I’m always grateful to work with supportive people and organisations like SurfGirl Magazine and was really happy to be given the opportunity to share some thoughts on getting back into surfing at home in the North East after giving birth to my son last December. I’ve shared my piece here for those who want to read it but I would urge you to support the magazine by buying in any WH Smiths or other good newsagents or by subscribing here.
It's been a long, flat summer. I've lost count of the days we've spent on the beach, in the sun, barefoot with a naked baby learning to crawl across the shoreline of clear, warm water.
But it's been a few weeks, if not months since I last saw the North East in the mood that drew us to move here in the first place. I'd never wish away the summer, the long nights and light mornings, warm weather and mild sea temperature. I love living outdoors and miss it dearly once it's gone and the nights draw in for the long, cold winter.
I'd never wish it away but I look back on each winter and feel that nervous excitement in the pit of my stomach. Pulling up in to the car park and spotting the right cars or vans already there, a sure sign it must be firing. Getting changed in the elements, feet frozen; cold, wet wetsuit going back on, the feeling of pain as it clings freezing to my kidneys as I put it on, already shivering. The icy fresh mornings and powerful North swells that roll in past Scotland and down into Northumberland or North Yorkshire, hitting the reefs with a cold familiar fury. When it all lines up here, I wouldn't be anywhere else on the planet.
I’ve spun yarns to far flung friends about waves that break in the shadows of ancient castles, about Scottish waves that do perfect impressions of a freezing cold Nias, of polluted, dark water waves in the shadow of container ships. It takes dedication, knowledge and patience to be a surfer on this coast. It’s the opposite of Bali, but when it’s on, I’d take home any day.
Nearly two years ago I was involved in an accident on the lifeboat, six to eight foot of winter swell and a small RIB saw me snap my humerus bone in half. I needed surgery and was left with a ten inch scar up the back of my arm, an impressive plate and screws and months of needing physio. My husband and I had been trying for a baby at this time and I fell pregnant at the same time. The baby carried me through mentally, knowing that I’d need to wind down to keep him safe through my pregnancy but each time the chart lit up, my heart would sink. I swam until I couldn’t squeeze into my 5mm suit any more, played in the waves but it didn’t scratch the itch.
Giving birth was hard. My body suffered physically and I was exhausted for weeks. Having a newborn was hard too. He was so vulnerable and needed me constantly. The first time I surfed on both my arm and with the baby was two weeks after his birth in mid-December. It was freezing and pumping. I took out my 5’8 and I sucked. Getting dragged over the falls, smashed off the sand bottom, held down in the freezing water. Over the rest of the winter and into the spring it got easier. It came back to me slowly but surely with each session, learning to glide on a longboard again, how to draw lines on a Singlefin and getting back to the reefs on a shortboard.
I’d never wish away the summer but I’d at least like two foot of clean northerly groundswell to go with it. Once it’s over I’ll be sad to see it go; but the consolation will come in the form of Autumn and Winter swells marching their way towards our reefs and I’ll be there, car heater blasting, hot water bottle ready, thermos full and a little boy wrapped up warm learning what his parents hold so dearly.
Sally McGee - Surfgirl Magazine #65
Photos by Tom Bing