A (hopefully) thought-provoking blog about surfing and the sea which has been on holiday to Wavedreamer but has now returned. Please go there for old posts. I'm also a contributor to The Inertia and tweet @aPhilosurfer.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Back to the Future

My elderly mother recently found a copy of a 1996 Brighton Evening Argus article about the formation of the local SAS group. I was the local rep at the time and there were enough local activists to start the first local SAS group outside Cornwall in the country. We were fighting for an end to Southern Water's 'pump and dump' approach.

20 years later my long curly brown hair is short and grey, but I'm about to become a local SAS rep again. The EU referendum result has fired me up to start campaigning again in a bigger way. The Bathing Water Directive, which provides the protection of minimum standards, was never translated into UK law so when we leave the EU it may no longer apply.

I want to help build local opposition to any idea that bathing water standards should be relaxed. So it's back to the future.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

A 25th birthday present for SAS...or back to the 90s?

SAS Campaigners with their inflatable turd in the 1990s. From SAS website
After a fantastic 25 years of Surfers Against Sewage campaigning for clean seas, it's most fitting that a revised Bathing Water Directive comes into force this year. This means that it will be harder for beaches to pass the minimum tests and to reach the top European standard. It also means more beaches will fail the new tests. Good things about the Directive mean that test reults will be posted on an Environment Agency website within 24 hours and Councils should tell people not to bathe when a beach has failed.

But...but, but  the tests are still only done May to September, do not necessarily reflect where people surf and some water companies refuse to use automatic monitors to let us know when combined sewers are operating because there isn't a 'Blue Flag' beach nearby. Also, if a beach fails a test because of heavy rain and overflowing combined sewers, the results can be discounted (up to a certain number of times in any year).

So there are still potentially lots of battles for SAS to fight - for tighter standards, year round testing, testing where surfers and other water-users need it and less flexibility to ignore bad results.

It looks like SAS will still need that inflatable turd after all.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Surfer's Dilemma 2 - Quiver Dither

At 5.15am the other morning, I found myself checking surf forecasts, unpacking and repacking surfboards and generally dithering about which board to take on a weekend surf trip – a classic attack of quiver dither.Many surfers own more than one board and are therefore susceptible to quiver dither. If you surf for a few years, you may collect a few more and if a loved one buys you a board for a birthday present, then it’s difficult to sell it. Before long you have acquired a quiver.Let the dither begin.

Without an eyeball surfcheck and living more than walking distance from the beach, you’re gambling which board to take. Of course, you could take more than one board with you, but that somehow goes against usual surfing ethos.I reckon the key determinants of which board to take are:- size of wave- size of crowd- your perception of how good a surfer you are, compared to your actual ability.

Now I only got a maths O level (GCSE to our younger readers), but I reckon there must be a mathematical equation that can help you choose. So here’s an easy 5 step plan

1. First of all, grade your boards in terms of their volume or length, from 1 (for the one with least volume) up to 3 (if you have 3 boards), 4 (if you have 4 boards) etc. This doesn’t work as well for big wave guns, but I reckon you know when you’ve got to blow the dust off them.

2. Then work out how big the surf will be and give it a number where big surf is 1 and the smallest surf is equal to the number of your biggest volume board.

3. Next, estimate how big the crowd will be and give it a number so 1 is if you are riding solo or with a few mates and a big pack has the number of your biggest volume board.

4. Add these 2 numbers up and divide them by 2

5. Then, you have to be honest and judge whether you are a better surfer than you think (give yourself a pat on the back and a score of -1), as good as you think (a score of 0) or worse than you think (a score of 1). Add that number to the number you got in step 4 and choose the board nearest that number. Bingo – that’s the board to pack.

Of course there are 2 more eco-friendly solutions:

1. Reduce your quiver to a couple of boards (the one board quiver – a holy grail of surfers living in small flats, doesn’t exist)

2. Rotate your board choice, so they all get used. This could result in you choosing the wrong board for the wrong conditions, but you’ll probably end up a better surfer overall.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Surfers Dilemma 1 - Just one more wave....

Brighton Marina by Mat Hammond

This is an old blog post but one I particularly like as I thought it up while sitting in the line-up.
‘One more wave and I’m going in’ I think to myself when I know I should be making tracks.
After that one, I think, ‘That last wave was a good one. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one, I think, ‘Hmm, there’s still half an hour of tide left, maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘That last one was a bit bigger, perhaps there’s a new pulse of swell. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘Wow, I’m surfing like a god – I can’t waste this talent. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘The winds dropped. It’s glassing off. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘I’ve not dedicated enough waves to my wife / daughter / mum / deceased dad. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘People are getting out. More waves for me. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘I don’t know when my next surf will be. What if it’s not for weeks? Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘This spot is threatened by development, or climate change. I need to fill my boots while its still here. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘I really stuffed up the take-off on that one. I’ve got to have another go. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘I’m getting cold. Soon I’ll be getting frostbite. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘It’s getting dark but I can still see the lines coming in. Maybe just one more wave.’
After that one I think, ‘What’s that shadow in the water? Could it be a shark? I’m going in.’

Friday, 30 January 2015

Morning of the Migraine?

