Five beach fortnight – Mark Dowson’s two week windsurfing binge

Words/vid: Mark Dowson

Pics: Alex Parker, Justin Goodwin, Ian Whittaker, Steve Laddiman & Tracy Dennington 

The BWA Cornwall Wave Classic in October half term was one of the first dates to be pencilled onto the calendar hanging on our kitchen wall. The plan was that Helen would go to the Canaries with her sister and soak up the rays, whilst I would travel down to Aunty Brenda’s (who rather fortuitously happens to live in Cornwall) and enjoy a weeks windsurfing, neatly rounded off by entering the Masters Fleet in the BWA Cornwall Wave Classic.

Well that was plan A, and as so often happens in this great sport of ours, we were in for a few bolts from the blue in the following fortnight. The first surprise was storm Brian and the realisation that I was going to miss it, however this was more than made up by spending a magical day with my 7 year old nephew! So those of you who scored, ‘big props!, a phrase I keep hearing these days, but I’m sure will be in an urban dictionary somewhere and the ‘Yewwths’ will have stopped using it…

Marazion (beach 1) Sunday 

So with only the kind consolations of a few fellow sailors, who’d assured me that ‘Brian’ had not been a very sociable fellow and I’d not missed that much…  I got up early and drove down to Marazion in Cornwall. Locals, Justin Dennington and Paul Monnington, had told me that early on would be the time to go and after checking out Praa Sands which was more or less windless and rammed with surfers, I headed back to a comparatively flat looking Marazion. Local knowledge paid off and we had a good hour or two playing in the waves in the starboard tack cross-offshore wind.

‘The Bluff’ Hayle (Beach 2) Monday 

At 8am in a light grey drizzle I rolled up to ‘The BIuff’ car park.  I was questioning my sanity, but to catch the tide and what I thought would be the sweet spot of the day, it was worth a punt. I took a 5.3m Taka3 and my large 101 float and ride board down the ramp to where the water was lapping at the metal railings at the base of the impressive cliffs. Amazingly, there were some lovely clean little waves rolling in and maybe a 14mph port tack cross off breeze to play with. Chris Smith joined me after a while and we had the place to ourselves until a couple of kiters joined the party. It was really good fun after floating out; the angle was perfect to shoot down the line, squeeze in a few turns and pop a little aerial at the end if you were lucky. Or, perhaps more accurately, as one enthusiastic young bystander described it as we met him on the beach, “You were zooming along those waves and then doing those hop things at the end!” The pint of ‘Doom Bar’ tasted really good, as a rainbow and then blue sky replaced the distant memory of the morning drizzle.

Chris Smith (Norfolk Ripper – I’d sailed with him about 7 years previously when I saw him do an amazing roundhouse top-turn at East Runton – I can still replay that top turn in my mind, he caught it perfectly! I recognised his mistral twin immediately! ) This was his take of the session…

“I’d not been windsurfing for a few months and not in waves for probably 6 months, so I found it physically tiring to bog out, but ‘The Bluff’ was a good day to ease me back in. I recall catching a few nice boom height waves and hitting the lip as it broke towards me. We also enjoyed a celebratory pint and club sandwich too!”

Gwithian (beach 3) 27th October 2017

Fortune smiled upon me, I had tunnel vision on this amazing over mast highday and I knew what state of the tide I wanted to be out amongst it all. Somehow I missed just how big the waves were and how light the wind was… I’d based my jumping in time on the knowledge from a handful of previous sails there, the dip at the Bluff two days previously and badgering the ‘locals’ for their invaluable knowledge. It looked windy to my non-local eye and Ian Black & Ian Whittacker (who I’d parked next to) made sure the 4.5m I’d laid on the grass went straight back in the car to be replaced by a 5.3m – thanks guys!

Alex Parker (South Coast Ripper, Windsurfing Senior Instructor and Rear Commodore Ashore at Netley Sailing Club in the Royal Victoria Country Park Southampton,)

I’d met up with Alex Parker who kindly took some of the photographs. This was his take…

“The wind was extremely light, the waves were like giants! As each windsurfer floated out hoping that they had timed it correctly, the anticipation on the beach was something else! It was real nail biting stuff… and we were just watching from the cliff top! So many times there wasn’t even enough wind to pump onto the wave but then Mark hit the water got a clean run out and caught the first wave of the day.”

Chris Smith

“Gwithian… THAT was really tough, I think I got smashed in the shorebreak 10 times before I needed to go in and check my blood (I’m diabetic) which turned out to be low because of all the swimming, so had a flapjack from the Sunset cafe! After my break I managed to eventually get out the back and actually enjoy just windsurfing for a bit before venturing into the waves. When I got closer to the breaking zone though I didn’t feel powered up enough to be in control of my destiny, and in those mast high heavy waves I bottled it! So I rode a wave in and called it a day. A moral victory, if not a great day windsurfing for me, but a memorable couple of days nonetheless.”

