Its 0830 on a Saturday morning, the day after the clocks have gone back and I am standing in a virtually deserted beach car park, contemplating a wetsuit that has failed to even slightly dry after a night hanging in the shower. The sky is a brooding slate grey and the warm air that has dominated the last few days of half term has been replaced by a cool breeze. A quick check from the top of the sand dunes confirms that the waves have returned from the ravages of Storm Brian to standard 2-3 ft onshore mush; however, it is our last day in Cornwall and having finally extricated myself from the kids and breakfast chaos, I am loathe to give up my precious hour of freedom.
So I pull on my wetsuit and start waxing my board, gaining a few curious glances from a few dog walkers in the process. With every step of the familiar routine – wetsuit, boots, wax – I feel a bit of me start to return. Anticipation of the shudder as the cold water hits my face and starts to seep into my suit, the surge of adrenaline as I paddle for the first wave, the frustration of continually battling to make it past the relentless white water and the sheer elation of surviving yet another drumming in the impact zone – all reminders that the pull of the sea is as strong as it was when I first paddled out as a student on another grey Cornish day 20-odd years ago.
Heading onto the beach, I realise there is no-one else in the sea and it is still an hour before the life guards arrive on duty. The fact that I am not without responsibility creeps in. A voice in my head whispers “what if something happens, how can you justify this to the kids, how can you be so selfish…” I look around and notice a couple of people fishing on the rocks and there are others at the wave pool and on the beach. I am not alone. I know this break well and as long as I keep away from the rip then there is little chance of anything happening. I push on out into the whitewater, telling myself that I won’t head too far out back. And then I look up, see the first crumbling wave head in my direction and I start to paddle…
An hour later, fighting the urge for one more wave, I finally coax myself out of the water, reminding myself that the kids are probably still in their pyjamas. Heading back up the beach, I see the local women’s surf club heading down for their Saturday morning session. We exchange greetings as our paths cross. “Was it any good?” asks one sceptically. I look back towards the water, now even messier than before. “Yes”, I reply without hesitation. “It was awesome”.