It finally dawned on me the other day that surfing, contrary to popular belief, is really not that cool at all. Not here in Pembrokeshire, anyway.Last Sunday I’d endured the standard Whitesands surf session on gutless waves, which like Anne Widdecombe had no shape or form, before eventually emerging from the water to stand and chat with friends above the beach.

It was at this point that finally, after three decades of wasting my time at Pembrokeshire’s ‘premier’ surf beach, I actually came to see this ludicrous activity from the point of view of the non-surfer.

And this is what the non-surfer sees:

A car pulls up at the beach, and some dude steps out to walk to a good vantage point and scan the horizon. Presumably he’s looking for waves, which as any fool can see either are or are not breaking on the beach.

But this is all part of the arcane act of surfing. Look meaningfully out to sea for several minutes, glance up at the sky (who knows why?), check the wind direction, consult a tide table, discuss with fellow surfers for a good fifteen minutes – and then do what you knew you were going to do from the moment you arrived – go surfing.

This involves the grunting and gasping ritual of squeezing into up to half a grand’s worth of neoprene (and I can tell you, once you get past 40 this is a more demanding task than actually surfing), waxing down your half garnd board then plunging into the ocean with all this not inexpensive hardware.

And here we come to the one and only thing that Whitesands has going for it – there’s a useful rip which can assist you in paddling out on larger days, and which also provides much amusement in summer when you can watch it sweeping tourists to what would be certain death were it not for the heroic lifeguards manning the shoreline. Thank the Lord for the RNLI…

And so, finally, maybe half an hour after arriving at the beach our brave surfer is out in the lineup, waiting for that first wave (incidentally, what other sport apart from gay windsurfing and ascending Mount Everest takes so long to prepare for?).

But our observer on the beach must exercise yet more patience in waiting for the action to start, for Whitesands does not give up its riches easily – in fact in thirty years of surfing there I can recall only about a dozen truly memorable waves, so that’s less than one good wave every two years.

And whilst our surf heroes may have images of Hawaii or SW France flitting through their fevered imaginations as they loll around in the air headed hope of catching ‘the perfect wave’ (a ludicrous non surfer’s construct) what the casual observer on the beach will see is a bunch of neoprene clad individuals bobbing about in choppy grey seas, and every few minutes taking part in a flurry of activity as a set rolls shorewards.

One or two of them will perhaps catch a wave, which even the best surfer will struggle to perform on since said waves trundle ashore with all the power of an invalid chair, whilst the rest of us will invariably find our board gradually grinds to a halt and sinks beneath us after a few yards, to be overtaken by a wash of cold, white water that signals the end of another adrenaline packed Whitesands wave.

Or just as likely, the whole wave breaks as one (a ‘close out’ to non surfers) and we wipe out and are bounced off the sand for our troubles – well, that’s assuming the wave has a bit of power – at Whitesands you’re actually more likely to be gently swirled around in the shallows like a bobbing apple.

To the casual observer this is what surfing in Pembrokeshire is all about (assuming they haven’t got bored and wandered off for an overpriced cup of tea at the steel and glass excrescence that is Whitesands beach café). Not exactly a visual feast is it?

What’s more, we’ll have paid well over a grand for the privilege of floundering around in the surf like this.

None of which is really very cool at all.



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