For the last 20 years, my migraines have taken the form of floating patches of distorted vision surrounded by flashing lights lasting about half an hour, followed by what feels like a hangover. Until recently I had always regarded them as a negative, disruptive and tiresome aspect of my life as I have to stop using a screen,  reading or driving.

However, my last migraine happened while I was surfing in Brighton (well,  Shoreham actually) and as I was racing along the perfect shoulder-high wave,  the cold winter sun glinting off the spray of the lip, I actually found the distorting effects of the migraine enhancing my experience. I was stoked. 

If it hadn't been for the brown soupy water, the looming power station chimney and smell of the local sewage works, I could have been Nat Young in the classic psychedelic 1971 Australian surf film Morning of the Earth. It was awesome, dude. 

I'm not wishing to downplay the negative impact of migraines on sufferers - some of my friends are laid low by them for days. I'm just glad I've found a positive aspect of mine, at last.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Environmental movement has lost...?

This is the provocative headline for an interview with Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. Although you will find this claim in the depths of the interview with Chouinard's view that the corporations have won, the majority of the interview is actually very positive. However, accepting this, Chouinard is trying to do something more radical -to change the corporation itself. He's doing this at Patagonia by changing:

  • its supply chain - partly through the Sustainability Apparel Coalition (note - NO other surf company appears to be a member),
  • its working conditions - when there's surf, people downtool and go shred, making the time up later,
  • its response to economic downturn - bosses take a pay cut, and
  • its corporate structure - the directors are protected from legal challenges if they put environmental or social issues above pure profit.

Coincidentally, BBC Radio 4 has an interesting 15 minute 'Four Thought' programme by Clare Melford, CEO of the International Business Leaders Forum about corporate sutainability based on Buddhist principles but coincidentally aiming for 'the triple bottom line' that Patagonia's model is also aiming at.

Unfortunately, the driving force of business seems to be to persuade people that they 'need' things that they only actually 'want'. The likes of Patagonia and the companies represented by Clare Melford are in the minority but seem to be the only hope that an increasing human population with aspirations of increasing consumption can continue to live on the one earth we have.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Hidden runaway run-off

The Marine Conservation Society has released its 2012 Good Beach Guide and, while its good news that its recommending more beaches, it failed over 200 beaches because of an appalling hidden amount of run-off from outfalls from streets, agricultural land and other sources. Only a quarter of the 31000 combined sewage overflows have monitoring on them and the MCS has only got the information as the result of Freedom of Information request.

It is stupid that this information isn't in the public domain and obvious that more pressure needs to be placed on the water companies, highway authorities and others to tell people when the CSOs are operating or when they can be predicted to be operating - based on the amount of rainfall.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Fish - where would we be without it?

'Back in the caves,' is the answer. This was one of the enlightening facts gleaned from my bedside reading at the weekend, The River Cottage Fish Book. It was the mind-expanding goodness in a chemical called DHA that allowed the brains in our ancestors homo erectus to expand and evolve into homo sapiens. And where did homo erectus get its DHA? By eating fish.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall lays out the arguments about how a healthy fish intake helps reduce the chances of diabetes and children to develop better. And a new one on me - how the gloop at the bottom of the ocean contains one billion micro-organisms per cubic centimetre and that 80% of the 100 strains identified reduced cancerous cell growth. So, not only do we appear to owe our existence as intelligent creatures to the sea, but it could contain the cure to many of the diseases we suffer from.

The downside of this though is that we've become too 'intelligent' for our own good and are abusing the ocean in so many ways, including overfishing. This is why Hugh started his Fish Fight campaign which is aiming to change the EU rules about throwing by-catch back.

If you care about the state of our fisheries, the book contains some useful tips for practical action:

1. buy from sustainable fisheries - look for the Marine Stewardship Council blue fish tick logo and use the Marine Conservation Society fishonline.

2. eat locally caught fish and try different species (the River Cottage Fish Book is also a very good recipe book and available for under a tenner on the web).

3. sign up to Fish Fight campaign to reform EU rules.

What goes around...

Used by ancient cultures for millenia to symbolise the sun, the ages of woman and the turning of the seasons, the spiral is the most meaningful symbol for surfers.

The spinning of a low pressure system that generates swell, the turbulent eddies that increase the size of the waves within the swell and the beautiful spirals of seashells on the seashore are the good spirals.

But what goes around comes around. Cheap oil has led to cheap plastic which ends up in the ocean and can survive for hundreds of years The spiralling currents concentrate it into certain areas. The most famous is the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch‘ covering thousands of square miles. These are the bad spirals that poison the ocean and eventually leave plastic litter on the beaches (33 years later in some cases).

What can we do? Take Surfrider Foundation‘s Pledge to rise above plastics, take part in SAS’s 2012 Barefoot Wine Beach Rescue Project and, next time the good spirals deliver you some surf, take some bad spiral plastic home for recycling.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Patagonia launches food line - Finisterre to retaliate?

The surprising news that Patagonia have launched a food line shrink-wrapped for easy eating by rough outdoorsy types had me searching for a calendar to make sure it isn't April 1st. But no - its true. They're selling salmon from sustainable sources, caught sensitvely by local people. This is great news (although it seems a bit expensive at $12.50 a packet).

