Pierced-nosed and long-stomached, they stood and sat and said not a word to each other, merely gazed at the waves like a chocolate advert

In my week
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The Independent Online
Newquay is one of those places that divides its tourist population between people who lose their false teeth at the sight of a mini-skirt and people who don't yet qualify for 18-30 Holidays. Sixth-formers whose parents fool themselves that they can't get up to too much in a week under canvas with their mates. The first-jobbers who inevitably end up sleeping in gutters after work dos. The place swarms, early evening, with lads who are having to be carried by their mates, girls who have slumped against lampposts with their skirts up around their waists. By midnight, the area's pretty much dead.

It's also, it seems, pronounced "Nookie". That was what the conductor called it as the train drew into the station. As if on cue, the half-dozen 17-year-old girls in my carriage, who were off, huge suitcases and separate make-up bags, to share a caravan, leapt from their seats and pressed themselves against the windows when their friend shouted the magic word: "Boys!". "Where?" they cried, and fought to be first on the platform. They don't call it Nookie for nothing.

These girls were obviously not going to make it further than their caravan site, if they made it there at all. Which was a bit of a tragedy for them, because if they had found their way to Fistral beach they would have been in boy heaven. Fistral beach was heaving throughout last weekend with prime examples of the Boy thing: lean, muscled, toffee-skinned, salt-bleached Boys, mostly falling between the ages of 16 and 22, wearing rubber on the bottom half and, when they were out of the water, nothing on the top. Boys in cool sunglasses, boys with cool haircuts, boys who sat in the sand with their wrists wrapped round their ankles looking serene. Fistral beach, you see, was playing host to the Headworx Surf Festival, and another tribe was finding itself triumphant in the arena of Summer Tribalism.

Saturday was the finals, and the sun, though the rest of the country was awash, had played ball and was forcing everyone to strip down to the bare minimum. If you'd been anaesthetised, kidnapped and plonked down there, you would have sworn you weren't in England. The surfers had been battling it out, four at a time, in 20-minute heats, since the previous Tuesday, and the semis were made up of Brazilians, Australians and Californians because, though most extreme sports enthusiasts like to see themselves as more or less anti-establishment, the marketing potential of their activities hasn't gone unnoticed. The labels queue up to put money into spectacles like this: G-Shock, the jelly-coloured unbreakable watch company, sponsor the whole world series, and other labels fight to put their names on the national heats: thanks to Headworx, Cherry Coke, CK specs and pounds 100,000 of prize money, Cornwall has its place on the world surfing map. No one needs to rob banks to follow the waves these days: sponsorship does it for you.

Knots of staggeringly beautiful bodies drifted up and down the sands, drank from bottles of mineral water, elegantly draped backs of wrists over eyebrows to help them squint at the action out on the water. Last year's competition drew 250,000 people over the week, which must have meant that the whole of the rest of Britain was even dingier than usual. Pierced-nosed and long-stomached, they stood and sat and said not a word to each other: merely gazed at the waves like a chocolate advert. There wasn't a single person on that beach who wasn't auditioning for something: Baywatch, Point Break II, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Midwich Cuckoos.

And when they got on to their boards, they became demigods. From the cliff, bobbing among the breakers in black wetsuits, they looked like a flock of cormorants. But suddenly one would catch a wave, rush inland, gain his feet and turn into a porpoise. They glided down and up, flipped into the air, turned full circles, tossed their manes and were carried by the force of their own momentum all the way up onto the sand. Whenever this happened, the crowd developed that eerie animation of Beverly Hills High: punching the air and shrieking "whoo!". I understood what they meant, though: this was cool in action. After the final siren, Rob Pescado, hot favourite but ultimately untriumphant, rode back in from a couple of hundred yards out on a single wave, standing upright, no tricks. He waved to a couple of kids on the rocks, and then, leisurely, looked down to check the time on his G-Shock. I melted.

We caught a cab back to Nookie Central, where Bernard Manning plays live every Tuesday night and men in vests jingle change in their pockets and fondle their red bits as they feed the fruit machines in the arcades. Sunday morning, we woke to torrential rain. The picture windows of the hotels were heaving with dismal families who sat in rows and ignored each other. I wandered the streets, got excited about finding a tearoom called the Copper Kettle, considered buying a miniature St Michael's Mount for pounds 14.95 or a pearlised loo-roll holder with rampant pixie for pounds 1.99. In the fudge shop on the main street, I found myself standing next to a barefoot Adonis with small goatee beard and pierced nose. "It's lucky it wasn't like this yesterday," I said shyly. He grinned. "Strewth, I know," he said, contriving to fit all five vowels into the simple pronoun, "My hair's as wet as a dingo's belly."

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