Last week the baggy-shorted global circus that is the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Tour rolled into this Cornish resort. Hunky bronzed dudes descended on Cornwall from the Four Corners, Australia, Hawaii, Tahiti and – that well known Mecca of beach cool – Newcastle. Sam Lamiroy, 26, the former British champion, who first learned his trade in the harbour mouth of the Tyne on a break sinisterly known as "The Black Middens", returned to England as a fully paid-up member of the élite tribe of surfing nomads who are paid to pursue perfect waves around the world.
With moustache and chin beard, Lamiroy has the swashbuckling look of a taller, more muscular, sun-bleached Errol Flynn, whose board is his sword. Now he is sponsored by O'Neill, the Californian beach wear company, to swan about the planet, look hip, and star in videos shot in far flung tropical places.
But Lamiroy's surfing origins were anything but privileged and far from glamourous. There is a tradition in surfing that "you have to pay your dues". Lamiroy has paid his in spades. If all you had to do was pay them he would be world champion already (following in the glorious steps of Martin Potter, the 1990 champion from Northumberland), rather than taking third place in the "Wild Card Challenge" and reaching the third round of the Rip Curl Board Masters.
No palm trees, sultry breezes and topaz waters for the young Lamiroy. His first waves were keyed up by arctic storms spinning around the coast of Scotland. The major industrial pollution around Newcastle, not to mention a certain amount of raw sewage floating about, meant that his home break was "murky". But, Lamiroy explains, "at least it raised the temperature of the water a few degrees so maybe it was worth it. Plus I reckon it toughens up your immune system. All those times I came home half-dead, I never once got ill."
Considering that one of his fellow wave-riding apprentices came down with hepatitis B for a year, it certainly honed his powers of positive thinking. At least he did not have to spend a bundle on sun block. Living down the road from Newcastle United, with Middlesbrough and Sunderland up the way, he was torn as a lad between surfing and football, playing in goal for his school team. "I would paddle out first thing Saturday morning, lose track of things, then turn up for the match at half-time, the coach would say: 'We had to put the centre-forward in goal in the first half. You are going to have to choose – surfing or football'." Lamiroy adds: "It was no contest."
He began to compete in local competitions by the age of 12, riding a board that was made for him by Simon the local butcher and wearing a wetsuit that had been slung together for him by a friend on his mother's sewing machine. "It was only in the white water and we used to have theological arguments about whether you could even have aerials and floaters [sliding down the breaking face of the waves] on white water. They had no significance nationally, but I reckon those little local contests turned me into a competitive surfer."
Lamiroy was part of a small band of hardcore riders that included Gabe Davies, who would similarly go on to become the British No 1.
When he is not competing, Lamiroy enjoys being one of the gurus at the O'Neill Surf Academy, where he preaches the virtues of patience and persistence. "You can learn to stand up in a day," he says, "but it takes years for you to be able to paddle out under your own steam and trim down the line." This also explains why surfers make such a big deal about surfing. "Surfing is everything to us. You have to put so many years into it and it takes so much effort, you just figure it's got to be worth it."
Lamiroy has gone from north-east England to north-east Australia, near Surfers Paradise, in Queensland, where he has an apartment that looks out over Kirra. "The waves there are long and ruler-edged, I can get out of bed in the morning, run to the end of the headland, and catch a couple of waves back home for breakfast."
Lamiroy is the master of waves in the six to eight-foot range. But he is less consistent in the smaller waves that dog so many European contests (including those here). He used to drive a van to contests and sleep in the back, now he is leaving here – thanks to generous sponsorship – in a luxurious mobile home that will take him down to a month or more of contests in France, Spain and Portugal. But he is already looking ahead to his initiation this winter on the North Shore of Oahu, where he is competing in the legendary Hawaiian Triple Crown, tackling the 10ft plus spitting barrels of Pipeline and Sunset. Now bobbing around in the lower half of the men's Top 100, his goal is to crack the magic Top 45 which will guarantee him seeding in the highest profile and most highly rewarded competitions on the world tour. Patient and persistence will continue to serve him well.
Despite the lures of sunnier climes and clearer waters, he still does not despise his humble North-East origins. "The more I travel the more I realise how good those waves were." He once went off on a surf safari around the islands of Indonesia that lasted two months with shimmering foam-crested tubes all the way. "Then I came back to Newcastle and I had one day at the Black Middens that was even better. Of course, that doesn't happen too often."
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