Now that summer has finally arrived it might be time to start thinking about getting out there and getting wet. How about surfing in Devon or Cornwall? Sun, surf and good times await those who make it down the M5. Many thousands live the dream each year with a surf and a quart of cider and you can too. But don't get carried away. It's not cool to talk like a surfing pirate. And it's even less cool to drown under the influence.
So here are my tips for passing muster with the surfing set - and staying safe in the water - this summer.
Don't get me wrong. We do say dude from time to time. And we do talk about swells and points and radical moves. And, if you are lucky and you happen to be in a bar in Apppledore, you may also get called "me 'ansome" by the barmaid. Lucky old you I say, but she doesn't mean anything by it. You may also meet plenty of people who speak with a Westcountry burr, but it's just the Westcountry way.
It doesn't mean that you have to talk like that too, especially if you throw in a little pirate and some Californian surfer for good measure. We know you do it. We've heard it. And it's not funny. Or big. Or clever. And it won't make you surf any better. We'll still be able to see you coming.
So, drop the dude, dude, and we'll get along just fine. Else you'll end up sounding like some half wit offspring of Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves in the movie Point Break) and Johnny Depp (the pirate version). God forbid you exercise your verbosity on us with a limp-wristed flourish as well. We couldn't stand it if Russell Brand, complete with ruffles and magniloquence, took to the waves too.
The truth is that very few people speak like pirates any more in Devon or Cornwall. You're more likely to hear a cock-a-knee or brummie accent these days. And whilst a few of us might speak the surf speak (me included), it's not to sound cool. It's so we can describe our sport, ocean conditions and the moves we do. Like golfers describe theirs and Eskimos describe snow conditions. It's just jargon that goes with the territory.
I had a friend who once heard me shout "set on!" (which means a set of waves is approaching) whilst out surfing. He thought I'd said "step on!" (on board, presumably) and began to shout it at me whenever we met. After a while I hadn't the heart to correct him so he kept on doing it. Everybody knew he was saying it wrong, it was just that no one wanted to tell him. Then one day he went to Australia and tried to make friends with some surfers. Guess what? They weren't as kind as we had been.
Learning to surf takes time and learning the lingo that goes with it takes time too. So the more you use it without understanding what it means, the more you'll look like a kook (a newbie). And nobody wants to look like a kook. Trust me you don't.
Top 10 tips for surviving the surf this summer:
- Drop the dude. We've done this so let's move on.
- All the gear? It usually means no idea. I'm afraid so. If you are new to surfing the best thing you can do is hire a board and wetsuit from a surf shop, rather than spending money on something you won't be able to ride. If you get on and want to go again, then go shopping.
- Go local. The wetsuits on sale in the services on the M5 or in the supermarket might look like great value but they won't keep you warm. This is because, on the whole, they are poorly cut, use cheap neoprene and don't have watertight seams. If you can, buy local from a surf shop. It might cost a bit more but it'll last longer and will actually keep you warm.
- Support the surf industry. If you have the bug, go and talk to a surf shop or shaper rather than buying something mass produced from the internet. Shapers are the backyard heroes who make boards here in the UK. They will be able to make you something for your ability and the local conditions. You'll improve quicker.
- Go back to school. Surfing takes time to learn. The quickest way to do it is to take lessons with a professional outfit. They will teach you the basics, get you standing up and teach you about water safety. There are surf schools on most UK surfing beaches.
- Learn the rules. Whilst it might look like chaos out there on the water, there is order in the water. So remember to avoid paddling for someone else's wave (dropping in), paddling around someone to take their wave (snaking) or throwing your board away when you hit a wave (ditching) and you'll be fine.
- Surf between the flags. The black and white flags denote the surfing areas on a beach whilst the red and yellow flags denote the swimming area. Both these areas will be patrolled by lifeguards so stick to them. Go anywhere else and there's no guarantee of cover.
- Look at the sea properly before you paddle out. Surfers can use currents and rips to get out beyond the breaking waves easily. But inexperienced surfers can get caught in them. So learn to spot them and avoid them if you aren't sure. And if you get caught in one, don't swim or paddle against it - swim at right angles to it and come in where there is no current.
- Never surf after a skin full. Surf and a cider. Cider and a surf. Don't do it! Alcohol impairs your judgement and will get you into trouble quicker than I can say "hang on, me 'ansome". Alcohol can also alter your ability to feel the cold, which can leave you very vulnerable in UK waters. Just don't.
- Don't worry about sharks. Leave the hysteria to the tabloids. The only sharks you'll see in UK waters are basking sharks - massive but harmless. Sure, so there are porbeagles and makos offshore but they don't like the taste of you. You are much more likely to step on a weever fish. If you do, go to the lifeguard or bathe it in hot water. Contrary to popular belief you don't have to pee on it.
Got it? Now go. Surf's up, dudes.