Being a shark-biscuit isn’t so bad
When I moved to Cornwall at the age of 16 it was quite a big change to my way of life.
Joining the local sixth-form of my new town, I slowly integrated and ended up making some incredible friends. However, it soon became clear that the majority of my new friends had grown up as “water-babies”.
This meant they had spent the majority of their life with the sea as their playground. Pretty much the exact opposite of me. Staffordshire (where I had grown up) is as land-locked as you can get in the UK. The only experience I had of water was an occasional body-board session while on holiday, or an awful school friends party where they had chosen ‘Waterworld’ or whatever. Nowadays, I can swim, but as a kid, my swimming was not good. And that is why those parties were awful. Every time I’d be the only kid wearing bright orange armbands (much to everyone’s amusement). Then, as everyone would go to enjoy the big slides, I’d always end up floating, wherever the current took me, occasionally doggy paddling like mad to no avail. It was all hopeless.
I have two older brothers. Both of them achieved the highest accolade of swimming badges. So why didn’t I? Well, it turned out that my mum was very bored with the local leisure centre by the time it got to me. The only exposure I got was school trips to the pool, where my swimming career sank. Quite literally, to about 5 foot underwater at the deep end. Fortunately, I was rescued on that occasion, and later that school year went on to achieve my 5-meter badge — something I’m still very proud of.
Having never learned to swim properly, and hating group based water activities, integrating into a circle of water babies became a challenge. They didn’t even realise people who can’t swim existed. I decided I needed to try my best to get on board with using the sea as a playground, because I could end up living by the coast for a long time. So I cracked on.
The sixth form ran a surf club every Wednesday, the perfect place to start. Soon, with lessons, I got to the stage where I could surf very badly, but it was progress. I went on to achieve ‘most-improved’ that year, which we all know is the only award that no one ever wants to win.
Eventually, I ended up biting off way more than I could chew. On one particular Wednesday afternoon, we headed out, and I decided I would accompany everyone else in the club to ‘outback’. For surfing novices this is basically past the white water — so you can catch the best waves. Every week my friends had gone to this mystical place, and I had played around in the white water by myself, so I wanted in. To get there though, you have to battle your way through the white water.
On this day the surf was pretty big. You needed to have experience in the water, the ability to duck-dive/roll your board and above all a strong paddle. I didn’t really have any of those things. Anyhow, I was attempting to take a 12 foot foamie outback to join my friends. Nowadays, I understand this was the equivalent of asking someone to murder me.
I paddled for as long as I could, making terrible progress. The waves were easily the biggest my rookie eyes had ever seen. My shoulders felt like they had exploded from the pain of constant paddling. Eventually, I realised there was no point in trying to make it, so I had no choice but to try and catch a wave back in.
Prior to this, I had been surfing 2-foot waves, in the white-water. But here I was, attempting to paddle for a 6-foot wave. I caught it, and instantly nose-dived. For those that have never nose-dived a board, you get a sort of delay as the physics works it’s magic. It’s a time for calm-reflection to say your final words. Once the magic is done, you turn into an actual human catapult. It happens to lot’s of beginners, and it’s pretty much always fine (go find a montage of them because they are hilarious). But because of the size of my board and the surf that day, it was kind of like nose-diving an oil tanker, while simultaneously falling down a cliff.
When I was eventually the right way up, I realised I had been washed the whole way in underwater, because when I stood up, not only was I gasping for air, but the water was also only 2 inches deep. The teacher who came along each week had seen what had happened and took pity on me. I gathered myself together, picked up the board and walked back up the beach. Considering I’d only been in for about 10 minutes, it was all highly embarrassing. I got changed and sat in her car where she shared her biscuits with me in complete silence. She was definitely trying to hold back her laughter (a fact confirmed, because when I collected my most improved award a few months later, we made eye-contact and she lost it). A lifetime of silence and a pack of custard creams later, everyone was done so we drove back, and that was that.
From that day forward, I kind of gave up surfing and decided it wasn’t for me.
This year though, I decided I would try and get into body-boarding. I’d enjoyed it as a kid occasionally, so I thought it would be worth reviving. After a quick shopping trip, I had fins, fin socks and a bright yellow board. With fins, it’s much easier to swim, so I don’t have that worry. In fact, I’m confident I could tackle a 10-meter badge. Also, because the board is smaller, it is easier to handle in the water, meaning I can get ‘outback’ much easier. Finally, it’s pretty much impossible to nose-dive a bodyboard, so I don’t have to re-live that horrible day.
Me and a fellow shredder before a lovely session.
The only real downside is body-boarding sometimes get’s a hard time. Some people probably look down on bodyboarders — it’s not as ‘cool’, you have to wear funny things on your feet, and it’s what all the tourists do for hours, sometimes getting in the way of shredders ‘6-foot shories’. But I don’t care. I’ve enjoyed it all. It allows me to go out in conditions I wouldn’t be able to on a surfboard. It allows me to catch waves I could only dream of on a surfboard. It allows me to actually enjoy the sea.
Maybe one day I’ll transition over and learn to surf, but for now, I’ll enjoy my time as a shark-biscuit.