THE SEAT OF STORMS

THE BATTLEGROUND BE­TWEEN COR­NISH GRAN­ITE AND THE FEARSOME FIRE POWER OF THE AT­LANTIC HAS SHAPED SOME OF OUR MORE IN­TER­EST­ING WAVE RID­ERS. THERE’S A UNIQUE QUAL­ITY TO EV­ERY­THING ‘OUT WEST’. WRITER PETE GEALL KNOWS IT WELL, LIFEGUARDING THE BEACHES AND SURF

Carve - - CONTENTS - WORDS PETE GEALL

Pete Geall takes us on a poetic tour of the mag­i­cal land west of Pen­zance.

Once ev­ery while, a dead Gan­net seabird washes up on my lo­cal beach, down in this far west cor­ner of Cornwall. Its spinal col­umn sev­ered by the force of col­lid­ing with the wa­ter at speed, whilst at­tempt­ing to feed on a spe­cific fish, iden­ti­fied in­di­vid­u­ally out of an en­tire shoal.

There is some­thing glo­ri­ous about each of those birds, locked for­ever in that defin­ing mo­ment: wings tightly clasped around their youth­ful breast, oily eyes fix­ated into the un­known depths and onto its quarry. So of­ten the end of things is char­ac­terised in de­cline. But those birds, in the peak of their salad days, meet a most poetic and pre­sum­ably im­me­di­ate end. A slen­der mar­gin for er­ror, a cig­a­rette pa­per be­tween life and death; their fate sealed by a few de­grees or a di­vine gust of wind - and thus their oc­ca­sional ar­rival on my beach is as­sured.

Yet still, what of the fish? The fish deemed prey in the gan­net’s my­opia of hunger, whilst the oth­ers in the shoal drift mer­ci­fully into the pe­riph­ery. That fish has sur­vived a dive at­tack that few oth­ers do, and yet it can’t con­tem­plate ei­ther its luck in sur­viv­ing or its mis­for­tune in be­ing cho­sen in the first place. This story, in case you were won­der­ing, is about that fish.

As a surfer grow­ing up in Cornwall you get used to be dive-bombed from a young age. Tourists come to roost dur­ing the sum­mer months, be­fore re­turn­ing to the pre­sumed riches of ur­ban Al­bion, leav­ing a vac­uum of sea­sonal un­em­ploy­ment and high prop­erty prices in their wake. What is left though, can’t be taken away. Con­sis­tently av­er­age, oc­ca­sion­ally ex­cel­lent year-round surf that with care­ful ap­pli­ca­tion, can open the doors to a hid­den Cornwall. Be­neath the sum­mer glam and sham, are fleet­ing mo­ments of ex­quis­ite beauty that will al­ways live on.

When I think of West Cornwall, I see and feel gran­ite. Big flakes of the stuff, man­ag­ing to si­mul­ta­ne­ously crum­ble away into the sea and stand firm to the fre­quently change­able moods of the West At­lantic. Seams of quartz, feldspar and

Be­neath the SUM­MER GLAM and sham, are fleet­ing mo­ments of EX­QUIS­ITE BEAUTY that will al­ways LIVE ON

the WESTERN penin­sula of Cornwall had been revered for SPIR­I­TUAL value for EONS

mica wo­ven through boul­ders, ris­ing and form­ing ridge-lines up the west fac­ing coast like sleep­ing dragons ly­ing dor­mant in the cliffs. Then, when it is time, fall­ing back down to spawn bays out of the shat­tered re­mains. Down on the beaches you can look out across the sea and surf, safe in the knowl­edge that the myr­iad of prob­lems that de­fine this strange, Brexit shaped land are all firmly be­hind.

It is no won­der that the Ro­mans named the Pen­with penin­sula, where no one place is more than 4 miles from the coast: ‘Bo­lerium’ or the

‘Seat of Storms’. A gran­ite promon­tory in which this land re­ceives the sea and weather; reel­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally rev­el­ling in the spoils of the ocean.

“The rip­bank is go­ing to be chronic-ii­ic­ccc.” Screeches Bert Wright, self-styled lo­cal shred­lord, stretch­ing the word chronic un­til it takes on an al­most melo­di­ous tone. He is right though, it is fairly chronic-iicc. We watch on as the 7.2m tide starts to fill our lo­cal bay with wa­ter and swell in the warmth of an early sum­mer’s day. The en­ergy is pal­pa­ble - the wa­ter rush­ing over a for­tu­itous hump of sand that has formed mid beach next to an old ship­wreck. We watch on as the mass of tide and swell en­ter­ing the bay from the west is forced to exit at the north­ern end of the beach, caus­ing the jet blue wa­ter to col­lide, course and rip through the un­named sand­bar, pump­ing sand ar­te­ri­ally through the 4ft groundswell. The re­lent­less, el­e­men­tal raw­ness tem­pered by the gen­tlest huff of southerly breeze hold­ing the rights open. This stretch of ex­posed sand is of­ten over­whelmed by the con­di­tions thrown at it in the win­ter; the longer days herald­ing an op­por­tu­nity to hold its own again.

