Image credit: Elisa Chavaillaz
It's one o'clock in the morning and I'm in the middle of a crowded beach in the Spanish town of Saint Sebastian. Or at least I think it's one in the morning; having dropped my phone in a river a few weeks ago, I can't really be certain. In fact, all I'm really sure of is that I'm at the closing night of the town's jazz festival, that I'm dancing to Charles Bradley's final song and that, after an afternoon and evening spent trawling the town's endless bars for tapas and sangria, I'm going to have an epic headache when I wake up in the morning.
Thirteen hours later and, sitting at my laptop with a very strong black coffee, unsurprisingly, I was right. My head is pounding. But at least, when I woke up this morning, it wasn't to a dreary flat in London (ok, Surrey) suburbia and my hangover cure wasn't my routine morning on the sofa in my pyjamas. Instead, I woke up in a tent, in the middle of a French forest, attempted to alleviate my headache by spending my morning desperately trying (and most of the time failing) to stand up on a surfboard in the Atlantic Ocean and, now, I'm in my "office", a caravan with a bright pink "pentapus" (a five-legged octopus) painted on the side.
Image credit: Writer's own
Sitting here, after over a month of having lived in a tent, I'm struggling to remember a time I behaved more out of character than five weeks ago. Having come to the end of my week long holiday, instead of returning to yet another unpaid internship and desperately trying to "make it" in London, I chose to remain in my tent, in a small French seaside town. I decided to swap my evenings drinking over-priced G&Ts at pretentious London haunts for evenings spent dancing beneath the stars with a cheap (and more often than not, lukewarm) beer in my hand, my Oyster card for a skateboard that I like to think makes me look cool, and my workout regime for what feels like hours of paddling for only minutes of standing up on a surfboard.
Admittedly, it's only France. I've not run away to the other side of the world and being less than a two-hour flight from home is hardly a ground-breaking story of adventure. But I am not a spontaneous person. I struggle to decide what to have for breakfast every morning, the closest I've ever got to "travelling" was a month spent teaching in South Korea organised down to the smallest detail through university, and, as a graduate who five weeks ago thought she'd finally gotten her life together with a vague plan, the French town of Moliets may as well be Myanmar.
Then again, as well as struggling to remember a time I behaved more out of character, I also can't remember a time I've been happier. To use the time-old "gap yah" cliche, I fell in love with surfing and as far as I'm concerned, nothing compares to the feeling of finally standing up and riding your first wave towards the shore... apart from finally standing up and riding a bigger wave towards the shore. It's exhilarating, complicated and terrifying, all in one moment, as well as completely addictive to the extent that after just one week, I was hooked and would have happily barricaded myself in my tent rather than fly back to a post-Brexit Britain.
After surfing came longboarding, then taking on the skate ramp, then yoga, slacklining, volleyball, some over-competitive ping-pong and a whole host of other, new, exciting skills and sports. All were learnt from people who were not only more than happy to teach me, but more than happy to put up with tantrums, frustration and cries of "I just can't do it", generally yelled while flying off an out-of-control skateboard. These are the people who've helped me go from someone who lived by the mantra of "if I'm not good at it, I don't want to do it" to someone who'll happily spend two hours getting beaten up by the Atlantic Ocean in exchange for two seconds of standing up on a wave.
To cite yet another travelling cliché, these people, from the nineteen year old from Bristol who decided to cycle around Europe, only to be robbed of everything he owned in the middle of Paris, to the surf instructor who grew up miles from the sea and drove to the sea every weekend as soon as he could drive, are also the reason why I left my life in London behind. They are the people who made an ambitious recent graduate realise that there's a hell of a lot more to life than a job in the city and a flat in Putney, that "success" as we so often define it doesn't always equate to happiness and that the lessons we learn outside our comfort zone are often far superior to lessons learned within unpushed boundaries...
And if you nose-dive every once in a while? Join the crew...