The Long Way Round
A 2000 mile British road trip with the longshanks.
‘You want us to pick up the fellas ‘on the way to Thurso’ from Gatwick?’
‘Yeah, it’s kind of on the way isn’t it..?’
This awkward conversation took place early evening outside Ben Skinner’s board factory in Newquay, Cornwall. As we were loading many board bags full of all kinds of craft on to his van. Thing was he wasn’t coming with us. Even though he’d organised the trip and we were going in his van. It was a road mission he’d been trying to get happening with good mate and world champion longboarder Harley Ingleby for a good few years. Only issue was Ben’s better half was about to have a fortnight overdue baby and that had put a bit of a spanner in the works. No matter what plans are laid you can’t miss the birth of a child.
Harley and fellow Aussie nine foot enthusiast Jack Entwistle had been in France for a comp and had a week’s window to do something before the long haul back to Australia. So the plan had been simple: go wherever in Europe looked best for waves and go surf whatever boards suited the conditions and have fun.
Initially Ireland was looking on, then as anyone that’s been following the pressure charts this autumn will know everything changed … every five minutes. The low spun way north and the far reaches of Scotland looked like the only place in Europe with any ridable swell. So the north coast was the call. The one bonus of longboard trips is that even a waist high wave is still fun, and for our purposes, shootable on a log.
If you don’t know where John O’Groats is: it’s far. Unless you live in Inverness. If you live anywhere else in the British isles it’s a long, long way away. Something around 14 hours from Cornwall where we were. So a 300 mile five hour trip east to Gatwick before we even headed the 700 miles north wasn’t exactly the ideal start to the trip.
20 hours later last minute stunt driver Markie Lascelles, Harley, Jack and Jack2 (North Devon youngster Jack Unsworth, whom we picked up on the M5) and I arrived in the blistering sunshine of northern Scotland. That’s not a gag. It was 20C+ and sunny as. So much so the locals were taking the opportunity to sunbake in their gardens. The waves of course weren’t happening. Thurso East’s famous farmyard was empty of autumnal raiders and forlorn four inch onshore ripples lapped the kelp infested slabs of Caithness stone. We didn’t much care. After twenty hours overnight in a perilously board laden van with a steady diet of motorway service food and far too many coffees we weren’t fit for much apart from staring into the middle distance and smelling a bit funky.
We called Ben, as the birth was being induced that day, and as you’d expect with this kind of thing the baby was more than happy where it was. In fact it took a whole day to enter the world and arrived the next morning. It’s the longboarder genes. They do everything in a more relaxed fashion.
So we left Monday and Skindog flew up like a flipping executive business traveller with hand luggage only, as we had his board bag and camping gear, on Wednesday to catch up with us. And yes. He was the only one that was fragrant and fresh faced. From there the mission was on. Searching for waves, surfing logs/ twinnies/singles, camping, talking story, and inevitable whetting the babies head with some product supplied by daddy Skinner’s brewery. Handy that.
The main reason for the trip was so the guys could do a road trip as mates. Rather than be peers and rivals at a contest. The north coast in an Indian summer is as far removed from the WSL longboard comp scene as you can be. It was a pleasure to be around such talented surfers, with more trophies than any standard mantlepiece could handle, just enjoying a surf trip together. No pretence. No artifice. No diva attitudes. Just a lust to ride waves be it long points, short slabs, big onshore Thurso and anything else we happened upon.
It was exhausting. It was fun. It was a trip we won’t forget. Old friendships solidified. New ones made. Experience shared.
Here’s Harley and Ben in conversation. One of many. Between the two of them they could right most of the wrongs in the surfing world…
ON THE TRIP
Harley: The trip… I can’t believe it even happened (laughs). Your missus is the biggest legend ever.
Ben: Nor can I. When we spoke a few months back the due date was two weeks before now and it’s Mich’s fourth baby so I never thought it’d be a fortnight late. Sure enough it was induced the day you arrive and I’m supposed to be picking you up at the other end of the country. There’s no way I could miss the birth of my child. A nine pound boy later I’m overwhelmed and I’m here. I didn’t know what to do.
H: Have to thank Markie for rescuing the trip.
B: Yeah, lucky Markie was free, he’s a good mate, we work closely together, I rang him and said, ‘Do you want to go to Ireland tomorrow?’ He dropped everything last minute and drove and picked you guys up. We were just going to go wherever was good.
H: Massive stint five hours to Gatwick then straight up to Thurso all in 20 hours. Could be in Australia in that time.
B: It was a nice old school trip, we weren’t there on a chart, just make the most of what you have in the window you have. Pity we were so close. It pumped all night one night while it was dark. We can try again next year. Make it to Ireland this time. But we got plenty of waves. You saw the potential up there.
H: We had fun camping in Scotland for a week and sure as shit a clean swell perked up for our last possible day at pretty much Land’s End. So nearly a thousand miles later we’ve just surfed both ends of the country. Then we leave here 4am to fly home.
B: I’m stoked I could show you both ends of the country. It’s been a total mission but so worth it.
ON THE TOUR
B: When did I meet you?
H: Biarritz? When Joel won? About 12 years ago?
B: Since then we’ve had loads of heats and trips.
H: Yeah, I draw you pretty consistently… It sucks (laughs).
B: For me it’s a shame where longboarding is at the moment. Only having one event (China), it’s really difficult to go to one place and perform at your best and that’s everything. Harley smashed it last year and that was epic but we need more events to decide a World Champ.
H: I got on the tour just as it dwindled. Went from a bunch of events to one.
B: It’s really hard to qualify and there needs to be a reward for that hard work.
H: There’s longboarders all around the world. We need a representation of who we are. There’s such depth and characters.
B: We’ve all got different backgrounds. We all love riding different kids of boards. We are just surfers, we love going surfing. We just like to compete on longboards. Rather than being pigeonholed as longboarders.
H: I competed heaps in shortboard back in the day, but the longboarding competition appealed to me. Coming through as an amateur was so cool and inclusive of us as groms. Surfing with the world’s best. My first world titles Joel asked me out for dinner with them. He won the title that year. How many sports are like that?
B: I love being part of it but personally I feel it has lost its direction a bit with the split between traditional and performance. I’d love to see it come back together with a single fin division and a progressive division. And an overall world title combining the two. Gives everyone a shot. You can win either or overall in both.
H: I’d like to see it go the way of the shortboard tour. You don’t want to see guys doing punts at Pipe or one move waves at Bells. So longboarding can be the same the boards and style suit the waves. Small points traditional, big barrels progressive and so on.
B: There’s all these guys that mix it up and they need events to shine. Let’s make it happen.
ON THE GROMS
H: FCS got me over to France for the event there and I managed to get Jack Entwistle along as he’s qualified for the tour. So it was a good excuse to get this trip to somewhere here going. It’s so good to finally do it. We’ve been talking about it for so long. And great for me to bring Jack and you to bring your Jack along, show them the ropes and that.
B: It’s been cool. Where we went is raw. Slabby and rocky. Put them through their paces.
H: We didn’t get anything big but we pulled up to a pretty dry slab that was half a foot deep and Jack Unsworth was suited up and out there. That was cool.
B: He’s a kid that excels on a single fin but he’s equally happy to put his balls on the line and pull in. That’s what we need to encourage in our grommets. It’s the blend of everything. All kinds of waves, all kinds of boards. Being open-minded.
H: Shortboarding was pigeonholed for a long time. That’s where the split into the retro movement came from. We never had that issue in longboarding we’ve always kept our heritage and traditional side.
B: It’s key we do these trips with our grommets. Get them ahead of the game and get them out their meeting people and experiencing what life as a travelling surfer is all about.