Be­fore surfers had wo­ken up to its wide swell ex­po­sure, the western penin­sula of Cornwall had been revered for spir­i­tual value for eons, pep­pered with sig­nif­i­cant ne­olithic set­tle­ments and burial sites. An­cient peo­ples be­lieved that the souls of the dead fol­lowed the set­ting sun be­yond to the un­know­able western sky - It made log­i­cal sense to place graves at the end of the land.

It has also suf­fered at the hands of man’s greed or in­ep­ti­tude. Like most of Cornwall, the land­scape has been end­less ripped apart in the

SHEL­TERED A num­ber of COVES were used by smug­glers to host il­licit goods ar­riv­ing BY SEA

search for min­eral wealth. In more re­cent times the coast­line has played host to one of the largest national en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters of the 20th cen­tury, when the Oil Tanker ‘Tor­rey Canyon’ sank in 1967, coat­ing the beaches and wildlife with vis­cous gloop. An early wake up call to the po­ten­tial neg­a­tive im­pacts of our in­sa­tiable ap­petite for cheap oil.

The pi­rat­i­cal, anti-au­thor­i­tar­ian streak that runs deep through many a Cor­nish nar­ra­tive has al­ways been strong this far from the ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tres of county and coun­try. A num­ber of shel­tered coves were used by smug­glers to host il­licit goods ar­riv­ing by sea. Oc­ca­sion­ally the sea would de­liver a wrecked ship. A cruel chaos, that at the very least would pro­vide for the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

The coast has been end­lessly painted and admired for its scenes of beauty, spawn­ing an en­tire artis­tic move­ment that poured scorn on the no­tion of war, in­stead choos­ing light, love and a sim­ple life over hurt. Nowa­days it is also part of a very mod­ern Cor­nish dance of give and take; with tourism and as­so­ci­ated gen­tri­fi­ca­tion dom­i­nat­ing the con­ver­sa­tion.

In a way this ‘Seat of Storms’ is a small petridish of con­cen­trated Cornwall, a place so full of con­tra­dic­tions, that the blend of fact and fic­tion is less im­por­tant than the sum of its parts.

The foot­path that leads to Cape Cornwall from my house in the small town of St Just, heads through a num­ber of fields. The path, once worn bare by the shuf­fling feet of min­ers on their way to toil in the shafts of Cot val­ley takes a me­an­der­ing route through the patch­work fields, be­fore reach­ing its ter­mi­nus at the end of the land. Isn’t it strange how left to their own de­vices, peo­ple don’t al­ways choose to take the path of least re­sis­tance? In­stead of tak­ing the faster, di­rect route through the fields, the path has taken on a strange zig-zagged ap­pear­ance. Now ev­ery­one, namely dog walk­ers and Ger­man tourists on hik­ing hol­i­days, fol­low this way with­out so much as a grum­ble. The flock fol­low­ing the un­named shep­herd be­fore.

In con­trast, one of the unique things about surf­ing cul­ture, is the per­sis­tent hum of folks choos­ing to do things on their terms, against the grain. Choos­ing not to stick to the com­mon path, but forg­ing their own or even just bliss­fully am­bling in no real di­rec­tion at all.

“Not so high Pete, you need to sit lower in the face.”

Lo­cal stylist Mike Lay is try­ing to elu­ci­date the finer points of plac­ing a sin­gle-fin log in trim down the spring-tide, point­break-es­que sand­bar out in front of the life­guard hut. Slap­ping the wa­ter after an­other grace­less ride, I find my­self get­ting in­creas­ingly frus­trated at my piti­ful ef­forts to avoid pearling the weighty ‘hog’ as soon as I try the mer­est hint of a cross-step. In waves of con­se­quence I can hold my own with surfers

like Mike on a short­board, but right now the seem­ingly sim­ple task of trim­ming a long­board along a knee high wave is evad­ing me. He smiles at me know­ingly, it is not as easy as the crew of tal­ented long­board­ers who re­side in th­ese parts make it look.

