James Cox has a reputation of going big at his local break Southbourne on the south coast, but it’s not all play for the father-of-two. James designs websites for a living, as well as running his own self-created bigsalty.com windsurfing weather forecast site. We dispatched John Carter earlier in the year to capture ‘Coxy’ in action and find out more about the 2019 British Wavesailing Association vice-champion and his work, windsurfing and family.
Words James Cox // Photos John Carter
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My parents had a beach hut at Mudeford, and I used to watch both my brothers windsurf when I was growing up. Like any other kid I was keen to join in the fun and was taught the basics by my dad. I progressed from an ancient longboard and a sail without any battens to taking windsurfing more seriously when I was seventeen after I had recovered from a knee operation.
I love the fact windsurfing is a constant challenge. I like being able to push my own fear threshold. It coaxes me into doing things that I don’t necessarily want to do. And it can be meditative. On a day like Storm Jorge when it is so windy, if you are fully in tune with everything on the water then you are not thinking about anything else and you can get into the zone. When I am in my zone, I can fathom doing big jumps. Right at the end of my session on this day I was starting to lose concentration because I was tired. That was when I started crashing. I knew it was time to come in and should have come in sooner.
I have these moments where I might do a jump and am fully concentrated and know everything that is going to happen. I believe I am going to land safely and know where I am during the jump. I am not really thinking, it is just happening. Which I suppose is when instinct takes over. That is why I find windsurfing almost meditative. There have been a few days recently at Southbourne when I have not really wanted to even go out. I am worried about losing my kit on the groynes mainly. If you lose your kit on a big day at Southbourne when there is a ground swell, you won’t necessarily get it back in one piece. It will just get carried in by a wave and rumble all the way onto the beach and up against a groyne. Sometimes I will be feeling I don’t really want to get involved in this and then I think to myself that I will go out and play it safe, experience it and come back in. That is my chess game. Then later I might go to Avon and have a safer sail. That helps me handle the fear threshold. If I come in fine, when I go back on a slightly smaller day then I can attack it a bit harder. I like that kind of process. We call it iteration.
We have quite a regular crew that would typically windsurf Southbourne when it is quite extreme – Andy Chambers, Clyde Waite, Phil Anson, Reuben Shaw, Greg Bowden, Gregg Dunnett, Charles Willard, Nathan Drudge-Coates and Nick Beaney are all regulars. There is also a big community going on just down the beach at Avon which is lovely. It gets busy down there with enthusiastic windsurfers, surfers, kiters and photographers. Roger Bushnell set up a Facebook page for the beach (Avon Beach Surfers) and I think it has really driven a big community, which is fantastic. There are about 5 or 6 local photographers who shoot most of the sessions and post pics on the page. As a result, there is normally somebody shooting at the beach when it is windy. So, all in all, Avon is quite a major UK windsurf hotspot. Southbourne less so, but I love it.
When there is no major ground swell, Southbourne works a little better in a southwest or west-southwest wind than a west wind. I prefer the southwest days when it is very windy as the onshore pushes in a bit more swell. Southwest is the more common scenario and the wind swell can build quite quickly. In a west there are still a few good peaks that come through, but sometimes you have to wait a while to catch the right ramp. There can be a lot of hunting around. Storm Jorge was all about extreme wind. In a matter of half an hour we saw it go from 20 knots to full power nuclear. One of the things I like about Southbourne is that the waves tend to wall up really well and break with lots of power. But that can be a disadvantage on high period swells when it’s hard to get down the wave face in time before the wave barrels. If it’s a bigger swell high tide seems to be best or a standard wind swell with a low tide.
I have been with Ezzy sails over a decade now and they are exactly the type of sails that I need. They are strong and powerful, but equally you can rig them to reduce the power. They are manoeuvrable, and they are just reliable and last! The new Ezzy Wave is fantastic. It is quite nice to go out in tough conditions and not worry about your kit. If you stop worrying about your kit, then you can get into your zone.
As for boards, I love the Quatro quad and I love the style of that shape. My board works well in cross-onshore conditions, which is what I sail a lot at home. I really feel I have the right tool for the job at Southbourne. I feel having the quad setup, really sets me up well for jumps. I just have so much control. I can hit a crappy ramp very fast and accurately and take off feeling composed and set up; I don’t feel I lose any speed. Taking off on a ramp for a big jump is really critical for doing the jump successfully. I think the quad totally sorts you out there. The board also turns nicely in side-shore.
