'Seat of Storms' / 'Surf School' Newlyn Art Gallery and Exchange

An honour to have a triptych of short stories entitled ‘Seat of Storms’ feature in the excellent ‘Surf School’ exhibition currently running at the Newlyn Exchange Gallery in Penzance, Cornwall. ‘Surf School’ aims to showcase surf culture as a respected craft form and is a broad celebration of the surf scene in my home of West Cornwall.

In ‘Seat of Storms’ I have presented three short vignettes individually printed onto ply. Each of the stories aims to capture the essence of Summer/Autumn/Winter and the constant movement through the seasons that define the Cornish surf experience. If you are in Cornwall ‘Surf School’ will be running until the 8th June 2019.

When I think of West Cornwall, I see and feel granite. Big flakes of the stuff, managing to simultaneously crumble away into the sea and stand firm to the frequently changeable moods of the West Atlantic. Seams of quartz, feldspar and mica woven through boulders, rising and forming ridge-lines up the west facing coast like sleeping dragons lying dormant in the cliffs. Then, when it is time, falling back down to spawn bays out of the shattered remains. Down on the beaches you can look out across the sea and surf, safe in the knowledge that the myriad of problems that define this strange land we call home are all firmly behind.

Finisterre Broadcast 'The Zawn'

Excerpt from ‘The Zawn’

“Think you could eat one?”

A thin smirk crosses Jayce’s face as we continue our tramp through a field of decomposing cauliflowers framed by a hedgerow over-run with cow-parsley. With each step we triumphantly squish the yellowing, spoilt winter brassicas into the clay dirt beneath. This is not a winter mission, far from it. We had spent the past seven months largely avoiding mud. Choosing surf breaks for their convenience, tarmac changing opportunities and sheltered aspect to the rawness of the elements.

I had rallied the crew for a goose chase. A solid bunch comprised of folks that understand that a surf mission like this is at worse an excuse for a coastal amble and a pint at the local. At best, the chance to shake off the shackles of familiarity and convenience that had been holding us back through the colder months. More specifically an incessant run of wild, onshore conditions that had ruled our waters and weather reports for weeks; bending bare trees and whipping the sea into a frothed mess…..

Read more here

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Finisterre Broadcast 'Seven Stones'

‘Opening my laptop, my face becomes illuminated by a bluish halo of LED light. My eyes groggily adjust to the contrast between the starkly artificial light and the hesitant dawn struggling to break free of the south-eastern horizon from my house overlooking Mounts Bay in West Cornwall.

One click of the bookmark and I am there. Diligently scanning two columns of a table that reads at hourly intervals back to the 1960s. I don’t need to read between the lines. Wave height and wave periods begin to talk to me. An upward trajectory that is anything but fake news.

I know we are on.

Despite possessing a mind that isn’t particularly scientifically inclined, I understand that the hard facts of the buoy readings don’t lie. They don’t flock together in packs like us, they don’t rely on your board choice, your fitness or even your timings. They just are. Wave height and wave period. Every hour. Ad infinitum.

For many surfers situated in the southwest of the U.K, the process I have described here will form part of their amateur meteorological efforts to forecast and ascertain conditions at their local beach. Most will rely on the specific wave-buoy readings of the Seven Stones ‘lightship’ situated 15 miles to the WNW of Lands End; open to the full westerly exposure of the Atlantic from the north to the south. In its own way the Seven Stones lightship and associated wave height readings have become a metronome to many a Cornish surfing life. Charting the rise and fall of every bump of ocean that journeys it way across the Atlantic to this little corner of world we call home.’

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Finisterre Broadcast 'Cold Hands, Warm Heart'

“Can you see him?” Asking in unison, we look at each other for a reaction, then back out to sea.

“Not yet. Not yet.”

Hovering in the shelter of an old wooden lifeguard hut, we scan our eyes across the stage. An island situated some 400m out to sea and barely exposed shelf of rock where 6-8ft waves are lifting quietly out of the Atlantic. The scene begins to unfold slowly in front of us. I feel my dormant lifeguarding senses kick in, something about the location I guess - this place seems so different in the summer. Busier, softer and accompanied by the nostalgic, twinkling tune of a Kelly’s Ice-Cream truck that is normally parked nearby. This is not the summer though. Far from it. A bitter easterly wind threads its way through the marram grass behind us before roaring across the empty expanse of low-tide beach. The padlocked shutters of the hut, sealed tight until spring, nervously bounce and rattle with each gust. The matt grey sea merging with western horizon before turning into sky.

