Winter at home on foaming Fistral

Festive of surfing provides ideal platform for Britain's top wave rider
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The Independent Online

Teahupoo in Tahiti is not Russell Winter's favourite place. Back in May he hit a reef at the Gotcha Pro and a grazed ankle became infected, resulting in blood poisoning and a week's hospital stay.

Teahupoo in Tahiti is not Russell Winter's favourite place. Back in May he hit a reef at the Gotcha Pro and a grazed ankle became infected, resulting in blood poisoning and a week's hospital stay.

Toxic coral is not a problem in Newquay - the six-inches long weaver fish with a sting about twice as painful as a wasp's is as dangerous as the summer wildlife routinely gets. Not counting humans, of course.

As the sun went down and the live bands came out, the smells of beer and testosterone were added to those of sea, hot sun-tan lotion, fast food and melting surfboard wax as men in metallic body paint and hippy fancy dress emerged to party along with more representative members of the Rip Curl 2000 surf festival at Fistral Beach.

The local boy Winter, the only Briton eligible to compete on this year's élite world championship tour, was the chief draw at the festival which ran a series of sport exhibitions and surfing competitions, culminating in a high-profile leg of the men's Association of Surfing Professionals world qualifying series. Danny Wills, of Australia, won, with Winter going out in yesterday's semi-finals.

Conditions during the week ranged from difficult to ride 6-8ft wind-driven walls of white water to small, but contestable, 3ft cleanish waves with enough green face for manoeuvres to be carried out on. Fortunately, the latter predominated in the final stages, which gave Winter an opportunity to show he is on the way back to his best form. After Teahupoo, he missed a couple of events and took a couple more to get back to speed.

On Saturday, Winter posted the highest score of the contest that far, 21.15, qualifying as Britain's only representative for the quarter-finals. His wave selection and style gave him an easy win through to the semis. Unfortunately, not even local wave knowledge, which Winter admitted had been useful, could help him find the waves to allow him to score highly. For the most part he sat out in the ocean waiting for an opportunity to present itself, whereas in earlier rounds he had been working hard on the smaller waves and bringing off the odd big-scoring manoeuvre on waves that were powerful enough.

This year the governing body has introduced new judging criteria, favouring more radical and extreme manoeuvres. Although the waves here were not big enough or steep enough to allow dramatic aerial manoeuvres to get more than an occasional showing, the surfers incorporated as much speed as possible to snap off the white water with their boards vertical in the air, or perform slides and other advanced manoeuvres, throwing spray into the air.

According to Winter the change means surfers are encouraged to "put themselves on the line". Over-commitment can lead to stepping over the line. Good news for one boy on the beach who got excited only when a surfer wiped-out under an avalanche of foam.

The majority of spectators in the UK get their surfing fix courtesy of television, where action is accompanied by a soundtrack and voice-over commentary. That was also provided at Fistral. Rock and Dance played over the PA. The track El Niño sounded portentous as the wind raised giant epic surf a couple of years ago on America's west coast. It did not work at Fistral, though, and the final took place on a dropping tide which resulted in some of the smallest waves of the contest.

They were still good enough to bring out the best in the surfers. A laid-back commentator, when not asking invading surfers from the other side of the beach to "paddle away, paddle to... the other side of the planet please", explained the manoeuvres and the dynamics of the 25-minute heats where each of the four surfers was allowed to catch 15 waves, with the best three counting.

Away from competition, visitors had the chance to wander around a specially constructed "surf village" where they could watch skateboarders and BMX riders get airborne on a ramp, follow a beach volleyball competition, and flinch at the kite surfing where surfers were literally tethered to kites in an apparently suicidal attempt to get the utmost out of storm-blown surf.

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