’s a magical part of the UK: the air seems to crackle with legends and folk-tales. The place-names are spiky and Celtic — Penzance, Treskillard, Gwinear — the landscape is rugged and the sea is a rich peacock blue. My grandfather, ninety-nine years old and still stubbornly living alone on a spit of land stretching into the Atlantic, clipping his own hedges and cooking us roast dinners, might as well be magical himself. Visiting the West Country always takes me back to my childhood. As I breathe in the soporific sea air, everything suddenly seems more magical, more simple.

This weekend, I visited for the first time in more than 2 years. Because I spent last summer preparing to go gallivanting around China, I missed out on the yearly pilgrimage to my grandfather’s house. I was relieved to see that not much had changed in my relatively-long absence. The same people in the village waved hello; the same red-leafed vines crept across the windows of the house; the same out-of-tune grand piano mouldered in the corner of the living room. The sea still roared quietly outside the windows.

I, however, had changed a lot. After a year’s strenuous cycling, exploring and (for the last six months) half-marathon training, I was fitter and more adventurous than I’d ever been before on a trip to the seaside. I decided that this holiday, I would pluck up my courage and try something new: surfing.

As a kid I’d loved splashing around in the sea and bodyboarding up the beach, but when I hit my teens I shot up overnight and lost the layer of puppy fat that had allowed me to frolic in cold Atlantic water for longer than a few minutes at a time. Like a lot of teenage girls, I developed an aversion to sports: why build muscle and show off your clumsiness when you could sit safely inside with the internet or a book?

But this year, I was stronger than I’d been before in my life. I was a changed woman, and keen to prove it. So I coaxed/bullied my little brother into coming down to a nearby beach with me and asking whether there were any surfing lessons to be had.

Fate was smiling on us that day. Even though it was already late September, there was barely a cloud in the sky, and only a gentle breeze swept over the beach, a marked contrast to the Atlantic gales I’d pessimistically predicted for our holiday. At the very moment that we stepped onto the beach, the resident surf instructor — a stocky blond named Dave — was stepping out of his beach hut, about to start a lesson. I rushed forward and begged for us to be allowed to tag along. He nodded affably, threw us some wetsuits and then took us down to water’s edge for a pep talk. We did a brisk warm-up, he talked us through the golden rules — ‘watch out for currents, paddle hard and stay balanced’ — and then we were out in the water.


Reader, it was brilliant. I love water at the best of times (I wonder whether I was a Labrador retriever in a past life) and today was no exception. After a few frustrating false starts, I was riding waves to the shore, kneeling and then standing on the board. Sure, I wiped out (fell off) a few times. (More than a few.) Sure, I may at one point have swallowed an enormous gulp of seawater in shock and stood there swearing for a full thirty seconds. (Who among us wouldn’t?) But the wiping out was almost as fun as the surfing itself. A few times, after washing up on the soft sand, my board tugging at the strap on my ankle like an impatient dog, I just lay in the shallow water and smiled up at the blue sky like a crazy person. This wasn’t easy, but it was wonderful.

The next day — today, as it happens — my arms, chest and abs are killing me. I can’t grate cheese without wincing. But it’s a good kind of pain — the kind you get when you’ve just pushed some boundaries, and you know it’ll never be so hard again. Maybe surfing’s like riding a bicycle — if you once get the knack, you’re sorted. Or maybe this was beginners’ luck, and next time it’ll be awful, scary, joyless. But for now, I’m basking in the idea that I might have just discovered a new hobby. A sport that I really enjoy.

Suffice to say, I’ll be joining surfsoc when uni starts again next week. God help my grades.

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