In the secluded crevice of an undulating sand dune, I’d found my perfect groove. As sunrays tickle my skin, my eyelids droop to the rhythmic crashing of waves coming from the other side of the sandbank.
It all sounds very idyllic, I know. Truth be told, my afternoon snooze isn’t quite as exotic as I’d have believe. No coconut shells or beach bar, and the only foreign tongue around has a distinctly Celtic intonation.
I’m lazing on Llangennith beach on the north end of Rhosilli Bay in the Welsh Gower. A three-mile stretch of unblemished coastline, I’ve struck gold with this little-known Welsh surfing mecca during one of the first spells of British sunshine this year.
Admittedly, my morning pursuits weren’t quite as soothing – two hours being bashed and battered by punishingly cold Welsh breakers (7 degrees to be exact) while wrestling a small but disobedient foam surf board. Recurrent attempts to even kneel on top of it ended in failure and another humiliating nose-dive that left my instructor shaking his tousled beach hair in despair.
Many defeats and a few mouthfuls of salt water later, my first surf lesson was over. The only challenge left was to peel off my soggy wetsuit, clasped to my skin like a barnacle, and regain enough feeling in my hand to high five my new-found surf posse. Despite my hopeless balancing act out at sea, on dry land I felt victorious.
I owe my first surfing experience to the Surf Cooperative; a non-profit London-based surf club that organises monthly surf trips to the UK coast and sometimes beyond. It’s the brainchild of Becky Bradley– a laid-back Londoner who caught the surfing bug on a trip in Costa Rica. On her return to the UK, she set up the Coop as a way of keeping her surf spirit alive and finding fellow wave riders in her locale. Five years down the line, Becky’s surf scheme has gained momentum through social media and word-of-mouth to become a fully fledged monthly fixture.
For our weekend trip, Becky and her wingwoman Ruth have rented a sweet little white-washed stone cottage, the Farmers Arms, in a sleepy Welsh village called Llanmadoc, a 15-minute drive from Llangennith beach. Our motley crew ranges from a strident City banker to a fresh-faced uni grad and many other colourful characters in between. There are both veteran surfers and relative newbies among us – it’s only a high level of enthusiasm that’s required. I’m seemingly the only imposter – tagging along with a vague curiosity in the concept of the Surf Coop but rather reluctant to get my toes wet. It’s only down to the group’s implacable gusto that I finally conceded to save face and sign up to the surf lesson.
After the long days spent at the beach, our evening consists of tucking into a hearty home-cooked lasagne and knocking back copious bottles of wine over a wood fire and a fair amount of surf-related chatter.
It’s not all surf – the next morning we explore the walkways around Llanmadoc, through salt marshes, pine forests and along remote shoreline. A good lunch of traditional British fodder was on offer at The King’s Head, a real local’s pub with a rowdy beer garden full of good-humoured locals.
The weekend bore little resemblance to any kind of conventional guided tour. The cottage was cosy and low-key and lent itself to a convivial atmosphere. The laissez-faire organisation appealed to self-sufficient spirits rather than needy hand-holders. We took care of our own transport (although the Coop can organise car sharing) and booked our own surf lessons. Equipment hire was sorted at PJ’s surf shop on the way to the beach. At the cottage, everyone was expected to muck in with clearing up, cooking and decisions on the weekend surf schedule.
Did it feel like going on holiday with a bunch of strangers? A little bit. But strangers meeting on common ground can quickly become good pals. In these modern times of internet dating and social networking, it seems the Surf Coop appeals to a growing desire to reach beyond our immediate social remits and make connections with the bigger picture. And have a wave-smashing good time along the way.
The Surf Cooperative
The weekend cost £200 each for two nights’ accommodation, three meals and free-flowing booze. Surf hire and lessons are added extra. The Coop also organises meet-ups in London to practice technique and improve fitness. Check the website and facebook page for more details.
The farmers Arms, Llanmadoc
Tel: 01792 390997
The Britannia Inn, Llanmadoc
Tel: 01792 386624
The King’s Head, Llangennith
Tel: 01792 386212
PJs Surf shop, Llangennith
Tel: 01792 386669