Imagine being a surfer in a region where the sea is usually flat. Each turn a bittersweet agony of the joy of the moment, contrasted with the sadness that it will only ever be temporary. But what if there was surf every day? Would that opportunistically snatched turn feel as sweet? Sometimes it’s the elusiveness of the moment that makes it so precious.
I love to surf. I love being in the water, capturing seconds of silky smoothness and power from the disorganised, churning water around me. I have experienced some of my most vivid memories with a plank of foam and fibreglass beneath my feet, the pure elation of gliding onto my first ‘green’ wave, or, contrasted years later by the bitter fear of being held in a rip as violent waves hammered me towards a jagged rocky outcrop.
Still, despite the unglamorousness of surfing’s pursuit in Southern Scotland, I love scratching out seconds of fun where the energy from the sea unloads onto the sand.
In a sport rich in cliques, I feel uncomfortable labelling myself as a ‘surfer’ and feel no need to wear board shorts and flip-flops in February. As much as I would like to, if I’m honest with myself, I feel no spiritual link with the ocean or the need to bathe in the energy of Mother Earth. The sea is a wondrous, yet alien place to me – often intimidating and occasionally terrifying.
Living where I live on the East Coast of Scotland, the elusive coming together of wind and long-distance swell, that together produce surfable waves is tantalisingly elusive. For me, and many people who live where waves are scarce, to surf is to be selfish. It all too often requires bending family commitments, avoiding long-term planning and occasionally bailing on appointments in a rush to carve out just a few minutes of fun during many hours in the water. Some bounce from winter slopes to summer waves, carving first on powder then down the face of a wave. Good hunting for a youngster, but it soon wears thin on the people around you as you take on the responsibilities of adulthood. To find true harmony, there has to be a compromise, another way to get your fix. To tap that same addictive feeling of floating on energy provided by the natural rhythms of our world, we need to find another outlet. For me, I chose to ride bikes.
Sidecut Fish – shaped by Jason Burnett
Ever since the late 60’s when the forward-thinking Steve Lis traced a deep swallow tail on his kneeboard, the ‘fish’ surfboard has become iconic. Traditionally with a flat and wide profile, the fish shape is perfect for coaxing the most fun out of weaker waves. The sidecut fish takes things further by thinning out the profile under the surfer’s foot, allowing it to slip effortlessly from rail to rail.
Canyon Grail AL 7.0
The € 1,499.00 Canyon Grail AL 7.0 is an affordable kilometre-muncher that offers excellent looks and versatility at an exceptional price point. Lacking the energy and lively handling of lighter and more expensive gravel bikes, it instead champions confident and undemanding handling that makes light work of after-work loops and long Sunday epics.
There are many parallels between cycling and surfing. While the hit of adrenaline on a bike may be more of a drip-feed than an outright slap to the face, for me cycling still channels the reason why I surf. The passion for adventure, the gentle calm of just being somewhere beautiful, whether it’s on a high ridgeline as the sun sets or floating waist-deep in a glassy sea. Above all it’s the feeling of disconnection – no screens, just ribbons of singletrack and the open road ahead, or the walling face of an un-surfed wave.
With a new family, I have become a slave to routines, but by sharing the load, sometimes I get to take some time out. The plan is always the same: coffee, grab the gravel bike and head out the door. Soon I am streaking through the fields, wind on my face and ground passing quickly underneath. I often don’t plan a route, instead letting spontaneity dictate the direction through the country roads and singletrack. However, there is one thing that is always a certainty. My route will bend back to the coast, like a ball bearing rolling past a magnet, pulling me to the headland. The expectation of the unknown builds, my pulse and pace quicken. The pilgrimage accelerates, I leap gates and careen down a rough track, until it finally opens up to a clear view of the rocky coastline. Are the waves on? Is it breaking? Yes, just!
The race home begins. On the pedals hard, with a fresh spring in my step, the inside lines are the only lines and every second is precious. Racing through the door I plead for more time, grab the board and wetsuit and pedal hard for the beach to enjoy my stolen moment. Sometimes the surf is amazing, sometimes, like today, it’s just enough to get a small fix, but I must live in the now as tomorrow it will most likely be gone. However, over the years, things have changed. Nowadays I’m enjoying the two-wheeled chase almost as much as the prize. The sound of stones flicked against the down tube, the swish of long grass against my shins, the effortless speed which I can take over rough ground. Moving from the tarmac to the tracks has changed everything, giving me new freedom to surf unridden waves of dust and loam.
Life is full of change and time is precious, and for that, I’m glad that I have discovered gravel. But occasionally, just occasionally, if you see a gravel bike streaking through the fields as if chased by the very devil himself, you can be sure the waves are breaking on the point
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Words: Photos: Finlay Anderson