Words: James Cox
Pics: Timmy Vowles Photography, Fergus Cowhig
James ‘Coxy’ Cox is a staple part of the UK’s wave sailing scene. Ever adaptable to the conditions on offer, and with a go big style, you can spot Coxy a mile away when he’s doing his thing – usually just as conditions ramp up the gnarly. As well as his on water prowess Coxy is also the brains behind BigSailty Weather – bigsalty.com – a weather site aimed squarely at those who dip in the brine regularly. We caught up with Coxy to find out more.
Tell us about your windsurfing beginnings – where you started, what led you try the sport and why it keeps your interest.
I learnt to windsurf at Hengistbury Head in Dorset, which was a summer holiday getaway for my family back in the day. We left the suburbs of Southampton to go and live in a beach hut and enjoy sea food, water sports and most importantly windsurfing. My brothers learnt to windsurf there. Seeing them disappear out to sea in conditions that seemed impossible to deal with spurred me on. They learnt from my parents. It was a hard sport to fathom and that got me interested. There was just enough balance of challenge vs payback. It’s no different today.
At what point did you think wave sailing was a good idea?
Early on. I remember being sat at the end of the Mudeford sand spit during a summer storm hunkered in the lee of a dune and looking downwind to Avon Beach and seeing guys out doing big jumps and going for forward loops in the distance amongst all the spray. It looked sort of terrifying but alluring. I knew I wanted to get that good, but was aware that the progress was going to be slow with the kit I was using and the restriction of only windsurfing in the summer time. It’s kind of cool to look back and think yep, I’m there now and I’m still learning. The guys out on the water back then: John Dickens and Richard from Bournemouth Windsurfing Centre are still out on the water with me today. That’s rad.
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Posted by Bigsalty Weather on Tuesday, 8 August 2017
Is it still waves or do you dabble in other areas of windsurfing?
Still waves but I do a touch of freestyle. I recognise the technical skill of the freestylers and want to learn better sail handling for jumping so it’s a good challenge to keep an eye on things but it’s wave sailing that holds promise for me. There is an infinite learning curve and I get to challenge myself. On the good days, you fight fear, use skill, luck and get immersed in a wild environment. Seeing my friends and other top guys ripping is a thrill. It also makes me think – “I want to do that! Hey, what’s stopping me?”
What’s the score with your local area? How is it special and what are general conditions like?
The surrounding waters of Hengistbury Head, Dorset, offer a really good variety of conditions from onshore to cross-offshore all in a very short distance – we can thank the Purbecks and Hengistbury Head for that. There is Southbourne, Hengistbury Head, Christchurch Harbour, Boscombe Pier, Avon Beach, Branksome & Highcliffe. It’s mostly wind swell and the associated fun, but occasionally ground swell magic.
Where’s your favourite home spot to sail and why?
I’m pretty lucky to live next to a beach that can get untameably wild but is also reasonably consistent. Southbourne faces SSW and is predominantly cross-onshore. It provides a good dose of wind swell when few other places have much but on the bigger days, the waves break very heavily over a sand bar that keeps the wave’s power very concentrated. It’s choppy as hell a lot of the time and the sea state is very confused. After a good session, you sort of feel like you’ve been dragged backwards blindfold through a hedge.
There are so many incredible wave spots in the UK and Ireland that we are spoilt for choice but I’ve had memorable sessions in Waitara, New Zealand; Margaret River, Australia; The Neck, Tasmania; Pechilemu, Chile; Arroyo Laguna, California; Kuau, Maui.
As we understand it you have two young children in the mix. Does this make nabbing windy sessions trickier? How do you go about scoring time on the water?
That’s right. I’ve got less free time now that I have kids but in theory I can still windsurf as much I just have to work less to free up the time! Fortunately, all my work is done over the internet so I manage my time almost entirely. That means when I windsurf during the week it costs me money in lost earnings but this is a trade off I’ve long been used to. So right now I earn less money than I used to before having kids and I buy more time. At some point that may have to change but it’s a real way of living.
What about trips? We noticed recently you managed to sneak across to Ireland for a boys only few days. How did that go down with the missus?
Lucy’s great and understands that I have…. well, needs! We both look after the kids in between our work commitments so it makes it easier in a way to justify going away. It’s not like she’s always the one looking after the kids. That way she also gets to do her thing too and I get to see them plenty despite the windsurfing which I’m grateful for.
Tell us about your day job. You’re a web developer so how does that fit into your windsurfing life?
I build websites and manage hosting packages for a number of different businesses and individuals. It’s pretty flexible work except it’s always with me. It’s a service industry at the end of the day so I need to make sure if someone needs something done there is a plan of action or a support option. I guess you could either build a big business in this area and get staff or stay small and be flexible but be more hands on. I decided to stay small a long time ago for maximum flexibility to suit windsurfing. This means you have to be resourceful when arranging cover for the trips away.
Talk to us about Bigsalty. Many windsurfers use the site as their ‘go to’ source of weather info. What’s the history and what led you start a weather website?