What I realized this year is that having as small a board as possible is the way to go. It gives you so much extra control in turning and jumping and makes your sailing more exciting. I typically sail my 82 litre whenever possible. I also have a 98 litre, but mainly tend to use it for super light wind or if I want lots of pop on small wave days.
My ambition in windsurfing is to continue improving. I finished second on the British Wavesailing Association’s wave tour last year overall, so it would be nice to try and win that. But hey that’s a hard ask. I’m very happy to continue working on going higher with my jumps and getting more comfortable in bigger waves. Wave 360’s are delightfully elusive. I’d like those consistent thank you. I would also like to nail a few proper double loops. When I watch Nic Hibdige and Andy Chambers freestyling, it is also really inspiring to me. I would like to get better at the flat water and bump and jump side of things as well. Oh gosh there is so much to learn, and it is all fun.
Over the years of competition, I’ve been very lucky to have so many epic friends to windsurf with, all of whom have influenced my windsurfing, they all have a slightly different style on and off the water. I’ve always enjoyed Andy King’s style. He has a psycho energy on the water and just goes big. Seeing him launch a big pushy makes me smile.
The local crew keep me pumped too, everyone is really motivated and get a lot of water time in, plus they try new moves a lot. There’s some top-class wave-riding going down and it’s great to be a part of it. If people are out there trying new moves, so should I. It’s a fun crew to hang out with. If I had more time, I’d love to just hang out at the beach, windsurf, crack bad jokes and drink beer. In fact, I think that’s what a lot of them do!
WORK AND FAMILY
I share duties with my wife who normally works in the morning while I look after the kids. Then we swap over at 12:30. My work time is kind of like my work or windsurfing time depending what the forecast is like. If it does happen to be a windy period then I will look after the kids in the morning, then head to work at 12:30, just to check everything is ok and I have nothing urgent to do. Then I will go windsurfing, normally locally and then come back and work again. Then in the evening I have dinner with the family, put the kids to bed and then maybe catch up with a bit more work if necessary. Occasionally I will stay up late or work early if I need to.
I run a website business and also Big Salty Weather (bigsalty.com). I combine those two sides of my business and try and get a balance of earning enough money to live while also doing the things I enjoy. I would work on Big Salty even if it was only me using it. Perhaps it is? Like most people, juggling my time between work, pleasure and family is a challenge. My work was to some extent influenced by my degree in Computer Science in Swansea University, but mainly due to the flexible and remote nature of computer work. My time in Swansea University was great for windsurfing in the Gower. I used to windsurf with the locals at Horton, Llangenith and a few other novelty spots. It’s a beautiful place to skip lectures.
What is evident with working with the Internet is that there’s always a new technology to learn. That is one of the challenges with my time management. I might be asked to do a project, but it might benefit from a new technology. So I have to put the time aside to learn it. It’s sort of ongoing, but it’s fun to create things and solve problems. The main thing is the job keeps me flexible with my time so I can go windsurfing. I suppose it is also slowly turning me in to a recluse!
My wife Lucy is an author (Lucy Clarke). Her debut novel was called The Sea Sisters, which was a Richard and Judy Book Club choice. That helped put her on the map and her latest book is called ‘You let me in’. She writes from her parent’s beach hut and loves travelling, adventure and being at the beach. She has also recently got into surfing too. I’ve encouraged her to start (she also windsurfs by the way) so she can get more from the bad weather we haave during winter. So I might windsurf, then we will go with the kids to find her a little nook where the waves wrap in so she can go surf.
With windsurfing and surfing in the winter, we both have a goal and something we enjoy. If you don’t have that, winter could probably be quite hard work. Autumn and winter is my main time for windsurfing, while in spring and summer I tend to spearfish mostly. That is a great partner to my windsurfing. You really need calm weather to spearfish in our area because visibility gets poor quickly when the wind picks up due to the amount of fine sediment. If I get a patch in the summer with nothing going on wind wise, it could well be that the spearfishing is at its best. The fishing has helped me get to know the coastline a lot more and feel comfortable drifting around at sea. I’m fairly knowledgeable on the tidal movements in my local area on the paths I take. I have learned a lot about the local currents and reef systems. My main concern these days it is getting hit by a boat. I do use a marker buoy, but have had some pretty close calls. My C-Skins wetsuit is epic. It keeps me warm and I can easily fish for three hours and not get in the least bit cold.
Yup, windsurfing and spearfishing, I’d like to do a lot more of that. It will be interesting to see if my kids get into this stuff. It’s so much fun watching them learn things, but to be honest it would be a lot simpler seeing them smash a ball against a wall. But would it be as much fun? I don’t think so.