Surfing is a very unique sport and part of what makes it unique is the importance of the elements whose unpredictability gives surfing both its appeal, and frustration. There are now very sophisticated forecasts available to help you predict everything from wave height and frequency, to wind speed and direction and probably even seaweed per m3 of water, all up to two weeks into the future. However despite all this technology nothing is, and probably will never be, certain. I have turned up to a near flat forecast in the North Sea to find fun sizeable waves that left me grinning from ear to ear. Like wise I have been escorted to promised six foot barrels in Indonesia, only to be washed around in a windy mess.
Since I moved to Pamplona I have been taking regular trips to the Basque coast with some fellow teachers at my school on the hunt for waves. This part of Europe offers endless spots running along the coastline ranging from beautiful town beaches such as San Sebastian and Biarritz, to little coves and secluded spots all with consistent waves and reachable within an hour of Pamplona.
Last week we were headed for Hendaye, a small town on the French/Spanish border with a long golden beach and uninterrupted views of the vast Atlantic Ocean. Looking at the forecast the night before, it was more than tempting to cancel my 7am alarm and wait until next weekend. We were expecting medium size 3-4 foot waves and a disastrous 30mph wind and rain. You don’t need to be an expert to realise that in the ocean, trying to catch waves, probably won’t be a great place to be.
However, we were all committed and at 7:30 the next morning I climbed in the car with my two friends and the journey began. As we crossed the border a heavy rain had begun to hammer down on the car. Along with a temperature drop as we descended the mountains to the town, the prospect of removing our warm clothes and fighting ourselves into a wetsuit was a daunting thought, perfectly illustrated by my friend’s fearful face next to me.
We parked the car and gazed out through the windows shielding us from the wind and rain. The forecast seemed pretty accurate, medium sized sloshy waves being blown around by a relentless wind. My friend was the first to voice the rational response to what we saw, suggesting we wrap up warm, go and have a coffee and maybe head home. But we had come to far now and as bad as it looked I have never been one to decline the opportunity of a surf of any sort. For the next few minutes we all stayed sat in the car conjuring the will power that was needed to venture outside and suit up. In the end it took a communal 3, 2, 1, go! to get us all out and changing as quickly as possible before the cold got to us too much. Car key “hidden” on the wheel, we made our way down to the beach to make the best of what the ocean was offering, despite the lack of fellow surfers in the water being quite disconcerting.
Unsurprisingly the waves weren’t very good, but the rain had stopped, the sun had begun to shine and as always it was great to get into the water after a week in the city.
After a couple of hours being washed around we found each other on the sand and decided to take a walk along the beach to see what else we could find, the strange hope of the waves being better somewhere else always tempting. After striding all the way up to the top of the beach with our boards blowing around in the winds we reached a large man made sea wall separating a harbour from the rest of the ocean, it was quite tall and was creating a little surfers microclimate paradise. Tall, glassy waves were wrapping around the wall that was sheltering them from the harsh wind. These were great waves, and after what we had been in all morning they looked heavenly.
With excitement bursting out of us we all ran across the top of the wall, climbed down the rocks and jumped straight into the line up catching wave after wave in the mostly empty water. Eventually, hours later, we washed up on the beach exhausted but each wearing an adrenaline filled grin of absolute content.
After a long winter I had caught the best waves I have had in a long time, but I had also been reminded of a good lesson for surfing and adventures of any kind. You never know what you are going to find, and sometimes it might seem like the best thing to do is forget it. But the important thing is making the journey and going for it because you never know what surprises you will find!