Thursday, 19 May 2016

drinking a pint of Belhaven

Way back at the AJMW I spent some time chatting to Mark J. We got talking about swimming and surfing and he invited me along to Belhaven Bay where he lives, to try out Bodyboarding. Last Sunday, with hardly any hangover from Saturday's Arran adventures, I put my bike on the train and headed there. The low tide turned around 4 or 5pm and the surge up the beach is the preferred moment to climb aboard. So as many were ironing their ties for Monday morning I was being put through the washing machine and forced to drink about a pint of Belhaven's less popular drink.

It all started well. The weather was much better than the forecast and the wave size looked only medium terrifying. I had most of the kit required: wet suit and hood and gloves and Mark loaned me the board, leash and fins needed. There wasn't much in the way of instruction: swim out through the surf; turn around and wait for a big wave; kick your flippers till your legs cramp to catch the wave, then don't drown as it flips you like a burger. I was foolishly over-confident I would be good at this, as it required none of the years of practice that standing up on a board does. However....

Well first off I had underestimated the forces involved. I asked Mark what sort of goggles to wear. (I had taken 3 pairs: swimming, scuba-ing and diving.) He said none as they would be ripped off. This was the first clue. I also took Mary's waterproof camera imagining close up action shots in the tube. Since the camera doesn't float I was wearing it in a gel belt round my waist and had a leash (a climbing sling) from it to the gel belt so I wouldn't lose it. First thing I did after getting into the water and paddling out through the breakers (you dive the board and yourself under the waves and they come down on top of you with the weight and temperature of a large fridge freezer,) was to say to Mark I was going back out to the beach to leave the camera with our stuff. Very easy to imagine the gel belt being ripped untimely from my waist and not even noticing. It's not a brilliant camera but there was no way I was going back to Mary without it. Sorry about the lack of pics in the tube. Technically speaking I don't think I was ever in the tube, and certainly photography wasn't what was going through my mind.

Wearing fins takes a bit of getting used to. It is essential for picking up speed and catching the wave but reduces you to a stumbling fool on the beach or worse in the shallows, where you are forced to turn around and walk backwards into the sea. Then you mount your tea-tray and try to swim. Mark had rubbed the board with sticky wax on the up side and this was so you didn't slide off. I found that I tip side to side as I swim and when I did the board, being very buoyant scooted out that side. So I mostly held on with one or 2 hands and just kicked my way through the surf. As the tide turned and the waves began to crash in with more force, and I tired, this process became almost unsustainable. Of the hour we were in the water I spent maybe 96% floundering out to the calm beyond the breaking waves. Eventually I gave up trying to swim with the board underneath me and just swam on my back one arm pulling the dreadful tea-tray the other doing back stroke. It worked ok but by the time I found that out I was fairly pooped and had precious little energy left for all that popping out the water business.

this will have to wait for the second lesson

On the upside I didn't notice the cold. Really, I was so busy trying to cope with the equipment and the involving process (and swimming without the use of arms) that I didn't even notice what temperature the water was. I think it might have been quite warm, I was sweating under the neoprene hood. And every 10th wave I ducked under would catch me out and I'd drink a big mouthful of refreshing brine.

But then just as the whole business was becoming hateful I'd find myself out beyond the breaking waves, rising and falling on the large rolling swell, and I'd see a huge dark grey roller forming and I'd turn and kick like crazy holding onto the front of the board as the monster picks you up and you slide down the front of it going from swimming pace to running pace to cycling pace in one tremendous acceleration and skimming across the surface, the edge of the wave crashing all around and you get a huge rush and it is the greatest thing.

Mark and I exchange thumbs up and I begin the 10minutes slog back out to the calm. Mark can see the difficulties I am having and is kind enough to suggest it is my slippery swimming wet suit that has me flopping off the board on the swim out. He swaps boards but his is exactly the same and I just swim out backstroke towing it like a tea tray behind me, hugging it like a lover when another wave threatens to pull it and me back up the beach. After an hour I have caught 2½ waves. Mark is, by contrast, swimming out quickly and then catching 5 waves to every one I manage. He expertly goes along the wave jumping off before it sweeps him up the last choppy 50 yards, to return quickly to the start. When I catch a wave, it is like riding on the bonnet of a truck and I don't think about anything other than holding on. 

We get out to explore less choppy parts of the beach but Mark lays down and I hope he hasn't had a heart attack. Suddenly feeling nauseous he stays horizontal for 5 mins while I take some photos of the scenery. The sun is out and the waves are breaking all the way along to the Bass Rock. Mark, like myself, is very susceptible to motion sickness and I think all the churning and ducking through the waves has broken in a wave of sea-sickness and it is a wee while till he gets up and walks whey-faced to his rucksack on the beach.  

man down

using a bodyboard to exit the sea

how cool am I?

Ok we're done here. All that shoogling about in the washing machine and forced to drink a fair amount of Belhaven and I am ready to retire. The sun is out and Mark's house and garden are a delight. Very relaxed and full of joys and art, from a cycling trailer (transportation of painty equipment is a perennial problem) to pets, to a bassoon. You're kidding! Who plays a bassoon? Mark rattles off some Bach and yes I should have taken video. After a bite to eat I cycle back to the train station. While I have not yet ordered a board from Decathlon (£12~£60) I am very interested in lesson number 2 and might well see if can't rub the slippery shine off the chest of my wet suit with sand paper to make it more board friendly. And write some bassoon tunes! (Belhaven Bay I wish you were whisky.) The whole of the Summer stretches ahead with huge anticipation. It's going to be great!

I'm sorry I forgot their names. 
In fact, competition time: name the bunny, the cat and the black lab (correctly or in the most amusing manner) and win a pint of Belhaven. Answers next time I see Mark.

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