John Carter muses over the dilemma that many of us face when weighing up weather forecasts. Do you go out searching for that pot of gold, or do you stay at home in your comfort zone, but spend the day fearing that your mates are scoring a session you are going to live to regret missing?
Words & Photos John Carter
I wake up at 6:20 a.m. to a buzzing phone, I leave it for a few minutes to see who was calling, but I reckon I know who it was and what it’s about. There had been talk of a massive swell today but nothing has been organised. Earlier in the week I had even been on the brink of flying down to catch the first big session of the season at Nazare in Portugal, but light onshore winds had put me off. It had looked like this day was going to slip through the net.
Magicseaweed was calling for strong southerly winds combined with a 15 feet long period swell emanating from extreme winds in the North Atlantic and the first major storm of the winter season. A hardcore crew had already tucked into perfect barrels at Mullaghmore in Ireland, while the hellmen that hang out in Portugal had towed into huge life threatening surf at Nazare.
My phone buzzes again and I reach down to see the anticipated message from Timo. “Headed to Wales or Cornwall leaving at 9. Swell is going to be massive”. Oh crikey, here we go again! A couple of days advance notice would have been nice, but this message literally means I have to decide within the next ten minutes if I want to spend five or six hours driving to a beach. The forecast is for cloud and rain, so I was not anticipating this early wake-up call at all.
“Magicseaweed was calling for strong southerly winds combined with a 15 feet long period swell.”
I’d been reading about something called ‘FOMO’, the fear of missing out, a type of anxiety where one suffers an all-consuming feeling that you are missing out on something better than what you are doing. Now Timo is probably the worst culprit of FOMO that I know. There is something inside that tells him he can’t miss any session, especially if it is going to be epic. Windsurfing is his drug and FOMO has taken a pretty heavy grip! I knew today was one of those days for me. If I made a poor excuse not to go then immediately I would be on edge that I should have gone. Trapped in my own self-inflicted guilt I would have a frustrating day wondering what was happening and if I was missing out on an epic session. The previous weekend Timo had made a late call to go to Ireland and had scored huge hollow waves and almost unheard of wall to wall sunshine for two days straight. I was on the edge of going, but after two weekends away at British events decided to stay at home. I had missed out!
Today was a chance to make amends but logistically everything was totally wrong. My wife already knew that she was probably better off letting me go away today rather than having me around the house thinking about ‘missing out’. “Just go”, she said, knowing it would be more frustrating having me at home. By the time I had digested all the information, it was now totally impossible for me to make it to Poole by 9:00 a.m. The clock was ticking and I had to take some sort of action. I forwarded the message to Hunty who lives near Portsmouth and who was also suffering from a mild dose of ‘FOMO’. Hunty has two kids and a full time job, so rarely has the chance to head to the likes of Cornwall. Missing out is an everyday occurrence for him, especially with a mate like Timo, but today his wife had given the green light. The only worry was the timing. Simply put, we were too late! At best, if I threw my camera gear in the car and managed to scramble for the 7:45 a.m. ferry off the island I could be in Portsmouth by 8:15 a.m. and at Hunty’s by 9. Then according to Google maps we would arrive at Gwithian or Wales by 1:30 p.m. That would mean we would have already missed most of the day and with the best tides over by 3 p.m. we would barely be in time for a tiny slice of the pie. The dilemma was did we want to catch a tiny slice or no pie at all?
With FOMO controlling my emotions, I dubiously rallied, managed to catch the ferry to Portsmouth and jumped on a train to Fareham where Hunty was waiting in his van ready to hit the road. Now I was getting a reverse guilt FOMO that I should be back at home, as I knew my wife had a lot on her plate with our two children and a hectic work schedule. Maybe I was on a wild goose chase and would just end up sitting in a van in driving rain being hammered by a gale when I could be spending precious moments with my wife and kids. It seemed like a no win situation either way. Already today, I didn’t even know if we were coming back to the Isle of Wight or not so had to buy three days of car parking just in case. Friday’s forecast was for 60 mph winds and flooding, so I did not hold out much hope for that, but I knew the boys would probably want to stay in Cornwall to make the trip worthwhile. Who knows where it would all end?
