Boasting some of the finest surf on British shores, Cornwall has always been and become, home to a hardy crew of rippers. The list of local legends and unsung heroes is too big to cover in one issue, never mind a feature, but we have assembled an assortment of blow-ins and born and breds to give a flavour of the Kernow scene. Read on as John Carter quizzes them on their lives in the Celtic county and their passion for windsurfing there. This feature was originally published in the 2020 November / December edition of Windsurf Magazine.
Words Andrew Fawcett // Ian Ross // Timo Mullen // Dale Pearce // Harvey Dawkins & Danny Pollitt.
Photos John Carter // Joe Cockle Photography // JNP Events Photography / jnpevents.co.uk
I was born in Cornwall! Not like all these bleeding incomers! I travelled a bit with the family, and once I finished my education, I stumbled back to Cornwall and couldn’t leave! Something about the place draws you in, especially if you love windsurfing, surfing, the countryside, fishing and a nice life…or it might just be the crap public transport and traffic jams on the A30 trapping us!
I’m a sail and cover maker at RB Sails Ltd (www.rbsails.com). I started the business with a partner (now retired) about 12 years ago. I studied Geology at university in Cardiff and during my last year I started doing some work for a sail loft, mostly working on the windsurf sails and surf products. Unfortunately that went sour and I started RB Sails with a friend. I continued to make windsurf sails under the Ross Sails name, but the money just wasn’t there and I started to feel like I wasn’t enjoying going to the beach as much because I was always so critical of my sails, and wanted them to be better, but it was so hard to find the time to actually make my own. Now we mostly specialize in bespoke covers, upholstery, bags and canopies. Pretty much if it is made of fabric, we can do it! Oh, and we do sail and kite repairs, as well as supplying the local area with windsurf kit.
We have also been running the BWA Cornwall Wave Classic for the last few years. I started helping with judging and then head judging the BWA, but the travelling to all the events became a strain on work, so I ended up offering to run the Cornwall event. It is still time consuming and financially difficult to do, but I think Nigel and Geoff do such a good job voluntarily, that the least I can do is run the local event. It’s always great to have the best sailors here over the weekend and it’s usually a really intense few days.
Being the boss makes mixing things easier. And it was the reason for not following a real career path. I’m meant to be able to go sailing when I want, though it doesn’t quite work like that. I used to work all the time, 7 days a week, making the time to go windsurfing if it was good. Now I try to work almost normal hours, so probably only 10 – 12-hour days, 5 days a week. I definitely took the time to go windsurfing last winter as it was so good. ‘Family life’ fits in well as Nicky windsurfs too, although she gets a bit frustrated when I have been at the beach and she is stuck at work.
I used to ride my own sails and boards. It can be such a good feeling sailing something you made, but the time to make it can also be frustrating. When I decided to stop making windsurf sails, I chose Simmer sails. They seemed like a good fit and dealing with Farrel is always a pleasure. I use 3.7, 4.0, 4.5 and 5.0 Simmer Blacktip sails; they get me out in everything I want. Up until 2 years ago I was riding my own shape boards and loved it, but they came to the end of their lives and the Simmer Cortex was exactly what I needed, so I got one and now this year I have added a Flywave to my van. The Cortex is the perfect one board solution and is 78 litres and my big board. I added the 72 litre Flywave for the windy days as a smaller board.
My workshop is in Hayle, so I’m always keener to get out on the north coast as it’s closest. Any wind in the south to west-southwest works for the Bluff, Sandy Acres/Mexico or Gwithian. The best thing about being here is that we have plenty of options. Marazion can be great fun too and you can sail both coasts in the same day. It’s rare that I do that as I’m pretty lazy! In reality, I think I just look out for windy days as there is always somewhere to sail, and sometimes the unlikely directions can be just as fun (like northeast at Godrevy) as long as I don’t have to drive too far. Interestingly, I was joking with Timo and Steve Thorp the other day when they suggested going to Daymer. “You’re joking” I said, “that’s an hour’s drive”. And that is what happens when you spend too much time in Cornwall; you just can’t be bothered to drive anywhere else!