Mike is at the van­guard of a move­ment of surfers, who choose not to be de­fined by the boards they ride, but their ac­tions in and out of the wa­ter. One of the last fully pro­fes­sional surfers in this land, his spon­sors car­ing not for his com­pet­i­tive rank­ing but what value he can con­trib­ute to their brand through multi-craft surf­ing skill, love of travel and the rare abil­ity to con­vey through words, a surf­ing life be­yond or­di­nary.

I watch Mike grab the log and make the most of the fee­ble swell I had floun­dered on ear­lier that morn­ing. In his el­e­ment be­neath the cliffs of Es­calls, weav­ing del­i­cately through the sum­mer crowds, soar­ing high above the slop and de­tri­tus of su­per­mar­ket pur­chased body­boards. His time­less ver­sion of surf­ing tran­scend­ing the fu­tile drudgery of a ‘three-to-da-beach’, jock men­tal­ity that has de­fined and ar­guably bogged down Bri­tish surf­ing in the past decade. The cream al­ways rises to the top.

With the ar­rival of school hol­i­days, I spot the young crew of lo­cal rip­pers feign en­thu­si­asm and glee as they push pay­ing tourists into 1ft re­forms at Sen­nen whilst head high sets peel provoca­tively down the north end of the beach. Up and down this county, Cor­nish surfers young and old, force­fully grin­ning as they push learn­ers into waves come rain or shine. Surf­ing, as com­mod­ity, has be­come a main­stay of the lo­cal tourism mar­ket; mod­ern vis­i­tors plac­ing such high value on par­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence.

Yet, those surf in­struc­tors know some­thing

that only a few of those tem­po­rary in­dul­gers will ever un­der­stand, namely that surf­ing on th­ese shores takes more than the glib sat­is­fac­tion of be­ing cooed into waves whilst the surf school pho­tog­ra­pher cap­tures your next so­cial post. It takes ded­i­ca­tion and re­solve in spite of the of­ten shitty surf, weather and all the chal­lenges that go with try­ing to make a per­ma­nent home as close to the coast as pos­si­ble.

Some­where, out be­yond the small is­land of St Michael’s Mount, sit­u­ated in the shel­tered lee of Pen­zance Bay is ru­moured to be the lost land of Ly­on­ness. A land that once was, and is no more. Lost in the mists of time, it is said that once a great city was lost in a bib­li­cal flood - a Cor­nish At­lantis if you will. Pet­ri­fied wood can be found out in the bay on the low­est of tides, pos­si­bly the re­mains of a sunken for­est of yore.

In a way, Ly­on­ness rep­re­sents the ide­alised ver­sion of Cornwall that ex­ists in our minds. A home for us to project our de­sires and dis­card our petty an­noy­ances at tourists, stretched in­fra­struc­ture and lack­lus­tre surf. A lost land, worth search­ing for and oc­ca­sion­ally found on fleet­ing mo­ments spent on the cliffs and beaches. Framed be­tween pink sea thrift. A stiff east­erly wind blow­ing your hair over your face as you look out over a well-trav­elled swell. A gag­gle of friends sat on the sunny grass above the break, call­ing the chronic-iic rip bank the mo­ment it shifts up a gear. Wrestling into your soaked 3/2 whilst try­ing to shove cho­co­late di­ges­tives into your mouth. A glo­ri­ous strug­gle be­tween time and tide.

Out in the wa­ter: Pulling wa­ter through your hands with each stroke, com­mit­ting ev­ery ounce of your be­ing into a buck­led blend of swell, tide, re­frac­tion and rip. Stand­ing tucked, fingers hov­er­ing over the brine; driv­ing into a bot­tom turn, ev­ery inch of rail en­gaged. Hook­ing back or hold­ing trim, plac­ing your hand re­as­sur­ingly in the face. You watch the wa­ter arch blue and turn square on the bank. Your friend hoots. A kook on a mini-mal falls out of the sky. Cornwall.

A LOST land , worth SEARCH­ING forand oc­ca­sion­ally found on fleet­ing mo­ments spent on the cliffs and BEACHES

From small per­fec­tion to vic­tory at sea con­di­tions the deep west rolls with it all.

It’s the gran­ite out west that dif­fer­en­ti­ates the area from the rest of Cornwall. Makes for sick back­drops in pho­tos. This is Seb Smart in a shel­tered stormy cor­ner

Some spots make you work for the re­ward. But it’s al­ways worth it

Lo­cal stylist Mike Lay spreads the cre­ative vibes from home around the world and does sub­lime things on a log

Harry de Roth with speed to burn

Sam Bleak­ley: surfer, writer, film­maker and all round leg­end Jayce Robin­son in the shadow of a batholith, that’s right this was once un­der­neath a vol­cano mil­lions of years ago...

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