How To Survive As A Surfer In The City

Living 200-miles from the sea is torturous for your average surfer. But there are ways to make it work...

Photo: Ed Howell-Jones
Leaving London for a weekend surf in North Devon. Photo: Ed Howell-Jones

There’s a light offshore breeze and hardly a soul in the water. Glassy waist-high waves roll towards to shore, with sets stacked to the horizon.

I want to tug on a wetsuit and jump straight in, but I can’t. Because I’m sat 200 miles away in an office, watching the waves break on a computer screen.
“Soon you find yourself riding the Tube more than you’re riding waves…”
For many of the 500,000 surfers in Britain, this feeling is all too familiar.

Career prospects in land-locked cities often take priority over a life near the sea. Soon, you find yourself riding the Tube more than you’re riding waves. Your body becomes soft and sluggish from sitting desk-bound for 40 hours a week. Checking Magic Seaweed turns into a source of vicarious pleasure and a form of torture.

With hundreds of miles between you and the nearest break, how do you keep the stoke alive?

Perseverance

Photo: Nina Zietman
You won’t get a view like this in London. Photo: Nina Zietman

Your partner is rolled up in a duvet watching TV, your friends are sipping beer in the pub, but you’ve chosen to drive 200 miles to North Devon and dive into the grey North Atlantic.

For surfers, the choice between driving ridiculous distances to surf or festering at home is an easy one. It’s planning ahead that can be tricky.

Firstly, you need a car. Carting a 9ft longboard on the train is no-one’s idea of fun. Then you need luck. It’s frustrating to pull up into the car park, knowing these are the only two days you can surf, only to find the waves completely blown out.

Watching the swell charts is a sensible option. You’ve just got to pray the swell, wind, tides and your schedule all align. Most people can’t just drop everything and drive off at a moment’s notice.

Becky Bradley was one of these people, so she set up her own London surf club…

Finding other city surfers

Ladies from The Surf Cooperative on recent trip to Llangennith, Wales. Photo: The Surf Cooperative
Ladies from The Surf Cooperative on recent trip to Llangennith, Wales. Photo: The Surf Cooperative

“I couldn’t get out of my wetsuit by myself, so I had to recruit some people to help me out,” jokes Becky.

The 33-year-old quit her job at Google in 2009 and spent two years managing a surf resort in Costa Rica. When she returned to London, she didn’t want surfing to disappear from her life. So she set up The Surf Cooperative, a club for Londoners who want to go surfing once a month.

“It started off just a group of friends, then friends of friends joined. Now we have around 350 members – I didn’t quite realise how many surfers there are in London!”

There are a few established surf clubs in London, but Becky wanted to create a club that caters to all abilities – from beginners right up to regular surfers.
“I didn’t quite realise how many surfers there are in London!”
“People who live in London are more willing to commit to a trip if I organise it in advance. Unless you’re the kind of person who heads off alone when the swell is good, most people’s motivation for coming along is having others to go with.”

Once a month, Becky organises car shares from London on a Friday evening. Nine members travel down to the Gower Peninsula for two days of surfing, group meals and hanging out in an old Welsh farmhouse.

“It’s a certain type of person who puts themselves through the process of learning to surf. They’re generally cool, relaxed and accepting of any situation. You also need a good sense of humour! I guess that’s why we all get on so well.”

Keeping up your paddle fitness

Even Gerry Lopez is down with yoga. Photo: Chris Burkard
Even Gerry Lopez is down with urban yoga practice. Photo: Chris Burkard

The hardest part of being a city surfer is staying fit. It’s tempting to just head home after work and settle down with a glass of wine and the latest episode of Game of Thrones. But trust us, no one wants to feel like a sack of potatoes next time they get in the water.

Swimming sounds like too obvious a way to keep fit, but not enough surfers do it. Local swimming pools are cheap to join and helps prevent that spaghetti arm feeling you get after a month on dry land.
“I don’t remember the last time I sweated so much!”
Yoga is another tried-and-tested option. An hour and a half of twisting your body into awkward positions might sound like hell, but it helps improve your flexibility and prevents next-day muscle ache.

There are hundreds of yoga classes in cities across the country. Yoga For City Surfers run weekly sessions in Leicester Square, designed to maintain surf fitness between trips.

Ian from For City Surfers went along to a class and found it less tortuous than he initially thought. ”I don’t remember the last time I sweated so much. I was able to do almost everything in the class. It really gave me a confidence boost not to just be falling over and kicking people by accident!”

Embrace city surf culture

LSFF
Riverside Studios packed out for the London Surf/Film Festival held every October. Photo: London Surf/Film Festival

In a city as broad and open-minded as London, you can find pockets of surf culture. You just need to know where to look for it.

Every October, the London Surf/Film Festival takes places at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. It’s a three-day event of film screenings, art exhibitions and talks from surf photographers to eco-friendly board shapers.

71a Gallery also run surf culture events throughout the year. We just missed one in March – a talk from world champion surfer and author of The Code: Twelve Simple Lessons For Riding Through Life Shaun Tomson, but there’s likely to be more on the way. Keep yourself posted by clicking here.

Are you a city surfer? How do you fit surfing into your life? Let us know in the comment section below!

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