I am not really a fan of the big storms. When I was younger, I used to spend all my time looking for new big wave secret spots and howling winds, but I think I’ve reached that age when you just feel broken all the time. My knees hurt, my ankles hurt, my lungs hurt, my brain hurts and I’m weak and it’s cold! However, I do still try and get stuck in occasionally, especially if it’s not too cold. I just got a new wetsuit and that has made a hell of a difference. It’s good to watch Blacky, Timo, Thorpy and everyone else when it’s big and stormy. They seem to love it and it does tempt me out.
The beauty of windsurfing is getting to jump on the way out, and ride on the way back in. I think that is why I fell in love with the sport. I learnt to forward and back loop quite young, then stopped doing them, then learnt again, then focussed on riding only for years and pretty much forgot jumping, but now I enjoy both. I’m not great at either, and I’m the most inconsistent windsurfer I know. It’s so frustrating that one minute you can do it all, and are ‘the man’, and the next you are totally out of control and can’t do a thing, but that is what makes it all great. You never stop trying and you never get as good as you want…well I don’t anyway! I love a good wipeout. I think I love wipeouts the best!!
I moved here to go to college. I studied at Falmouth School of Art for 5 years. The subplot was I just wanted to be in Cornwall to windsurf and Falmouth seemed to fit the bill. I have always worked for myself. Currently I’m running a bed and breakfast, before that I had my own shop. It is tricky to fit in windsurfing around family life and business. Although I do get a solid four months off in the winter, but it always seems to be epic when I have to go and fix something.
I’m using Witchcraft V5 custom wave boards, made in Fuerteventura. I’m using 68 and 74 litre tri-fins, both sizes are the HDD version, so they are super strong and ding resistant. I’ve been on Bouke’s boards for over 10 years now. Sails wise I am on the Witchcraft Slayers. Like the boards, they are designed to take a good kicking. I’ve been on the sails now for a couple of years and they pair up nicely with the boards.
The days I look out for are random. It depends on my mood. If I have lots of time I will try and find the best conditions I can, but if I’m a bit rushed it is a ‘Mazza’ (Marazion) job. I like the big storms. If it’s super windy then I enjoy Marazion. If it’s Gwithian and blowing 70 mph, I’m not so keen on navigating the cliff.
I have no preference to jumping or riding. I suppose a really good days wave riding includes big aerials, so I would lean towards that. Actually, now I think about it, a massive aerial has something a jump doesn’t. So wave riding if I must commit to an answer
I was born in Cornwall! I lived in Africa for twenty years and moved back in the late 70s when I had children and wanted them to have a good education and also rising security concerns. I chose to move back to Cornwall as I was born here, and it is a great place to live.
As for work, bloody hell! I’m 70 so I’m well retired, although I guess you could say I’m a full-time windsurfer! I was a mechanic for 50 odd years, but also helped out with sail and board development and testing for several of the Cornish brands when there were lots of them. It’s amazing thinking back to the 80s and 90s of windsurfing down here and just how big the windsurf industry was. Sails, boards, extensions, booms, harnesses and wetsuits all made on our doorstep. It always paid to help out in the lofts and board places to ensure a good discount! Now I help Ian at RB Sails, making sure he actually does some work rather than letting him daydream about windsurfing all day, and as a part of that I help with the BWA Cornwall Wave Classic each year. That’s a great event, and it’s cool to get all the competitors down and have a good laugh.
I go windsurfing pretty much whenever I want! Moira, my wife, prefers me out of the house anyway! I’m pretty much windsurfing or SUP’ing most days. When I worked as a mechanic it was weekends or rushing down to the beach after work and holidays in Fuerteventura every year. I must have been there 40 times or more, people thought I was a local! I got my children into windsurfing and Grant still windsurfs now on the south coast, occasionally returning to Cornwall for a session with his old man. Mind you I still have to caddy for him at competitions as he is useless with his kit!
For years I used all local Cornish equipment – Magic Touch, Lodey, Hy Jumpers, Open Ocean and Limited Edition! Now I ride Simmer Style boards and sails, partly as a deal through RB Sails and partly because Farrel O’Shea is such a legend to deal with. It was all wave kit for years – Blacktip Sails in 4.0 up to 5.3, and Quantum Boards. I really rate the Quantum 105 litre. I use it in everything and it’s like sailing an armchair, it’s so comfy and does it all for you. In the last couple of years I’ve bought some freeride kit – the Simmer Enduro and Simmer Freemove, which are great for getting out in the summer and blasting past all the old boys on their race kit. I don’t like to be overtaken!!
