Days in Devon with the Yonder Girls
When writing this we had just finished up on our first improver camp down in Devon and though we were pretty exhausted we were absolutely buzzing. What a great weekend, a brilliant group of girls, great weather, (if not a bit frosty on the night times!) and perfect waves, just what we were after, small little peelers, the chance to build confidence, practice that pop up and have unhindered fun. It was exactly like we’d hoped it would be and better.
It’s always a lot of hard work setting these camps up and the risk factor is pretty high when I think about British weather and surf conditions but every time we question whether to run one, I remind myself that this is exactly what a British surfer experiences and it is exactly that world which I am inviting the girls in to experience. The highs, the lows, the frosty mornings, the onshore days, the arm fatigue from over surfing, it’s all there but I can guarantee by the end of it you’ll have learnt something, you’ll have progressed and be more independent as surfer.
Friday afternoon the girls started rolling in, vans and tents were set up to create our own little space on the site, cows to the left of us and chickens everywhere, one even had a peck at a can of beer one night but that’s another story. We had three girls coming down from the North east, Tash, Grace E and Gracey J. Laura from Manchester, Jess from north Wales, Lucia from the midlands and awesome chef Ellie joining us from Newcastle. Only two girls knew each other so during our hearty first meal, sat around on camp chairs we all shared a few stories and got to know each other a bit better, water bottles were filled for the night and after a swig of Lucia’s home made cherry whiskey we were ready for bed, ready for the next morning.
The next morning after a full bowl of porridge and strong coffee we headed to the beach. Riding over the headland and looking down, it was clear that it was going to be a great session, small lines just rolling in. I’d been given a good idea from speaking to the girls over Whatsapp before the camp what they were looking for, what they were hoping to work on, their strengths and weaknesses, I’d also taught all but two of them previously so had a good idea where they were at with regards to catching waves. All the girls were fairly new to riding fibreglass boards with Jess having a bit more experience. The small group size meant I could really focus on each person individually, something I think is special about what we do but on a totally different level it means that I get absolute job satisfaction rather than feeling like I can’t be the best that I want to be.
I think we probably surfed a bit too much that morning but you have to grab these perfect days and make the most of them. Each and every girl made great progress and seeing the confidence grow in the group throughout the sessions was great. I always love teaching Ellie during camps (chef for the weekend) as I see what the confidence of surfing with other girls and in a supportive environment does for her, she’s an absolute little ripper.
Getting changed in the car park afterwards felt exactly like every surf trip myself and Tom have ever done, that lazy, surfed out feeling, the buzz as you share stories about waves you’ve just caught or you’ve seen each other catch. The beauty of having the vans meant we could cook and provide lunch right there in the car park. The girls fast discovered that the car park is the staple of every surf session, you have to brush your teeth and eat you lunch, get changed and generally just hang out there have your tea if your lucky. Ellie didn’t let us down, her food was incredible, filling and tasty with our good friends at Pet Lamb Patisserie providing the brownies. After a good stint of car park hanging out it was into the water for a supervised free surf.
I have to admit by the evening we were all pretty tired but It’s that tired that you only get from actually doing something, from being fully immersed in an activity and surfing does just that. Sun burnt faces and tired arms, nothing that fresh stone baked pizza and a Sandra McGee’s (my mum) chocolate cake couldn’t solve. All huddled around the projector with mulled wine we went through some important chart reading, answered queries that the girls had. The input from Tom here is always invaluable, he’s a proper geek when it comes to most things, so together we are the perfect team for the girls to get their heads around spots, wave formation, types of waves, pressure systems, winds, you name it, we cover it. How else are the girls expected to learn and become independent, rounded and respectful surfers, it’s not just about catching waves. Tom had been shooting photos of the girls all day. Looking back over those photos is ridiculously invaluable and we were able to talk through pop ups, what we could try doing differently the next day and recognise positives and bad habits. After some group chart reading it was agreed that the surf clearly looked better at 6am the next morning so we headed to bed ready for the 5am start.
After a pretty cold and in fact frosty night we woke to a thin layer of frost on the tents and boards… nothing coffee couldn’t solve. Driving again over that headland and looking down we knew we had done the right thing, lines for miles and glassy. It’s never easy getting into slightly damp wetsuits anyway, let alone first thing in the morning before the sun has even risen but we all knew that what we were about to do and see was pretty special. Something that had concerned all the girls prior to the camp was crowds. This session was my chance to show them a different type of surfing, one that doesn’t involve catching loads of waves but instead asks that you read the conditions, you sit and watch, you wait for the set to pass and head out, head down. to sit out back, watch the sun rise and the lines come in, learn to chose the right waves. I paddled out with the girls. Just two lads out, I explained the etiquette of first paddling out and that the next set was to not ours for the taking. Instead we waited and watched as it rolled in, trying to understand what was happening around us. Paddle too far out, paddle back in, finding our spot in the aim to be in that perfect spot to catch the wave, surfing isn’t just about standing up, it just isn’t. That session was different, harder and the girls were tired from paddling but that’s real surfing and everyone knew it, a definite step up in their surfing journey so far to experience it.
As the line up started to get busy, we headed in, we’d had our fill, seen the sun come up and surfed a nearly empty Saunton sands together. The rest of the day was spent, eating good food, heading into Croyde for a bit of shopping, not forgetting a pasty and ice cream run before heading out for our second surf. This surf, we pulled out the foamies, took a step back to help us move forward, practiced our stance, feet position, the speed of our pop up, high fives each other in the water, danced around on the board and just had a lot of fun. The perfect way to end the day. For those that were able to stay for the around for the Monday morning session they were in for a real treat, perfect lines again, hardly any wind and glorious sunshine. Ever girl was standing up, catching green waves, it felt amazing to see and be a part of. The stoke in the water that morning was really special and I felt very proud of all of the girls. More coffee, biscuits and pasties then a trip to the Thatch pub in Croyde for a shandy and our final photo analysis. The feedback again from Tom’s photography was incredible and exactly what each and every girl needed to see. For Tash it was about getting that back foot further forward and pushing down on the front to keep the surfboard moving positively forward. For Laura, working on that pop up and timing on the wave would be key next session. For Jess, who was starting to turn, it was all about shoulder and body position, looking in the direction she was headed. Each and every girl had a pointer to work towards, nothing too overwhelming, manageable and positive.
The final session was a free surf, all in, Tom, me, Ellie, the remaining girls, sharing waves at a slightly but only slightly onshore Saunton with only one other guy out, perfect. It’s difficult to explain the pride and the shear stoke you get from doing a camp like this one. The girls all got it, they get that surfing is a process, it’s a learning curve, it takes patience and requires support and encouragement, when all that comes together, I wouldn’t be anywhere else, camps all day, every day.