Alastair's Tour of Britain: Devon
"Is it surfing that turns an ordinary man into a handsome, bleached, chilled and rugged nomad?" asks Alastair.
‘Cotty’ is a 32-year-old Devon plumber, married and with two kids, a Devon man to the soles of his feet. But he is also a devoted, almost messianic, surfer, eyes turned to the sea and the first flicker of a wave’s swell sensed in his fibre.
He is a Big Wave surfer, travelling the globe in search of the Big One. He found it in Portugal and drove the jet-ski that towed the world-record breaking surfer into the top of a 90-ft wave. I shudder as I think of it. He has surfed vast waves in Ireland and is a hero to surfers. Guardian Travel sent me to spend the morning with Cotty between Croyde and Saunton Sands, to watch him surf and and then chat to him. What touched me most was his simple answer to a simple question: “Because it makes me happy.”
Inspired by Cotty’s deep and nourishing engagement with the surf, I then interviewed Peter, who has created the British Museum of Surfing in Braunton. It is modern, colourful, inter-active amusing and massively informative. For Peter, surfing is a culture that has lifted North Devon. A vast photo of Cotty surfing a Big One greets you as you enter, and there is a film of the first attempt in the UK to stand on a surf board. Every type of board is there in the museum – fascinating for surfers and equally for me.
Our last interview was with Julian, another surfer who has made his living from it for 20 years, by making the boards. It is a grimly chemical process in grim surroundings, but done with artisan skill and with the passion for surfing that I was now getting used to. He employs a small team, creates jobs in Woolacombe and has a world-wide reputation. And he was as warm, chilled-out and delightful as Cotty and Peter.
I am now going to buy a wet-suit and start. One brief stand-up on a board and I will be a surfer – won’t I?
Photo of Andrew Cotton