I look out for any windy day really! I have enough kit for everything! But if I had to choose, I love 5.0 metre days at Marazion. It’s a great spot, which is fun without being too full on, although last winter had some pretty big swells. I also took up SUP’ing a couple of years ago and that has really helped with my fitness and wave riding.
I like the big waves and storms. Unless it’s mast high and drift and ride, I struggle with that, but love a good 3.7 or 4.0 metre day! There’s nothing quite like that to challenge yourself against the elements.
I love wave riding! The buzz is amazing, especially if it’s a bit bigger and the occasional party wave is good with friends! But jumping is still a real rush. I learnt to forward at 61 years old and was landing back loops, but broke my leg doing those. I stopped doing them after that! My forwards became cheese rolls, and I still throw the odd one on the right day, and still come in shaking with adrenaline when I do. Not bad for a 70-year-old!
Jeez, I moved here something like twenty odd years ago! I really moved down for the waves and wind under the guise of doing an engineering degree. I’ve been windsurfing and surfing now for as long as I can remember and still feel like a little kid when I check the forecast and it’s all set to go off. The passion is still there for sure, having said that I do get more frustrated these days when the forecast says it’s going to be sick and it turns out to be a load of rubbish. I feel like it’s time I could have spent with the nippers or getting on with work.
Reality set in when I realised I was never going to make a living from competing. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time cruising around to all the different locations and am grateful to all my sponsors who helped support me in the past. But you know, we are spoilt here in Cornwall, even an average day here would be day of the century at some of the spots we had to compete in. For me now time is the enemy, my business has grown and grown, I simply can’t justify disappearing for a week to do a competition when odds on we’ll have some good conditions here just around the corner.
Tombstone Surfboards that I founded with Dan Kinnaird of Elite Custom Boards back in 1989 has now morphed into a bit of a monster. The premises we are in now has a pretty substantial retail outlet on the upper floors called West Cornwall Surf (www.westcornwallsurf.com) with the surfboard factory still underneath.
Like every psychopathic windsurfer, it is never easy combining work with family and sailing, but somehow, we all manage to do it! A lot of evening work catch-ups and Doris is pretty cool; she’d prefer me to go to the beach rather than pacing the floor like some sort of caged animal.
For sure my engineering background has helped with the shaping side of the business, perhaps even more so now the majority of our production has moved overseas. As any shaper will tell you, it’s a bit of a weird life, your brain literally doesn’t switch off! The production side of the business is all about surfboards and SUP’s at the minute. From a windsurfing point of view I find this a little frustrating as I have all these great ideas for shapes and various layups, but the business has grown to such a level that I simply haven’t got the time to spend loads of time on windsurf boards at present. Having said that, our production facility in the Far East is lined up to do a few prototypes to be included in our next drop of boards. You never know a production Blackboards wave board might be available in 2021/22!
I’m an absolute wrecker when it comes to boards. We use our surfboard foam as the core, which is completely waterproof, and it just makes things so much less stressful. When you stick a board up on the rocks, you can just peel it off and carry on sailing. I’ve always struggled to find a production board to suit my height and style of sailing. Don’t get me wrong, I can see how the recent evolution of boards has allowed the sport to progress and become more accessible, but if you are a bit of a die-hard bottom turn fan like me, you can’t beat a gunny outline with a stack of vee, certainly for Cornwall anyway, where the conditions are always a bit rough and ready.
I was heavily involved in the sail brand 5 Oceans as you know, but Matthew has moved operations from here to Brittany and been up to his ears in setting up the workshop/sail loft and also basically building a house! I would feel so bad about asking him to do me a whole heap of kit. In an ideal world it would be great if everyone could have custom gear tailored for their own style of sailing, but know what, the majority of production kit is so good and versatile these days the custom market is relatively niche. Because of the business we have accounts with both Pryde and Tushingham (Starboard, Severne, Red Paddle Co.), so I’m lucky enough to get a go on the latest shiny kit. I’m currently into my ‘Blades’, those things are sick, but I don’t mind a spin on the Prydes, they are also flipping good.