At 10:30 a.m. we had a message from Jim Brooks-Dowsett in Wales that they were rained out and the tides were too low, so at least we now knew we were headed to Gwithian with an E.T.A. of 1:30 p.m. Timo was ahead of us already en route, but at least the plan was in motion and a destination locked into the cross hairs. By midday reports were filtering through that Gwithian was nice and windy with some chunky sets rolling through. By now we were already past Exeter and actually doing quite well with timing having missed the morning traffic. For the first time during the day I was feeling that I had made the right decision. Maybe we were running late, but at least we were not missing out completely. Even if it was a tiny slither, we would at least be scoring a piece of the pie today!
“Gwithian was nice and windy with some chunky sets rolling through.”
IN THE ZONE
Finally we rolled over the top of the hill at Gwithian to the sight of giant sets breaking across the bay and waves crashing over the rocks of the Godrevy Lighthouse. It was pumping. There was no shortage of wind and plenty of sails were on the water flying in and out through the surf. With the tide already on the push we knew we were against the clock, so there was zero time for faffing about and Hunty and Timo had to rig up straight out of the van after a four hour drive. Some guys were already coming off the water with a few hours of adrenaline packed fun already in the bag. Word on the hill was that the swell was just starting to fully hammer in and we were bang on time for the biggest sets of the day. If we were lucky we had an hour before the tide was too high and up against the rocks. Dead south winds at Gwithian I’d say is pretty much perfect and it was blowing at least thirty knots, sending the offshore spray high above the crests of the waves. Down at beach level I realized I was too low to see anything amongst the carnage and I needed to climb higher on the rocks. I found a position just in time to witness a monster set charge through and wipeout half the sailors on the water. Within a frantic hour the session was all over. I had travelled six and a half hours to grab a solitary hour of photography, but at least had not missed out completely. During that hour it felt like we caught the peak of the action. Timo, Hunty and the few remaining sailors had scored one of the biggest cleanest days at Gwithian I have seen. Back up in the car park everyone was buzzing. It was one of those days where many guys may well have caught the wave of their lives. Huge perfect barrelling Gwithian. If not the wave of their life, then at least been out there amongst some mind-blowing conditions. So far FOMO had paid off!
Timo is lucky enough to own one of the small cottages in Gwithian Towans, so we had a pleasurable evening drinking beer, eating and watching TV! Kids, work and all that stuff has made it difficult for these ‘lads’ outings, but it was fun to hang out, talk rubbish and even all cry while watching DIY SOS! While I am happy at home and love spending time with my wife and children, I also enjoy the ‘craic’ with a few friends on surf trips when I am not working at an event. So FOMO is also partly about the social side of such a trip. Obviously none of us can go on every trip and be there for every forecast, but when I do get to go, I try to make sure I savour the experience. On this trip we were not the ones scrolling through Facebook and Instagram wishing we had been there, we had lived it and breathed it.
The following morning was giving fractionally smaller sized swell combined with storm force southerly winds and torrential rain. There was no fear of missing out today, but more just trying to catch a window of opportunity before the worst of the weather had us running for cover. Weirdly at first light it was absolutely clear with not a breath of wind, but checking on xcweather.co.uk it was already 35 mph at the Seven Stones lighthouse off the tip of Land’s End. It took Timo a solid 30 minutes to battle through the surf in the light wind for the early session, while most sailors watched from the comfort of the car park. But when the wind suddenly cranked in, he was on the water scoring while many were running for their rigs. The clouds soon rolled in, but over St Ives there was one tiny window of blue sky approaching with more jet-black clouds looming beyond. When the sun unexpectedly popped though, Gwithian looked stunning with pluming emerald waves and just a few guys out sailing. Within twenty minutes, the sun had passed through and it was grey again, but still pumping conditions. I guess that was the moment my FOMO was fearing. But I had been there this time to savour it and take it in. Not just in a photographic sense, but also just by appreciating the moment and the friends that were around. By noon the rain set in and the wind really started to nuke and that signalled our time to head home.
Funnily enough the following week, the forecast was epic again and I really wanted to go back, but somehow this trip had released my anxiety and I actually coped with it quite well. I want to be at home with my family, but also love the thrill of the chase when the winter storms are brewing. Fear of missing out is self-inflicted torture! In life you have to put things into perspective and have a balance between your work, family and indulgencies. But once in a while make sure you don’t miss out or you truly will regret it!
“Gwithian looked stunning with pluming emerald waves.”