Friday, December 07, 2007

Bigbury, Big wind, Big waves, Big week

Steph Bridge from Edge Watersports described it perfectly. ‘You know those days when you are out there and you just know you shouldn’t be’ That’s exactly how it has been here in the UK this week and not least in South Devon and my home spot Bigbury/Bantham.

The warm up came a week ago today where it was 8m weather for most of the day. The surfboard was out and the waves were pretty small but building ready for the 6m swell and 30+ knots forecast on windguru for the coming days. It was a fun session, but nothing that stands out in my mind as one to remember, but like they say ‘the calm before the storm’. Since last Friday it has been all systems go. The wind has been stonking in at 25+ knots everyday and the waves have been large to say the least. Bigbury and Bantham are well known for surfing, but it really has been unbelievable. Saturday last week was probably the windiest it has been. It began around 20knots but by lunchtime the wind really pushed in with something mega. I’d be tempted to say it was pushing 40 knots judging by winds that I have competed in in Fuerteventura and Tarifa, but I’m no wind genius so who knows.

I took the twin tip and had to ride the flat water to begin with the tip of my 6m Torch 3 skimming the water right on the very edge of the window and my heels cutting hard into the surface on my Naish Thorn 129. It was impossible to let yourself go at full speed otherwise a dose or two of colonic irrigation was on the cards. After 15 minutes, burning thighs and gasps for air above the spray being blasted off my board the wind finally began to relent slightly. I could raise my kite further above the water and start to make my way out back where the waves were coming in powerfully well over head high. There was barely a soul on the water aside from a couple of windsurfers and then later a kitesurfer on the inside and it took me a good hour before I finally made it to behind the breaking waves. The sun was streaming in between gaps of the clouds and the cliffs loomed loud and proud. The white water was endless and the spaces between the waves were decorated with volumes of foam. It was a scary place to be and at that point I really did hope that the guys who invented Dyneema really had done their job properly, but just as Steph had said – its those session where you just know you shouldn’t be there which are the best!! My next thoughts did lie in that I had achieved what I set out to do and with the gusts coming through so strong and the waves coming head on so fast I decided that was enough for one day and headed back to dry land.

Well that was 6 days ago and looking back that was literally just a warm up. It has certainly not been as windy as that since, but on the otherhand it has not been far off. I have been out everyday. Monday was calm once again and Steph and Eric from Edge and about 10 other local kiters to Bigbury and Bantham all came down and we had a flat water session on the inside with our 12m’s. This time I took the Alliance rather then the Torch. It’s the first real test that I have given this bridleless sigma kite of 2008 and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It took a couple of hours before I had it dialled as it does fly different to the Torch, but in all fairness it has a very similar performance, but a bigger wind range. I found I had more power in my unhooked moves which made me feel as though I was riding more radically (even if unintentionally) plus there was a really consistent pull throughout the kite loops and down loops. In hangtime the boost you get is much bigger then a Torch but it is imperative that you fly the kite with more aggression as you come into land to keep the power in the kite to ride away smoothly. I crashed the kite several times and each time re-launched it without a hassle, but the timing is different and the length of 5th line you pull in to make the kite roll over before moving to the edge of the window was a case of trial and error. I re-launched it every time although slower then the Torch, but like anything it is something that takes a little bit of time to get used to before you have it sussed.

So next, that was the light wind day of this low pressure gracing us and from Tuesday it has been back to 6m weather without so much as a glimmer of doubt that it might be anything different. Pumping up is so much easier and quicker. I no longer fear my life heading out back as I did on Saturday and have learned that the waves are pretty easy to time your escape route if need be, so on Wednesday I could enjoy the warm temperatures (for the UK) and the beautiful sunshine that decorated this immense day. There were three kiters out and both occasionally ventured out into the waves. They were good riders and having a great time, so I didn’t feel so alone. Dan came out in the waves a little, but he was wound with power on his 9m Naish Boxer, so I wasn’t convinced he’d be able to help me out if I went down plus there was a new rider to the beach from the Isle of Wight. He was pretty handy mixing up some wave riding with some massive hangtime, but still I was still wary of what limits I could and couldn’t push. I enjoyed some wave rides closer to the inside rather then out back and tried to get more and more further and further out before reaching the really big stuff, but sometimes you really do just become a little cocky and that is when the sea is there to let you know exactly who is the boss which brings me up to date to the session I had yesterday.

I was dubious for yesterday as the forecast was once again really strong. More so then the previous days and there have been some mega gusts that have dragged me right off my edge at what feels like mac3 downwind previous to this in the week, but Steph and Eric had escaped from Edge Watersports once again and this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Eric rigged his 9m, Steph her 7m and me my 6m and together we launched our kites in record time. We worked our way upwind and straight out back. The fear had gone and as I watched Steph ride her strapless surfboard in some large waves and Eric effortlessly pop over some monstrous white water also on his strapless board I decided it was high time that some bigger waves needed some of my attention. Catching them right out back was perfect. The sea was so high and there were huge lumps of swell all over the place. Out back of bantham I knew that they would build, form and then menacingly teeter on the edge of breaking before crashing down ruthlessly on the defenselss water right in front. Right there is exactly where you don’t want to be and exactly where I found myself one hour into the session. I had built myself up to some bigger waves and had a couple of tops turns on them which felt really good, but with Steph just behind me and a wall of water tantalisingly beckoning me forward, even though on the big side I couldn’t help consider the opportunity of smashing the hell out of it. I was in two minds but before I knew it I had switched to toeside and hurled my kite back towards the beach. The timing was awesome had I had slightly more speed to escape the break but as I hit the top the wave broke threw me forward planted me on my lines and bailed my kite into oblivion. Then it was the panic. Lines all around me, legs the most worrying but my arms I think I had pulled free. I was being held down in cold bubbling cauldron with my board somewhere in the white water scarily close to my face. I was spun around and my face was pointing upwards even though I was trying to get it down to avoid board contact plus at the same time trying to release my kite from not only the spreader bar, but the suicide leash to. It felt so long before I surfaced again and I was sure a fin would penetrate my face, but it happened and I saw sky, I breathed air and my kite lay in front in a soggy form. It looked fairly ready to relaunch and with a few twists of my bar inside the back lines and back out I finally managed it, but the lines were a state. I managed to body drag some way back into shore and Steph bought my board to the beach before I had to release my kite on 5th line as the steering was all messed up, but that’s when disaster two hit. The 5th line had been trapped in the mess and when I tried to down the kite on the beach instead of effortlessly falling face down it went into power swirls. I was being dragged once again only with sand and rocks looming. The only thing for it was to release my kite completely on the emergency and the last thing I saw was my 6m blow down the river mouth and skim rocks by millimetres before finally coming to a standstill when in the leigh of the cliff! All I can say is that someone was looking over me this day. They had allowed me some all time kitesurfing at my home beach and allowed me some good waves, but they kept me in check of exactly who is boss and then saw me safely if not breathlessly into shore.

The forecast continues to be epic for the coming days, but today is a catch up day. I’m aching all over and there are Christmas pressies to be bought. I’m resisting the magnetic forces and am hell bent on having a day off although I’m quite happy to see my wetsuit is dry…. Hmmmmm!! Where is that webcam?

Sorry there are no photos in the waves, but we were too busy being in them to take photos of them but I heard that there was someone taking pics on Saturday of Dave on the inside at Bantham and may be a couple of shots of me behind in the waves. If anyone has a contact for him and can mail me at I would really appreciate it. Happy kiting everyone. x

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