I will sail with, whoever wants a slice! It’s great because the standard of sailing in Cornwall has gone through the roof and everyone has their own little strengths. It means you can go out in some pretty average conditions and with the boys that are pushing their abilities you can have a super fun sail. Ultimately though, it’s big Gwithian, or one of the reefs that we are all after.
As long as the old body is working, I don’t care whether I jump or ride! I do love the craic we have at Mazza. Because the beach is right there, it’s all a bit more relaxed, trading a few jumps with your mates, that’s probably the best fun we have. The big man, Danny Pollitt, will be there, taking the piss. He’s the ultimate twat magnet and without fail someone will get in his way or pile into him and we’ll be there keeling over on the beach waiting for the fallout. The other beaches tend to be more of a mission and the conditions more full-on, possibly less fun, but ultimately the psyche levels will be higher, nothing can beat that feeling when you drop into a bomb!
I love the big storms, who doesn’t! You against the elements. That excitement as you check the forecast and think ‘oh jeez’. Then when the storm hits, and you rock up to the beach and think ‘oh blimey’! That slight fear as you rig up thinking to yourself, ‘what on earth am I going to do out there’! It’s never that bad though as long as you’re not too far out with your sail size you can always find some sort of groove and get some moves in, yeah love it!
I have lived and worked in the South West since I was 18 years old. I went to University in Plymouth in the same era as Blacky and Fawcett; 30 years ago was the same but different as it is now, same peanut gallery in the car park, just different faces! My first job after uni was in Cornwall working for Gul wetsuits, so Gwithian again became my adopted home for a few years. I then scored a job with Animal, again based in the South West and drawing me once again back to Gwithian. I eventually got relocated back to Poole in Dorset, but my love affair with Gwithian had to be a long-distance affair, driving crazy miles to satisfy both my wave sailing lust and my wife’s demands to be back home for tea!
I remember the day clearly though when I made the decision to put down some roots in Cornwall, Blacky told me I was going to burn myself out with all the driving and told me I should just buy a place. Prices were still low and they were the only ‘words of sense’ Blacky has ever spoken! That night I googled ‘land for sale Gwithian’ and up popped the only empty plot I have ever seen for sale there. I bought that plot the next day and two years later I had built myself a house overlooking the main peak that we windsurf at Gwithian. I have now worked in Cornwall for the last ten years. I pretty much live here during the week then head back to the family and Dorset at weekends, avoiding the tourists but praying for no wind at the weekend! And I must emphasise though I am a ‘blow-in’! I am from Northern Ireland originally, so deep down I still call that home. I like to think I have 3 homes, which I guess I do – Ireland, Cornwall and Dorset.
I part own a natural skincare brand called Wideye and FoamLife, a flip flop brand. I am self-employed, so unless I have pressing appointments for work, my time is essentially my own so I can pick and choose my work around a dropping high tide! I think people’s perception of me is that all I do is windsurf! I have always had a full-time job, it is just that the only time other people see me is when I am at the beach!
Mixing windsurfing and family is something I am not so good at! I have been nearly divorced quite a few times! My wife is very understanding, but I am very obsessed, I need to find a better balance!
I ride all Severne kit. For boards I use Nano and Mako, and my sails are Severne Blades. For Cornwall my kit is perfect, particularly the Mako 91, that board is the perfect Gwithian one board does it all!
The days I look out for are the ones that hopefully no one else does! I am not so much a fan of the big storms! I always find them a bit of a letdown really; they over promise and under deliver. The good days in Cornwall are the days with a solid swell and iffy wind. The bottom line is that the waves have to be there, if the waves are rubbish that pretty much sets the tone for the day! I love jumping too, but I do get to do a lot of jumping at home in Poole so my time in Cornwall is mostly about riding waves!
I run Lagoon Watersports in Brighton. I moved to Cornwall in 1999, primarily for the waves. I work remotely for Lagoon Watersports doing the planning, marketing and administration. I look at the forecast for the week ahead and make a rough plan, trying to combine family, beach and work. My wife and team at the Lagoon will quickly let me know if I am spending too much time at the beach!
I ride Duotone, Fanatic and Witchcraft. My favourite setup is the Duotone Super Hero 4.5m or 4.2m. I prefer to rig my sails without too much downhaul and I tend to rig a size down from most people, as I am pretty light. I like my boards to be indestructible, as I seem to have a habit of ending up on the rocks. I prefer riding custom boards, as I like a bit more rocker in my boards.
