Riding high

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Indy Lifestyle Online
As the grandfather of extreme sports, surfing is centuries old. Skateboarding and windsurfing were both invented by bored surfers trying to simulate the buzz of surfing when weather conditions weren't perfect.

Despite its longevity, surfing is still very much a regional activity. You can wakeboard on a reservoir in London, or skateboard in the city - but surfing requires beaches, and only a few of Britain's coastal regions produce the required quality of surf.

A trip to Newquay in Cornwall offers the best opportunity to surf in the UK. It can take around seven hours to complete the journey from London, but when you get the chance to get away from it all, it's too good to miss.

My surfing initiation came at 10.30am on a Saturday morning. Everyone was down at the beach basking in beautiful sunshine. Patrick Sweeney and Richard Davies, from West Coast Surfari, took us all through our paces on the shore.

The first thing we had to do was climb into a wetsuit. Next we collected our boards. Most surfboards are made of wood, but as beginners we started with "foamies" - a lightweight surfboard (when the inevitable wipe-out happens these boards will not cause an injury if they hit you on the head) constructed from a plastic foam composite.

Davies took us through basic training: board leash (to prevent a runaway surfboard), edges (side rails) and the nose (front) and tail (back) of the board. Then we were taught how to control the board while heading out into the water before finally learning how to balance while riding a wave. Apparently, it requires a quick fluid movement to raise your body from a flat position to a standing one while on your board. It seemed very easy - but we were on the sand. After learning basic paddling, how to stand and ride a wave, and surfing etiquette, we were ready to hit the water and test our skills against Mother Nature.

Lying on your board, trying to catch your first wave, everything you learnt 10 minutes previously drains from your memory. As the wave approaches, you wait with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Falling repeatedly into the water, you're left in no doubt that the sea is a wild, untamed expanse that can engulf you at any time - and we were only up to our chests in it.

After a few wipe-outs, you begin to remember the instructions. Firstly, to keep your mouth shut when you fall in, and secondly, how to catch a wave. After about five attempts, I finally managed to stand... for about half a second.

Next time out I managed to stand, and even to steer the board from left to right. With knees bent you keep a low centre of gravity to keep your balance, while the board steers much like a skateboard.

Subtle toe and heel side movements send you effortlessly through the water cutting left and right - it's an incredible feeling of accomplishment.

Unfortunately I failed to scale such heights for the rest of the session, but when we finally clambered back to the shore, we understood how the lure of surfing could make someone quit their job...

Windsurfing, skateboarding, snowboarding and wakeboarding; I've tried them all. Extreme freaks are constantly devising innovative new ways to deliver that all-important adrenaline rush, but the original, and perhaps the best, activity has been there all along.


West Coast Surfari (01637 876083): pounds 20 half-day lesson/pounds 30 full- day (including boards, wetsuits, tuition and transport).

Packages including accommodation are also available, ranging from two- day weekend to seven-day courses.