Welcome to Britain: world's top surfers endure waves of rain

Standing next to the increasingly disconsolate man, a professional surfer from South Africa shivered as he pulled on a thick woolly hat and a heavy beachwear hoodie as he recovered from the goose-pimpling embrace of the Cornish seas.

Less than 20 yards away, several hundred British aficionados were delivering their verdict on the spectacle unfolding before them in time-honoured fashion: forming a large queue for shelter and lager in the beach-bar tent.

Welcome to the Rip Curl Board-masters 2005, the biggest event in the British surfing calendar where the leading names in the World Qualifying Series (WQS) - part of a sport now worth an estimated £12bn a year - come to measure their talents against some of the best waves around the country in the full splendour of an English summer. The week-long event reaches its climax tomorrow.

Sadly for the organisers of this showpiece gathering, which helps to ensure that surfing pumps more than £70m into the Cornish economy every year, Mother Nature had forgotten to read the script.

For the first two days of the week-long "free lifestyle" festival, the sun shone but the sea on Fistral beach - the capital of British surfing - took the form of a maritime mill pond. As one competitor put it: "About as much fun as finding a turd in your wet suit." Yesterday, as the first competitors took to the water at a sprightly 8am, the elements had finally rustled up a respectable surf, but added a thick grey drizzle and light fog to render crowd participation meaningless.

By mid-afternoon, the skies eventually cleared to offer 10,000 surfies and lager drinkers rays and waves in equal measure, but the tally of waves for the week read: 235 good, 468 average and 489 poor.

But the Rip Curl Boardmasters speaks volumes about the nature of Britain's love affair with the art of what the Hawaiian's called "hee'nalu" or "wave sliding".

From the beaches of Thurso in Scotland to Newquay's lucrative crescent surfing beach at Fistral, it seems Britons cannot get enough of doing battle with the seas clad in figure-hugging neoprene while clutching what to all intents and purposes is a sculpted fridge door.

By the end of this year, it is estimated that some 350,000 Britons will have surfed at least once in the past 12 months, some 100,000 of them women. Surfing in Britain has flourished into an industry that was worth £200m a year in 2001 - an increase of 25 per cent on 1999.

In Cornwall, the sport has been credited with rejuvenating the tourist economy in places such as Newquay - a once dowdy resort where chintzy B&Bs have been transformed into trendy surfing hostels. A former dilapidated hotel and social club in Newquay which was turned into a surf lodge by one entrepreneur nine years ago was this week put up for sale for £2m.

Attendance at the Newquay festival, which includes additional attractions from skateboarding to a free pop festival (not forgetting the Babes Bikini Competition), is expected to exceed 130,000.

Dave Reid, director of the British Pro-Surfing Association and organiser of this week's contest, said: "We now have a fantastic sport in this country which has by no means reached its ceiling. Most people think Newquay is the only place to surf, but there is great water up and down the country which people are only just discovering. There are few other activities so focused on enjoyment, no matter what your level. That is what people respond to."

But while cagouled British holidaymakers mingled with perma-tanned specimens of humanity from Bondi, there are fears that the easy-going spirit of surfing may be becoming tarnished.

Surveying the panoply of corporate banners and marquees on Fistral beach bearing the names of sponsors from surf-wear brands such as Rip Curl and Billabong to the multi-national brands of Nokia and Foster's Group, it is clear that big money has also realised that where there is surf wax and tube riding, there is also lucre.

Gregor Park, trade marketing director for Nokia UK, said: "There is a certain halo effect for all sponsors on the surfing scene. It is a good way of tapping into the youth market."

But Dave Easton, who manages a surf shop close to Fistral beach and has been a surfer for 17 years, fears that "soul surfing" has been lost. He said: "Where's the magic gone? Newquay is now more about stag parties and townies who think surfing is about beating the sea rather than hitching a ride. We are being out-priced by China and events like Boardmaster's are more about selling T-shirts than admiring the sea."

In the meantime, competitors will be left pondering the mysteries of the Cornish seas. Luke Munro, 22, a surfer on the men's WQS tour from Australia's Gold Coast, said: "I love coming here because every time the water is different. But Jeez, I was wincing when I got into my [wet] suit this morning. I don't know how you guys survive in winter."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us