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A huge swell led John Carter and Timo Mullen to the ‘Bluff’ in Cornwall; they recount how it turned out to be a sweet session, despite a few dark clouds of doom on the way.

Words: John Carter and Timo Mullen // Photos: John Carter


John Carter – “The North Atlantic was alive with swell. Back-to-back storms were delivering strong winds and wild seas that were lashing the coasts of the U.K. A brutish 6-metre swell was set to hit Cornwall along with strong southerly winds. Timo Mullen and I were both frothing on this forecast, but could not figure out where would be best.

One thing that was clear was that it was going to be big! Daymer bay was an option, as well as possibly Avon Beach on the south coast, or the ‘Bluff’ down in Cornwall, if the sandbars could handle the monster long period swell. Come the day and we had made the decision to head west, leaving from Southampton at 5 a.m. Part of the decision-making process was that the weather was supposed to clear in the West Country by noon, while it was set to be wet and windy back on the south coast. You almost need to be a mathematician to work out all the connotations of these forecasts and where and when to go, with tides, winds, swell period, cloud cover and hours of daylight all to be factored into the equation.


To assist our decision making process, we also had the web cameras at Hayle, Gwithian and Daymer, and at first light we could just about make out via the cam that Gwithian was smoking. The weather was looking grim, it looked like the wind was nuclear, as well as the beaches being lashed by driving rain, but the waves were just as expected, absolutely massive! The waves at Daymer Bay didn’t look quite as big as expected on the camera, so the ‘Bluff’ was the call!

The problem when you are chasing around with a narrow window of daylight, is that if you make the wrong call, you can totally mess up and possibly not even make it on the water. Just heading to the place where it is the biggest and gnarliest isn’t always going to provide the best sailing. As a photographer, that is probably where I am drawn, but as for the riders, do they really want to head out in double-mast-high bone-crunching Gwithian at low tide with a pretty good chance of destroying all their kit. We were also faced with a noon low tide, which isn’t ideal for Cornwall, but hopefully on the pushing tide we could score.

Call my Bluff

We were at the ‘Bluff’ car park by 11:30 a.m., but it was hard to see the waves as the rain was still hammering down. Actually, the rain was driving so hard that I could not even see out of the van window, it was miserable. By the time it stopped, this huge squall that had passed though left the whole of the car park at the ‘Bluff’ like a river. The wind had gone too. We could just about make out beautiful waves, but compared to what we had seen in the morning, it wasn’t half as big as we had expected. Looking on the weather radar, we were about to get hit by another monster squall so frustratingly we sat in the van ready for the next onslaught of rain. On the brighter side, behind this rain it looked to be clear skies for the rest of the day.

Finally, by about 1:30 p.m., the sun was shining down on us, although the wind now had swung west-southwest, rather than southwest, which is the preferred direction for the ‘Bluff’. I had not come down all this way to Cornwall to shoot half-mast-high crumbly slightly messy conditions! With the clock ticking it was too late to move anywhere, so we would have to settle for the conditions we were faced with. I heard a report that Avon Beach on the south coast was windy and massive. Just what we didn’t want to hear.


Despite the conditions not being the best, Timo was hungry to get out. The sun was shining at least, but I was still miffed that the waves seemed to have disappeared; maybe we should have been at Gwithian for first light in the wild driving rain and extreme winds. We just never anticipated the waves could drop off so dramatically.

It took a while for Timo to find his rhythm, but once dialled in he was scoring some decent hits. Down at the water’s edge, the waves were actually a fair bit bigger than they looked from the cliff. As the tide started to surge in, it didn’t take long before I was forced to retreat to higher ground, unless I wanted to risk getting stuck out on a sandbar and have to wade back in through the tide pools.

Cornwall shines

As the tide pushed, the sets started to pump. By now it was one of those stunning crystal-clear afternoons down at the ‘Bluff’, with awesome mast-high waves lining up, feathered by a decent southwest breeze. I would have liked the waves to be bigger, but it was such a beautiful afternoon it was hard to complain. We had pretty much seen it all by now in terms of weather and conditions.

Mental rain, thundery clouds, rainbows and now wall-to-wall sunshine and epic windsurfing conditions. It was one of those days where you could have never predicted how it would pan out. There are amazing windsurfing locations all over the world, but catch the UK on its day, and you can also score some pretty sick conditions.

Of course, just as conditions hit their prime, Ian Black rocked up to enjoy the session as well as a few other reliable locals. There were only about five or six on the water, which seemed weird for such an epic day.”

Timo Mullen

“There were multiple options with this massive swell on the radar. You know it is going to be firing when the swell is headlined on the surf forecasts. All the big wave spots were going to work on this swell. Ireland, Portugal and France were all huge. It was lighting up everywhere. There was no escaping this swell. We had so many possible options of where to go, but everything was pointing towards the ‘Bluff’. The wind was quite southwest, so I knew the ‘Bluff’ would be on. I thought it would be huge, well over mast-high. Anyone who knows the ‘Bluff’ will also be aware that it is a pretty gnarly spot, especially at low tide. It is not a sailing spot for the faint-hearted. It was pissing with rain when we arrived, like a monsoon.

In the morning we heard a St Ives surfer called Jayce Robinson had scored an amazing sandbar barrel that was going wild on social media. That was happening as we were driving to the beach. As the rain started to clear, the howling winds seemed to disappear also. There was only a small crew at the beach. At the start it was just me out because it was so light and sketchy. As soon as I launched the swell seemed to go from mast high to three feet. On an incoming tide this was strange as the ‘Bluff’ normally picks up and works better as the tide pushes and typically the wave height doubles in size! It was still decent, three-foot sunny and cross-off. I wasn’t complaining, but it was not the conditions JC was after. I was happy, but felt like we had been short-changed with the conditions. As with a lot of spots these days, patience is key. I kept plugging away out there and then the swell started to pump again.

You have to just stick at it and be in it to win it! I was on the new Severne Stone asymmetric board and having a blast. By the end of the day all the stars had lined up and it was perfect logo to mast high and we were rewarded for our efforts. It was pretty much as good as it gets at the ‘Bluff’ and one of those days where you had to be there and be on the water ready for the magic hour. It turned out to be all-time. The wind and waves arrived late for the party, but at least they showed up. It does not get much better than sailing in Cornwall in wall-to-wall sunshine with pumping conditions and just a few of us on the water!”

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