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Relearning to surf in Cornwall

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I began to surf a few years back, when I lived in Hawai’i tracking turtles for a marine organization and working for a public health NGO. I had just come into remission for cancer and sought to cross some things from my bucket list—marine biology and surfing chief among them.

By the end of the summer, in many ways, I’d found myself healing and in awe of the comforting warmth of the ocean and the local communities that had welcomed me. A few weeks upon leaving Hawai’i, I moved to Oxford to start my Master’s in History of Science, Medicine, and Technology. In the first few days of the move, I tore my ACL in a football match and found myself struggling to get to class, let alone exercise. As my mental health waxed and waned without physical activity, I found myself struggling to balance physical therapy with my work and social life in the new environment.

A difficult two years later, made better by wonderful friends, exciting research, and travel, I could finally run again. But, I didn’t want to stop there. I applied to Now On Earth’s Youth Adventure Grant to help me on my journey back to surfing—healing again in the place that had healed me once before: the ocean. I spent a week in Newquay practicing opposite footing on some of the best waves Cornwall has to offer (during a rare sunny week, no less!). After one week’s time, I was catching green waves! I’m excited to share this progress with you all, with utmost gratitude from Now on Earth and all its partners who supported me on my journey back to the board.

Standing on the board for the first time in two years!

Standing on the board for the first time in two years!

Arriving in Newquay around 5pm, I spent my first evening studying the tide and wave patterns in Fistral Beach and Great Western Beach. After identifying areas to avoid i.e submerged rocks, I slept early to arrive at the beach first thing in the morning. My first full day was spent in the sea, as I practiced wave timing and catching waves while laying flat on the board. I struggled to stand, as my usual “pop-up” was originally one smooth motion—virtually impossible when one knee is still weaker than the other. The other pop-up I was familiar with involved tucking in my knees before standing, but that was also a bit painful. I ended the day comfortable with wave timing, but still unable to stand.

Getting back into the groove on day 1 in Fistral Beach, the “Home of British Surfing”! Now on Earth Youth Adventure Grant
Women + Waves Course with Bex, a surf instructor who leads Positive Waves Newquay, an initiative to bring ocean activities to children.

The next two days, I joined an incredible group of women working to improve their surf skills as part of Women + Waves. As beginners and progressors alike worked with instructors Bex and Freddie, respectively, we learned from each other on and off the water. Bex took us through theory and technique before we got on the water for a four-hour session with a warm Ribena break in between. We were exhausted by the end, after many failed pop-ups and the occasional nosedive. After a warm, friendly dinner at Great Western Cafe (with the amazing Pip!), we headed our respective ways and slept soundly before day 2 of the course.

We joined each other bright and early for breakfast at Box and Barber and a stroll around town. By 11am, we were reviewing surf footage with our instructors and putting wetsuits on for another nice and long surf session. The afternoon was filled with four hours of surfing, which ended just as I had started to stand—left-foot forward! This was followed by a post-surf debrief and many see-you-laters with the lovely group of women I had come to befriend. After dinner with a few of the girls who were staying the night, I was asleep by 9pm in my bunk bed at St. Christopher’s Inn—a hostel overlooking Towan Beach and Great Western Beach.

The next morning, I scarfed a breakfast burrito and some Sainsbury’s snacks before heading to Great Western Beach for a day of surf. From 10am until 5pm, I surfed nonstop, with only a brief break for a soda-lime at the Great Western Beach Cafe. Now that I had become accustomed to standing on a large and buoyant 8’ board, I tried my hand at a 7’ 6” board, which I enjoyed for its size and weight. I was standing repeatedly, catching soft white waves—waves that have just crashed to form white frothy waves—that took me to the shore. Each and every time, I turned my board back around and paddled into the waves to go again. I befriended another girl looking to learn, Jaz, and we surfed together for a few hours as the tide rose. Exhausted but overjoyed by the progress, I ate a hearty dinner and slept at the ripe hour of 8pm.

Trying to stand with a new pop-up method—slowly but surely! Now on Earth Youth Adventure Grant
My new friend, Jaz, who I met while surfing in Great Western Beach. Now on Earth Youth Adventure Grant

The next morning marked my final day in Newquay, and I was thrilled to be joined by some friends from uni who just so happened to be in Cornwall at the same time. We went for breakfast and then headed straight for Great Western Beach, which wasn’t too crowded these last few days and had dependable waves from the mornings onward. I started my soda-lime tab with Pip and helped a friend of a friend as he surfed for the first time. My friend and I surfed white all afternoon long as I got the hang of a 7’ board. By 2pm, I decided to head further out to catch green waves—waves that haven’t crashed yet and thus look ‘green’. They carry more water and lots of speed, which means that, when you stay standing, you fly along the water. If you are too early on a green wave, it passes beneath you; if you’re too late, it crashes on to you. Both happened.

After a fair few tumbles, I caught my first green waves—incredible! After a long time, I remembered the feeling of wind on my body as I surfed. The hobby I’d loved those years ago was finally within reach, and I was coming back to the water not the same person as I had left, but rather as a version of myself that I was just getting to know. The journey back to surf did not start easily, nor will it be going forward. But, it will continue to be worthwhile, as the re-discovery and re-building of self always is.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all who contributed to Now on Earth’s Youth Adventure Grant. I’m back on the water because of you—standing, surfing, and celebrating life!

The smile of a girl who is thrilled to be back on the water! Now on Earth Youth Adventure Grant

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