Will St Agnes-based Finisterre (the UK equivalent of Patagonia) feel duty-bound to retaliate? If so, they don't have to look far. For centuries, the Cornish pasty has provided portable sustenance for miners, surfers and even grockles. Now it's received Protected Regional Identification status, its ticks the 'made by locals' box. All Finisterre have to do is source an organic one and flog it in a paper bag made of 100% post-consumer waste paper to make it even more sustainable than Patagonia's offering. Proper Job.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Droughts + Floods = climate change?

An inch of rain fell in my home town today, the sea whipped into a ferment by 60mph winds. There are multiple flood warnings yet we are still in a serious drought. The newspapers are scratching their heads.

Is this a typical UK spring or a sign of things to come? Actually, its both. Variable weather is 'normal' but climate change will bring more of the same. It will be more 'normal' to have extremes of weather. More big downpours + more droughts. Higher temperatures + bigger storms.

Surfin Bird - surfploitation or high art?

The song Surfin' Bird always pops into my head as I watch a gull ride the updraft in front of a wave. Where is it from and what does it represent?

It was a hybrid of 2 RnB songs first recorded as a novelty single by The Trashmen (from landlocked Minneapolis) in 1963. This toe-curling film and interview indicates it was pure surfploitation.

At least the next band to cover it, The Ramones, actually lived somewhere surfable and treated as a pukka surf punk song, clocking in at a respectable 2 minutes 31 seconds. High Art.

However, the version I hum is by The Cramps which degenerates into slop before reforming into a beautiful wall of sound ready to shred. Sublime.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Do you know your water footprint?

Water footprints are a similar concept to carbon footprints. We use a massive amount of water at home (the UK average is about 150 litres / person / day) but water use is also 'embedded' in the food we eat, clothes we wear and stuff we buy.

While water is a totally renewable resource, the way we use it (and abuse it) matters to surfers. Water and sewage treatment uses huge amounts of energy which contributes to climate change and many surfbreaks are polluted by sewage and industrial discharges and run-off from farming land and roads.

Pioneering US surf and outdoor apparel company Patagonia have been campaigning against dams and are taking action to reduce their water footprint through its 'Our Common Water' campaign. They are also supporting the idea of 'water offsetting' which involves buying certificates that are used to restore damaged rivers. This is a new approach for water although the idea of buying carbon credits has been around for some time and is very controversial among environmentalists as it often doesn't go hand in hand with reducing carbon use and is a soft option compared with regulating water usage and discharges.

In Europe, improvements to water are being driven by the Water Framework Directive. There are local plans which set out measures needed to improve water 'bodies' (including inshore waters).

Here are 5 relatively easy ways to measure and reduce your water footprint:
1) estimate your water footprint
2) take some easy actions to reduce water use at home, including eating less meat
3) buy products from companies that consciously use less water and use proper treatment
4) encourage local government and businesses to reduce their water footprints, and
5) join Surfers Against Sewage or the Surfrider Foundation.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

How much is a dolphin worth?

This is the question being asked in the US as BP gets ready to cough up compensation for the Gulf oil spill. The Guardian report seems to think this is a hypothetical question, but its not. Its an increasingly common way of assessing damage to human health and the environment. There are a lot of ways of estimating it including working out how much it would cost to provide the same 'ecosystem services' that nature provides and asking how much people would be prepared to pay to save a habitat or species or to see them survive.

For example, I've never seen a dolphin when surfing and would be prepared to pay £5/surf to do so. The massive problem with this is that a government or corporation can now argue that if it compensates me and every other surfer £5 / surf they can argue they can destroy the dolphin and massively underestimates the intrinsic value of a dolphin or any other organism that has taken millions of years to evolve but seconds to destroy.

Surfploitation - surfing sells, or does it?

Surfploitation - using surfing images to sell goods or services unrelated to surfing - seems pretty rife.

At the moment, airing on our screens is the Chanel male perfume advert and a Thomas Cook travel advert.

Perhaps the most famous example is the multi-award winning advert for Guinness. I've never understood the connection between a stodgy stout and surfing and my first surfploitation post outlined my misgivings about the Chanel ad. Much more palatable is the Truro-based Skinners Brewery Betty Stogs ale and Skindog lager. Thank Kahuna, we were saved David Beckham surfing in an ad for Pepsi.

French car companies seem to have been competing with each other a few years ago - there was a Peugeot 106 Quiksilver and a Renault Clio Rip Curl - aimed at young drivers. Both models have apparently now been discontinued.

Even mobile phone, comparison websites and insurance providers have now got in on the act, with a comedy Vodafone and moneysupermarket adverts and a current BUPA advert featuring a pretty inspiring mature lady surfer from Newquay.

The thing is, does surfploitation actually work?
Does it sell more 'stuff' than using another sport?
Does it sell more stuff to surfers than non-surfers?
The fact that its used over and over again would suggest so, although all of the above brands have used other strategies to sell their wares. Was that because the surfing connection didn't deliver the goods? Can any readers provide enlightenment, please?