Bigsalty is now a global weather service for windsurfers and other water sports users. We provide wind, swell and tidal data and some very unique ratings tools. These tell you where’s going to be good for down-the-line windsurfing conditions and even glassy stand up paddle sessions. In addition you can set up alerts, to help prevent you missing a forecast. Bigsalty came about out of the excitement of trying to locate the best windsurfing conditions possible. The thinking being that somewhere is going to be going off, you’ve just got to know where! I feel like the website is heading in a good direction at the moment and things are getting exciting. We try and procure information from locals about specific conditions at locations and it’s pretty satisfying when you’re on the road and Bigsalty is suggesting you hit the beach that the local has just recommended. That sort of information is invaluable and can save you a lot of time and wasted journeys.
Anything big planned with BS in the future?
Recently we started working on lifestyle tools that aim to really help water sports enthusiasts get the most out of life. It feels great doing this because it takes us back to the original reason for starting the service. I love windsurfing, surfing, spear fishing, stand up paddle and a whole host of other water sports. I want a weather service that makes enjoying these sports a priority in my life. It’s too easy to miss a glassy day or a windy day or a clear visibility day when there is so much clutter and so many distractions in modern day life. You have to be vigilante and selective. We have a vision of bringing back a clear goal of getting you guys make out there making the most out of the good days around a busy life because I think this will improve people’s enjoyment and make people feel good. If we can make a difference and encourage people to prioritise enjoying the outdoors then I’m stoked and that’s something I feel is worth working hard to accomplish.
What’s the ultimate goal re work? Is being a sponsored sailor not enough? Do you have to work outside of windsurfing?
My goal is to continue to prioritise windsurfing for as long as possible and find a way to make work fit in around that. One day my fitness and health will run out so I can’t do it the other way round. I bought myself extra time when I was 16 years old after a knee operation fixed damage done by a bad skateboarding accident. If I work on this premise with the awareness, that this won’t always be possible, I think that’s my best shot at being happy. Hopefully I can make it all tie together. This way, I also stay true to the commitment I made to myself as a kid which rightly or wrongly I still hold as extremely important. I’m extremely grateful to have been using what I consider the best equipment for such a long time – Quatro Boards and Ezzy Sails. Them helping me with kit really makes a big difference.
How does it work with your supporters? Are you expected to compete or are you free to follow the soul sailing path?
They’ve never told me they expect me to compete but I feel it’s important for me anyway. Competing against others provides me with a yard stick and makes sure that I don’t get soft. Fortunately I often windsurf with some incredibly talented windsurfers so I get that from them too but getting beaten in a heat has a good way of rubbing off the need to improve. I think that my sponsors are aware that it is challenging to mix professional level windsurfing with modern life so they do offer me a good degree of flexibility. I’m hoping to pay them back by doing some big and interesting things over the next few years.
Who do you get your kit from and why do you love it?
Boards from Quatro, sails from Ezzy and fins from K4 fins. I sort of feel like these brands not only have the quality and thinking behind them that I respect but they are run by people with a passion that really filters in to the products. That’s invaluable as far as I’m concerned and it’s really noticeable to me when I use the gear. I’m not a hype man, I like good quality gear that lets me focus on what I need to do.
Any out of industry sponsors? What’s the deal with them if so?
Some wheels are turning with Conker Spirit whose vision and enthusiasm I feel we share. Hopefully we’ll put pen to paper and do something that is really productive for both parties. I feel that something great is possible. Meanwhile buy yourself some Conker Dorset Dry Gin and you’ll understand where I am coming from (we have! – ed).
What’s your most loved piece of windsurfing equipment – either from the past or currently owned? Why’s it a winner?
It’s my UJ. I’ve had it for about eight years now and it’s still going strong. I really should get a new one because at some point it’s got to break. Every time I swim back to my kit after a wipe out, I silently thank it for doing its job.
Do you help with equipment development? If so, what feedback do you provide?
No, I’m not very analytical when it comes to kit, I’m not very interested in getting involved either. I know how good the kit feels and honestly don’t think I could offer a better perspective.
How’s 2017’s windy season looking for you? Any plans for trips and/or events? Will the family be in tow?
Lots of trips planned on forecasts, but they will always be, by nature, spur of the moment with the guys. But hopefully there will be some with the family too. I’m planning to do all the BWA events this year too. It’s been a few years since I managed to compete in all events and I’d like to try and get a good overall result. We’re tentatively looking at going to New Zealand winter 2018. We’ll see how that goes…
What about outside of windsurfing – do any other kind of sports or are windows limited?
Limited yes, but I imagine this summer will involve a lot of stand up paddle fishing and hopefully plenty of spear fishing too. Any chance to get some fresh fish in the kids’ mouths I’ll take.
Any final thanks, shouts and praise?
Quatro, Ezzy Sails, K4 Fins, Conker Gin and to everyone using and promoting Bigsalty Weather. Special thanks to everyone getting out there and having it and having fun. There are too many names to praise everyone I enjoy spending time on the water with but as I get older I enjoy seeing the power these people have and it’s inspiring. It would be great to throw a link in there: bigsalty.com – check it out if you haven’t done so already.