“Um, I’m sure he will be fine. It’s fine.” I try and reassure Jayce’s partner Hannah by underplaying the situation with an ad-libbed explanation. “It’s just the spray and the distance - the gaps between the waves”.

We catch a glimpse of Jayce’s board bobbing its way unnaturally through the inside boil, like a channel marker buoy held fast by anchor. His wetsuit-clad body emerges a long second or two later.

“Told you he would be fine” Squinting through his long lens, James who is here to shoot photos of his friend nonchalantly confirms he is above water and making positive moves towards the channel.

“Such a lord” I state with conviction. (All photos: James Warbey / @warbey)

Carve Magazine 192

Stoked to have my story ‘A Convenient Swell’ feature in issue 192 of Carve Magazine.

‘Twenty seconds is a long time. Enough time to kid yourself are going to make it. You begin scratching deep towards the horizon line. No rushing; confident progress. Somewhere around the fourth, maybe fifth stroke you realise. Not only is this wave considerably bigger than anything you have seen in Cornwall before, but also you aren’t going to make it. 

Your initial effort has actually placed you in a far worse predicament than if you had just waited. You curse yourself. Why? You proceed through a brief acceptance phase. You take it. For five long minutes you take it all the way back to the sand. Pintail in hand you walk past the bemused faces of tourists bodyboarding on the inside, past the dog walkers enjoying a sunny Sunday at the beach and finally underneath the deck of the luxury hotel overlooking the beach, where a group have decided to greet this swell with a G&T in hand rather than a lonely paddle out.

A couple lean over the fence and yell at you simultaneously “Big waves!”. I muster a nod and a smile before continuing my walk back to the car park.

Carve 192
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Trail Magazine - 'Writing Competition'

Stoked to have my entry into writing competition ‘A day a mountain changed my life’ feature as the November 2018 winner in outdoor magazine Trail Magazine. My tale of yours truly getting himself in over his neck in the mountains must have struck a note with the judges.

Excerpt from my entry:

‘The approach. Leaving in the sullen darkness of pre-dawn, I followed the Allt A' Mhuillin stream to the CIC climbers hut at the foot of the Ben. I looked up in awe at tower-ridge, now illuminated by gilded shadows of morning light. With one step I was off the path and into the arms of the mountain. I spent six hours on the ridge that day. Five of which were in abject terror, after a rock in which I had entrusted all my weight was birthed from the ridge and slipped silently into the now fogged depths beneath. I had the overwhelming sense of disrespect. Not of the mountain per se, but for the gift of life my parents had given me and those whom would be tasked with removing my body.

I have a photo taken that day of me on the misty summit. A middle aged couple must have saw me clamber dramatically over the final scarp. As I stood aimlessly at the summit trig point they put their supermarket sandwiches down and asked me if I was O.K and would I like a photo. My hair soaked wet from sweat and claggy mountain mist; puffy vacant eyes locked in the present and nervy smile. I remember starting to feel cold, I had tears running down my face that weren’t like other tears I had felt before.’

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'Chasing Cats in Eire' Wavelength Issue 255

Excerpt from ‘Chasing Cats in Eire’:

“Stop Ted, come HERE now.”

“Damn it Ted. NOW.” 

Matt has finally got hold of Ted by the scruff of the neck; Ted is looking into Matt’s eyes unapologetically. Ted is a young Bedlington terrier, a bartered gift from a local breeder and born down on the adjacent farm. Despite being firmly part of the family, Ted has taken to mercilessly harassing the feline population that co-exist with humans on the Moy Hill Community Farm. A quilt-like network of fields and smallholdings that tumble down to the Western reaches of the Atlantic in Co.Clare, Éire.

'Conquistadors of the Useless' Carve Issue 189

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'Behind me I can see waves wedging off down the beach and beyond. Miles into the haze more waves coming down towards me. I wonder what difference the walk makes? The same above, the same below. I walk nonetheless, past the numerous markers that me and Al have placed on the beach to mark choice sections and provide some sense of place on our frequent journeys down the stretch. A sand castle with a glass bottle perched on top, a craggy piece of driftwood where Al scored an epic bodysurf ride an afternoon ago.'

Excerpt from Al Mackinnon's and my adventures in 'Conquistadors of the Useless' featured in issue 189 of Carve Magazine. The title of the story is inspired by the mountaineering book of the same name by the great French Alpinist Lionel Terray. Those words have always spoke to me and this seemed like the perfect surfing foil, a discourse on the meaning of and search for perfection.

An honour to feature on the cover and have my words woven around Al's beautiful photography.

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