The following day saw Big Salty forecasting strong NE winds with sunshine and occasional showers. The early swell reports were disappointing with real time conditions of 1 – 2ft but Bigsalty’s swell forecast was showing a fresh pulse of SW swell hitting mid afternoon. The day dawned about as miserable as you could get with endless rain and dark skies. Phone calls were made and plans assembled to either raid Fistral, the heart of Cornwall surfing, or it’s close second Watergate bay. Now, I see Watergate as a bit of a soft target as there’s a kite school there so on route I made the decision to do the job properly and take Fistral whilst the conditions allowed. NE wind is side shore there and starboard tack so I was pretty excited as I these are still my favourite conditions even though they are pretty rare in Cornwall. Local windsurfer, Ben had called to say that he had just been in surfing at Fistral and that the waves had picked up to head high and the wind had started to fill in side offshore.
The one thing I had overlooked in the comfort of my van was the air temps. Exiting the van at North Fistral I was first hit by the cold and then hit by the sound of a wave exploded on a shallow sand bar. Taking a better look I suddenly realised that the head high waves I had imagined being groomed by a strong side shore wind were actually much nearer to mast high and growling fiercely before collapsing into a violent ice cold explosion of white saltly h20. Thankfully, the rain had cleared leaving a grey and imposing skyline that framed the stormy sea.
Local newquay based sailors, Ben and Julian were already at the beach but hadn’t rigged. Neither appeared keen and said that the sets were even bigger than what I had just seen. I was about to challenge them when the horizon went dark and in marched five or six mast high waves each trying to out do each other in their rage and ferocity at having they peaceful journey across the Atlantic interrupted by this peace of sand. Looking up and down the beach I was amazed to see not one single surfer left out.
In a bid to avoid the negative vibes from the other sailors I grabbed my kit and got rigged. I opted for a 5.0m eclipse and my bigger Goya quad 92 as I didn’t want to be stationary at any point on the way out. I find the 5.0m is best for days like this as I can set it full to give me plenty of power yet it is still compact and manoeuvrable through jumps and when riding. Once I was snugly in my Mormaii 5-3 winter suit I donned my hood much to the camera mans disgust but I figured if I ended up swimming out there I was going to need every inch of neoprene that I could get my hands on to endure the beating I would get.
Again the tides were close to full springs so I knew the incoming tide would make the side shore wind patchy as the headland started to shadow the inside. I didn’t have time to waste deliberating and this was the last of the wind for at least a week so I was going out regardless.
As I made my way with my kit to the waters edge I spotted the lifeguards sat in their truck watching an empty swim zone. I looked away and made pace for the water but even with my hood on I could hear some one shouting. With a further 20 yards to crab walk with my kit I figured it would be easier to hear out the life guard so I stopped and did my best to make out his cries through my hood.
His first words were “YOU’RE NOT GOING OUT THERE!”, well I am thinking yes I am, hence why I am in my wetsuit with my kit rigged however I opted to hear him out.. now I may be getting a bit mixed up with the script from Point Break here but his next words went something like this “ IT’S DEATH ON A STICK OUT THERE DUDE, NO ONES BEEN OUT AND NO ONES GOING OUT !” taken a back a little by his words of encouragement I turned, put on a crazy grin and replied “NAH MATE I WILL BE FINE BUT THANKS FOR YOUR CONCERN.” The life guard went on to point out the head land at the south end of the beach which was being battered by the swell and I went on and reassured him that I had no intention of going anywhere near it. Finally he asked me “YOU SURE YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH TO GO OUT” looking out I saw the biggest wave yet but gritted my teeth and in a bid to put his mind at rest I replied missing out the key word of ALMOST – “I’VE (almost) BEEN UK CHAMPION TWICE I WILL MANAGE!”
In truth I was perfectly happy to sail these conditions and they were well with in my abilities, so I wasn’t reckless it was just a surprise given the forecast. Heading out on my first run I quickly came to the conclusion the other guys had made the right call to stay safe and warm ashore as I was going to need every bit of my experience to get out in one piece. Luckily I was fully powered but heading straight at a set of at least four waves all over mast high and all preparing to break. Wave one, I was able to sneak over but wave two was curling and breaking right at me. Upwind it had already collapsed and was offering no escape route through logo high white water. My only option was to hit it full whack and to get launched. 25 knts plus and mast high ramp is going to equal a lot of height and air time so I was already trying to calculate what was the safest jump to do.. especially as I knew the waves behind this one were potentially bigger and therefore breaking further out should I crash the landing. I decided on a pushloop given my board speed and the need for a quick / safe landing. The pushloop also allows me to get a good look the oncoming waves prior to landing. That pushloop was full on do or die … I had had to big myself up to the life guards who I knew would be watching and maybe hoping for me to get burned plus I had no options … this was it….
I got an almighty boost as I hit the mast high lip and got rocketed skywards. I think this had been my first decent starboard tack jump for months so I was trying to remember what to do. Thankfully it all came back and I hung on to the rotation and dropped down nicely planning away in time to sneak past the next wave to reach the relative safety of the outside.
The rest of the session became a bit of a game of chess really. I had some decent jumps but these came at the risk of being caught inside where the wind was becoming ever more gusty due to the incoming spring tide. Wave riding had to be well calculated as the set waves were so big you couldn’t get off them once they had broken and they would pull you all the way inside in to the wind shadow.
I think it was fair to say that for an hour or so windsurfing had laid claim to Fistral but it wasn’t long before the surfers had returned to take back what was theirs. As the tide eventually put paid to the windsurfing I caught my last wave in as a lone surfer paddled out. As I derigged I looked up to see him dropping into a mast high bomb, cranking a bottom turn around the throwing lip and charging up beyond vertical to tear a sick top turn right in the pocket. Whoever he was he was good so I left him to it as his friends arrived and we piled out of the car park mission accomplished until next time….
Hazards at Fistral – surfers – swim zones – Life guards – large waves – hefty parking charges at the North car park
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