It was the kind of cold that made your thighs ache, uncomfortable and present but not wholly unwelcome. We weren’t in Kansas anymore, a reminder that winter really means business up north. Hats pulled down, puffers zipped up, we followed a once muddy footpath, frozen solid, to the cliff.
The anticipatory walk to the water is a wonderfully time-slowing experience. Quiet steps towards first glimpses of fun invoke childlike excitement, not dissimilar to the backseat game of “I can see the seea!” In these loosening moments we forget the ‘shoulds’ and stresses of structured adult life; the sea really couldn’t give a toot if you own a house or conform to societal norms. A shared desire for waves simply renders us ageless and carefree.
We surveyed the bay of water arcing out below. Having woken with the sun and not an alarm, morning was already throwing it’s low light over gentle lines of swell. Conversing on the options in front of us relative to the tide, we admired the small wave but decided there might be better, so jumped back in the car and continued on.
As the morning ticked by, coffee was drunk, forgotten fins and a more appropriate thickness of wetsuit were bought, whilst conversations with surf shop ‘Secret Scott’ helped us make a plan for tomorrow’s swell, if it arrived as predicted. Today was ours to enjoy though and despite the early start, we’d collectively faffed plenty and were impatient to get in the water. Back to the frosty car park and cliffs beyond to get suited, booted, gloved and hooded.
Clambering down to the sea, each step across wet slippery rock required a level of concentration that relegated most other thoughts. What begun with internal grumbles at the tricky navigation ahead, quickly eased with the enjoyment of light-footed travel. Padding, leaping and scrambling to where we’d paddle out served as an excellent pre-surf meditation, always appreciated on days requiring more mental fortitude.
We were six in total. Us four and another local two. Good clean fun to be shared, loads of it. Waves, shoulder high, right and consistent, provided two hours of woops and smiles, confidently confirming that we’d not waited in vain. Exiting the water before neoprene fingers and toes could no longer sense the board beneath them, we pointed ourselves homeward, via a pint of golden ale and some easy listening acoustic covers in the pub.
It was an early Sunday start with eggs and enthusiasm. We’d surveyed our options and were confident as we headed north to explore some quieter coastal nooks. But beautiful as each spot was as we hopped out of the car and wound through fields, woods and valleys, the sea quickly revealed that she would not serve the goods today. Reluctant to give up on the search but aware of the day drawing on, we decided to head back to where we'd started.
On the approach, human shadows lengthened along the beach as the light dipped lower in the sky. Departure for London was imminent and we needed to surf. We’d exhausted all options near and relatively far and so it was time to just get in the water and enjoy what we had... a beautiful blue winter seascape and an opportunity to get our heads wet one last time.
There were no miracles in the hour that followed, mostly close-outs, but even those seemed like a gift in the short time we had before returning to the city. Visit a new place, venture into fresh waters, meet unlikely folk… but leave expectations behind, they’re the enemy of enjoyment.
So if the charts we read and the forecasts we follow don’t unveil the waves we lust after, the joy must remain in the journey to the sea, cold water as a tonic for long winter months, an energy-giving elixir. For next time we set off to explore this rugged coastline, we’ll bring with us a little more knowledge and a deeper appreciation for the efforts we make on our search for cold perfection.