Steve Thorp (Mr K4)

“The forecast looked nailed on a long way ahead, so we’d all been getting excited about the first clean cross off logo high day for a while. I managed to get off baby duties for the whole day and get down to Mexico Towans for 10am. Steve King had arrived first thing and already reported he was going surfing as there was no wind! I waited a couple of hours then gave up and went up to Gwithian in the hope of more wind, but knowing it would be messier in a SSW. It was at least windy enough to sail though. I rigged a 5.8 Ezzy Legacy on the 82 Cult and that turned out to be a good call, giving me enough power to get about but still enough control for the big choppy faces. Gwithian itself never seems to line up these days (except just downwind for half an hour at the perfect tide), so it’s always a choice of left or right. After some scooting around the various peaks I eventually got drawn into the bomb sets in the bay! Surprisingly, way over mast high at times! But it was hard work with the big crumbling lips not giving any projection and then quickly hitting the shallows and closing out. Bit of a cat and mouse kinda day but some good rides out there if you found a peaky one! Plenty of waves to go round with not many out for most of the day, good to see Mark, Ads, Dunc and a few others getting amongst it and not too many ‘swimathons’. Hopefully some more ‘G land’ around the corner …”

Ian Whittacker captured some of the best photographs of the day whilst still finding time to rip on some of juiciest waves of the day.

“I am going to buy a 104 litre board and a 5.5 sail just to get out, I had a 96 and 5.0, it was so light wind. It’s made me think I’d have more fun on bigger kit!”

Adam Lewis (4th in the World!)

“I live in Porthtowan so I’ve always got one eye on the Gwithian forecast. It’s probably one of, if not my favourite place to sail in the UK. I was up in Tiree for the Wave Classic and the forecast looked so good for home the whole time, even winning the sword only slightly took the sting out of missing an epic week. So after quite a big night at the epic prize giving I had to make a run for it to get back just in time to score the last of the wind but possibly the biggest bit of swell! I literally arrived home late the night before. Knackered and feeling a bit ropey to say the least but with visions of logo high reeling lefts and 4.7m weather I got there just as it got windy enough to sail. I was pretty surprised to see some over mast high sets but really, really light wind. PWA event Manager Jamie was about so we just rigged up and got amongst it, I took my 5.0 and 82 Stubby, it was really, really light but once on the wave it was just about ok. The banks are a bit funny at the moment and with the SSW it was just a touch side shore making it pretty tricky as the wave seems either to bend away on the lefts taking a lot of the wind out your sail, not what you want heading towards a mast high plus lip! Even a dodgy day at Gwithian is a lot of fun and was great to see so many guys out amongst it! Still worth the 12 hour all in one drive to make it! Looking forward to some more soon!”

I was on the same kit again 5.3m and large wave 101 litre wave board and later in the afternoon I changed up to a 5.7m.  I can remember one long swim after nearly making it out back a wall of water rose up from an almost flat sea, ripped the kit out of my hands and sent my kit scurrying back to the beach, whilst I tried to body surf after it! All part of the fun! It was inspirational sailing with Adam, his wave-riding technique is just such a pleasure to watch, as is Steve’s and Blackie’s. Finally, to top off the day, as I de-rigged on the beach none other than Duncan Coombs came over to see how the conditions were shaping up!  He was considering going out again as he had unluckily broken his mast earlier in the day.

So that was Cornwall – I’d gone down for a week and scored three fun and very different sessions. The competition was postponed due to lack of wind and waves, and after a cup of tea with the ever welcoming event host and Ian Ross and the one and only Dale Pearce at JB SAILS in Hayle, I headed back to the North where there was a forecast for cross-off wind and waves for the weekend!

Redcar ( Beach 4) Saturday

I met up with Steve Laddiman (winner of the Masters fleet at Rhosneigr) at Redcar and we scored a comparatively small cross off 5m session. What was more exciting than the conditions was trying out the (new to me) ex-Steve Thorp 80 something litre Moo custom which I’d got as a stand in to replace my favourite Simmer 85 litre wave board which had sadly somehow become full of water…

Barmston (Beach 5) Sunday

I watched the sunrise at Barmston before launching on my own, only 8 miles from the house I grew up in, this is a ‘marmite’ spot that people seem to either love or hate (many prefer Fraisthorpe as it is easier to access the water, has less rip and the waves are cleaner.) Steve Laddiman arrived and we had an enjoyable side to side-off session to the north of the caravan park. Steve was ripping on his Custom Moo and I was trying to get to grips with my board, still a work in progress!

Back to Cornwall for the fortnight finale!  (Back to beach 2!) Saturday/Sunday

‘The Bluff’ – The BWA Cornwall Wave Classic

After a 10 hour hell journey back to Cornwall we enjoyed two days fun cross-on sailing which ended with me somehow coming out as the Masters Cornwall Wave Classic Champion! Now that was the biggest and perhaps nicest surprise of the fortnight. Steve (Laddiman) & I had a nail biting superfinal in the double elimination and I just pipped him at the post with a decent frontside wave ride (8.5 I’m told – but I haven’t seen the score sheets yet…) combined with another wave ride and a forward whilst unfortunately for Steve he couldn’t repeat his amazing 10 point backloop of our second heat or bag the waves he needed.

Thanks must go to Ian Ross & the BWA team as well as everyone else who’s been part of my journey.

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