Classic days for me are a medium size swell with a good period, tides playing ball and moderate cross-off winds. But you really have to accept whatever Mother Nature throws at you and you can’t be too fussy. For me the best days are the ones you don’t see coming. The sun comes out and it gets a bit windier than forecast and the swell is bigger than predicted. A few messages fly around, work gets canned and we end up heading to a spot on the off-chance. Sometimes it’s as much to just meet up and have a cup of tea. Every now and again the stars align and it fires out of the blue. Four hours later you can barely walk you are so tired. On those days you feel you have won the lottery.
A big storm can be great but frequently the day after is cleaner and I prefer that. I am all about wave riding as my jumping is rubbish.
I learnt to windsurf in 1982 in Christchurch harbour, I remember seeing a tall skinny kid with blonde hair on a short board doing duck gybes; I found out later it was Duncan Coombs. I worked at Grand Prix windsurfing, now Boardwise, with Ian Gregorelli and Doug Foden and I aspired to move to Cornwall as I had visited a lot through the late 80s and loved the atmosphere and the conditions. Through them I had connections with Paul Lodey and did a deal with him to work on a house he was renovating in Porthleven in exchange for a board and a quiver of sails.
I taught myself to forward loop in 1990 and sailed in the Pripps Energy (remember them?) wave series and competed at Rhosneigr, Cornwall and Tiree, eventually coming 13th in the pros if I remember correctly, a long time ago!
I moved to Cornwall in 1990 when it took hours to get here before dual carriageways, I liked the isolation and simple way of life. Sadly with the county becoming easier to get to and constant development, it has become overpopulated and lost a lot of its charm. In recent years it has been busier on the water as well.
I became friends with Ian Black and Andy Fawcett, and we sailed regularly in the early 90s across all the breaks in West Cornwall including the reef at Porthleven. Chris Calthrop (R.I.P.) turned up in 1991 and slept on my sofa for a while and sailed the reef with us along with one of the biggest days I have seen at Gwithian. The 2nd December 1992 delivered a storm with a low pressure of 935 mb, one of the lowest ever recorded over Cornwall and may still be! It had similar conditions to the Red Bull Storm Chase held at Gwithian. It was waist deep in the water at the shoreline to launch, but sucked back to bare sand such was the amount of water moving. The whitewater was mast high and chicken gybing to try and get out was the norm. I remember Andy Fawcett sailing in on a swell the size of a block of flats! No lifeguards, life vests or jet-ski rescues, when men were men!
I have worked offshore on oil and gas rigs since 1995. Finding decent jobs in Cornwall was, and still is, tricky. My job gives me approximately 230 days off a year to sail when conditions are right, and it allows me to pick the days I want to sail and gives me plenty of time to do other interests, including gym work to keep fit for sailing, spearfishing in the summer on calmer days and track days in my 911.
I live in North Cornwall these days and sail at Daymer Bay on a NW and other directions if the conditions are right, along with a few other less well-known breaks. I sail Ezzy sails and masts, and have done since 2005, I like the construction and they suit my style. I still have some of the smaller sails from 2005 they’ve lasted that well! Being 6’5” and 115 kg I need big power and equipment that can take the punishment.
I use Fanatic boards with my latest being a 105 FreeWave STB TeXtreme®, which works so well on the jumping side in cross-on conditions. We get a lot of that here, despite everyone thinking it is down-the-line day every day in Cornwall!
I enjoy the banter at the beach, we can all have such a laugh with Dad, I mean Dale, and other locals, sometimes at other people’s expense, but it’s all in good fun. Sometimes it’s better than the sailing! I pick my days now, especially on the bigger days at 50 years old and after two near drowning experiences. Harvey Dawkins rescued me at Gwithian after a heavy winding landing on the tail of my board on a cutback and unable to breath with lost kit and overhead surf, without him I was gone. It opened my eyes to how easily it can happen even in average size surf after sailing in much heavier conditions for years without incident.
I like jumping and wave riding, no preference; it just comes down to the particular day and the conditions present. I am too heavy to be a good float and ride sailor, I prefer to be powered up and like nothing better than a big one-handed forward and also the old school moves that you don’t see much these days like a cheese roll, which do seem to be making a bit of a comeback though.