You don't have to be Australian

... or have a real tan and salt-soaked locks, because with a bit of nous, the right T-shirt and even a surfboard, you too can look like you were born to ride the waves. By Emma Brooker. Photographs by Nick Turpin

Legend has it that a group of travelling Australian lifeguards brought surfing to Britain in the early Sixties. They brought their boards with them and spent the summer in Newquay displaying their prowess on the Cornish waves. They must have made a big impression because they went home leaving Newquay changed forever and what would have been just another grockly resort has been surf crazy ever since.

Today, Geordies, Basildon boys and even baby-faced public schoolboys stream into town the moment the summer holidays start and jostle with coach-tripping pensioners on Newquay's narrow streets. With their deep tans, salt water-logged dreadlocks and fake Australian accents, most of them are headed for Fistral beach - open to good North Atlantic swells - to ride the waves of the UK surf Mecca.

About 800 world-class professionals actually live out the full-blown surfing fantasy, circulating the globe, living on prize money and sponsorship, riding life-threatening waves in front of beachfuls of swooning surf chicks (women surfers are mysteriously rare). In the past week and a half, Newquay's annual surf festival and championships have drawn a few of these world pros as well as their paler imitations.

As so little is worn on the beach, details are essential to achieve the surf look with conviction. Specialist surf brand names - for wetsuits and boards - take on the potency of couture labels both for surfers and for those who simply want to lie on the beach and look the part, while accessories such as waterproof watches, sandals, wallets and boardbags become significant style definers.

Enthusiasts can build up entire wardrobes of surfer rubber-wear - ranging from heavyweight winter suits with hoods and rubber socks to cut-off vest tops and cycling-style shorts in lightweight neoprene for summer. Leesa Davey, a civil servant, wears an extra-large child's suit by the British manufacturer Gul over an O'Neill water-ski top.

Andy Spellman, a Bournemouth-based student, has arranged his summer vacation around surfing in Newquay. Working at a nearby GoKart track, he intends to spend every spare moment on the beach. Mixing skateboarding and surf gear, he wears Etnies skate shoes instead of trainers.

He is wearing a smattering of surf-labels including a Hot Tuna T-shirt and checked cotton-padded lightweight top by Rusty. "The clothing - wearing the hot labels - has become more important than surfing for some people," he observes. "They are selling the clothes to people who want to look like surfers, but surfing is about just going out and doing it and having no money."

On this basis, a distressed T-shirt with a sought-after but peeling logo scores more style points than a spanking new one. By the same token, dedicated surfers such as James Butler and Simon Hunt cultivate an international beach-grunge look as a badge of authenticity.

They may look like a couple of beach bums to the uninformed, but to the attuned eye, their outfits are bursting with kudos; from James's Yin Yang shorts by Town and Country, to Simon's Biotribe thong slops (South African speak for flip-flops) and bamboo pendant inscribed with the Egyptian sign for enlightenment. They definitely belong to the cool school of surfdom, pursuing a Zen-like approach to life and seeking fusion with "the ultimate wave".

At the other end of the spectrum from these salt-crusted minimalists are the urban surfers, townies who are more interested in the subculture's style than the sport. They may not be able to swim, but they have latched on to the surf look because it is obscurely trendy with glamorous associations.

In the past year, surf-wear outlets have mushroomed in London's Covent Garden. The Australian labels Mambo and Headworx have both opened stores there, so today's urban surfer doesn't need to go near the sea to achieve the look. All he or she needs is a well researched shopping list of essential brand names, the right vehicle (preferably VW camper van with old-style split-screen, otherwise a Beetle), and plenty of cash.

The surfboard is, of course, optional for urban surfers, who are most likely to get wet in the street when it rains, but can be acquired for ornamental value, attached to the top of the camper van, and talked about - if the brand is right.

Surf culture tends to cast females in the role of audience and accessory to a male - trophy girlfriends are expected to shiver appreciatively on the beach in brightly coloured micro dresses or bikinis with brand names such as Mambo Goddess and Voodoo Dolls. This might be less arduous in hotter climates, but true surf chicks were notable by their absence in Newquay.

Rebecca Anforth and Linda Ayepe, both from Newquay, defy the surf chick definition although they do occasionally sit on the beach and watch their male friends surf. Both wear separates by Joe Komodo, a London-based label that appeals to an alternative, clubby market with right-on messages about anything from nuclear testing to surfing sewn into garments.

With them is Johnny Rad. He's down from Manchester visiting Newquay for the first time for the festival. He hasn't been in the water yet, but he's already thinking about staying in the resort and becoming a surfer. In his floppy checked trousers and "Bruce"-print Butt Naked shirt (in honour of Bruce Lee) he already looks the part - which, these days, is half the struggle.

Left: Andy Spellman wears checked trousers, pounds 9, bought at Glastonbury festival, Hot Tuna T-shirt from Other Clothes, 19 Albion Place, Leeds (01827 251 999), checked padded top, pounds 90, by Rusty, Fistral Surf Company, 19 Cliff Road, Newquay (01637-850 378); TP Boogle board bag, pounds 25, from Ocean Leisure 11-14 Northumberland Avenue, WC2, Etnies skate shoes, pounds 59- pounds 65 from Slam City Skates, 16 Neals Yard, WC2.

Above top: Simon Hunt (left) wears shorts by Badface, Indonesia; sandals by Biotribe; Casio G Shock watch; 'Raven' sunglasses, pounds 65 by Arnet from Bond, 10 Newburgh Street, W1; eyering by Atlantic Coast Tattoos. James Butler (right) wears a T-shirt by Instinct; shorts by Town and Country, from Ocean Leisure as before, flip-flops by Reef (01243 673 666).

Above middle: Leesa Davey wears a Gul Wetsuit (01208-723 82) or from Ocean Leisure's surf-wear shop, Embankment Place, London WC2 (0171 930 5050), O'Neill top, pounds 25, from Ocean Leisure and Bozo, 109 Princes Street, Stockport; Mach 7 body-board, bought second-hand for pounds 70, or from Northshore, 36-37 Forth Street, Newquay. Mike Pelling wears a Sola 'Energy' wetsuit with Titanium, pounds 99.95 from Ocean Leisure, rash vest, pounds 10, by Alder.

Above bottom: Linda Ayepe (left) wears a camouflage skirt by Komodo, T-shirt by Komodo, and Adidas Campus trainers. Johnny Rad wears pants by Komodo, 'Bruce' shirt, by Butt Naked, Manchester (0161-237 1363), sunglasses from Maxout, Newquay (01637-872 019). Rebecca Anforth (right) wears a dress from the 'Feisty Girl' range at Komodo, 65 Monmouth Street, WC2 (0171 379 5225); jacket by Surge (0171-274 4600); sandals by Headworx, Unit 11 Thomas Neal Centre, WC2 (0171 379 5633); necklace from Spice Trail, Newquay; sunglasses by Spi (0171 359-0012).

Co-ordination by Jo Adams

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