Let’s face it, the UK doesn’t get much of a look in when considering the world’s most prolific surf spots. Cold water, rainy days, rude people, bad teeth… a few reasons (amongst many) to bypass this pocket of Northern Europe and instead focus your efforts a few hundred miles south, where the water, weather and hospitality are notched up a few degrees.
But to overlook the longest coastline in Europe – much of which receives its swell from the thunderous Atlantic Ocean – would be to overlook nearly 8000 miles of beach breaks, reef breaks and even the odd big-wave spot. The people are actually alright too.
Mention big-wave surfing and names such as Maverick’s, Nazare and Teahupoo instantly spring to mind. Films such as Riding Giants have etched the images of big wave riders firmly into our consciousness. Yet a little known spot in Cornwall is celebrating the 50th anniversary of first being ridden by three pioneers of the sport. Located in the capital of the UK surf scene, ‘The Cribbar’ sits at the north end of Newquay’s Fistral beach on a headland called Towan Head. For the most part dormant – allowing the majority of water to harmlessly pass unbroken – it comes to life in only the biggest swells. And on a low tide, with a south easterly wind, it can be ridden by those brave enough to roll the dice.
In September 1965, 3 surfers (Bob Head, Rod Sumpter and Jack Lydgate) guaranteed themselves a piece of UK surfing history by being the first to paddle out to the Cribbar and successfully ride the 15-20 foot waves that happened to be rolling through that day.
However, surfers tackling these giant waves today are doing so with the aid of buoyancy vests, specially designed boards and the assistance of a jet-ski to catapult them into the perfect spot at the exact speed required to give them the best chance of surviving the oncoming torrent. No mean feat, but it puts into perspective the achievement of those having to paddle into the face of 20 foot waves, on 10 foot boards, without wetsuits… or leashes.
Watch Ben Skinner in action, one of the few to have successfully ridden the Cribber