Y-Bocs- Tales from Wales By James Ranson
I started the day with my usual wander down to check the surf. Knowing full-well the swell was pumping I was excited to check out how well the bay (Langland) was shaping up. The swell was solid, in the 6ft plus range, but with the tide high there were still a few hours to kill before anything ride-able started happening. (The Gower unlike the Island works mainly at low tide, an interesting concept to get used to when you arrive). On the short walk back up to the flat I bumped into a local friend and surf photographer Paul Gill.
I met Paul the first year I moved to Wales, he’s an interesting character and one of the friendliest chaps you’ll ever meet. His friendship was something I came to appreciate greatly over the next three years as Langland can be a little localised at best and down-right aggressive at worst. Gill, as he tends to be known is a bit of a UK surf legend with legitimate claims to being the first person to surf Thurso amongst his numerous accomplishments. When Gill tells you somewhere’s worth checking out you know it’s worth the effort (check out some of my Facebook surf photos if you need any proof), so when Gill mentioned he might be heading off on, ‘a bit of a mission’ my attention was instantly his.
‘Yeah we’re gonna head to Y-Bocs’ he said. ‘It should be cranking’. I didn’t have a clue where he was on about but was already thinking up ways to invite myself along. ‘The only problem is you have to go to the break by boat and we’ve got no one to drive it, don’t suppose you know anything about boats do you? BINGO, I’ve spent the last ten years working at various water sports centres teaching sailing, windsurfing and surfing and probably spend more time in a RIB than I do in a car through the summer months. To cut a long story short ten minutes later and I was In Gill’s car heading to meet a bunch of other guys who were prepping the boat. At this stage I still really had no idea where we were going, but happy to be heading somewhere new I was content to think that I would get a chance to surf a new wave and maybe meet a few like-minded people.
The crew for the day consisted of Gill (photographer), Lloyd Cole (Welsh National Champion), Tom Fisher (longboarder and author of the article showcasing said wave), a local bodyboarder named Lee, Myself and another chap named Si who owns GSD the local surf school. The boat turned out to be a 12ft fibre glass dory not ideal but big enough to fit three of us plus boards, the others would ride on a jet ski. Due to the nature of this spot I’m not gonna be handing out directions but It’s not hard to find it mentioned on the internet and I think it even makes a few of the surf guides, so if your serious about surfing this place you’ll have the motivation to work it out.
When we arrived at the launch site I was informed that the wave was about a 30 min boat ride away, it was at this point that it sort of dawned on us that, being winter, we actually only had about 2-3 hours light left. A frantic panic ensued to get the boat and Si’s ski launched and as the boat was ready first, Gill, Lloyd and I jumped in and we started to head out of the harbour. As we left the little inlet where we had launched we met two guys on a ski coming in. ‘You’re never heading out there in that thing?’ One of them chuckled. ‘It’s Fu*king massive out there,’ said the other. It was at this point that I noticed they didn’t have any boards with them. It turns out that they had been caught out by a set and lost two brand new tow boards off the side of the ski before they’d even ridden a wave. It was at this point the little voice inside my head, something that rarely ever gets any attention, started whispering, ‘this is a bad idea, it’s not too late to turn back, you’re driving, if you say no then they’ll have no choice.’ Obviously I ignored it and off we went.
It took about five minutes to get out of the harbour and as we hit the entrance it was already clear the swell was huge. I looked behind wondering why the ski hadn’t caught us up and there was still no sign of it anywhere in the distance. At the entrance to the harbour the view was as menacing as anything I’ve ever seen from a boat, either side of the harbour entrance were cliffs easily 100 feet in height and stretching to points 2-3 miles away in either direction. The swell was back-washing from the cliff and even though we were in the entrance to a harbour deep enough to accept tankers the lines of swell were lifting us up and down like they would when you’re sat out back on your surfboard board.
We waited there, as I refused to continue without the ski, after all we had no radio, no life jackets, the swell was huge and supposedly I was the one who knew what he was doing. After 20 minutes the ski finally arrived, having experienced engine problems on launch (again not inspiring), the boys were looking amped to get going so we started heading along the coast. We were running about 2 miles out to try and avoid the worst of the back-wash and even at this distance the power in the waves was unbelievable, like nothing I had ever experienced before, especially not in a tiny bloody dory. To give you an idea of the swell size, the ski which was travelling parallel to us and about 50 metres away, was disappearing into the troughs of the ground swells only to re-appear 20 feet or so above us. I’m happy to admit by this point I was absolutely sh*tting myself and what made it worse was the fact that whether through naivety or macho bravado neither Lloyd or Gill looked worried at all.
As we reached the wave it was clear to everyone that this was in a different league size wise to anything you would normally see in Wales. The wave, usually a right, was closing out between the reef and the cliff, at least 500 metres away. No way were we making the same mistake the other guys had made and putting ourselves in the impact zone so we opted to check out the left. The wave looked makeable but only just and it was pretty hard to make out how big it really was. I had already made the decision that no one but me was driving the boat, this was not the place to be operating a boat for the first time, and with only a 5’10 board it would have been suicide anyway. The other boys, to their credit, got straight on it and started paddling over to what looked like the peak. A few waves came and went un-ridden as me and Gill hooted from the boat. I could only ever half watch the wave as I was holding the boat in a channel only around 50 metres wide, the wave on one side and a sand bar on the other. Each time a set came I pushed further out to sea, just to be safe, but nothing ever broke in the channel so as the session went on my confidence grew.
Lloyd was trying to paddle for some of the waves between sets, but with only a 6’3 he just couldn’t get over the ledge and into the wave. Lee picked off a few on his bodyboard, mainly on the shoulder but fair play to the guy these were not soft waves by any means. The light was already fading and still no one had really caught a proper wave when Tom swung round on his Longboard and started punting for a set wave. The longboard was the only board capable of the speed needed to get into the thing, it really was proper gun, or tow-in material and as he lined up the wave it was obvious he had no choice but to commit and go. I held my breath as he dropped down the face and marvelled as he actually managed to make it to the bottom of the wave, but his job was only half done, the wave which up an ’till now had looked solid had now hit the reef and was mutating into a different beast altogether. Tom headed for the shoulder obviously intent on nothing more than survival at this point disappearing from view as the wave moved further in than our vantage point. Did he make it? Where is he? I shouted to Gill. Neither of us could see him, and the wave was over, now just a swarming mass of white water circling like the bottom of a waterfall.
The next 30 seconds felt like an age as we stared into the distance looking for Tom, it was then I caught a glimpse of him paddling on the inside, he was at least 100 metres further in than I had been looking, testament to the sheer power and size of the wave. As he got closer there was one thing clearly visible, a large grin spread right across his face and who could blame him. That ride is still to date the heaviest wave I’ve personally witnessed anyone ride in the UK and he did it on a bloody longboard! The session was almost over and fresh from his success Tom decided that he need to get one more before we headed back. (Something I think he would later freely admit was a bit of a bad idea.) The second wave was much like the first, similar in size and girth but as Tom paddled in it just looked different, deeper on the reef. As he stroked in I once again watched in anticipation as the wave jacked up and started to warp, Tom made the drop but this time looked too deep, he wasn’t going to make it and I think he already knew, but there’s no pulling back on a wave like this and he popped and dropped into a sickening pit. As with before he disappeared from view at the critical moment but this time we didn’t need to wait to know whether he made it, there was no way he had made it.
You’ll be pleased to know that Tom survived the experience with only minor injuries, he cut his hip through his 6ml wetsuit and bruised both elbows badly having covered his head on impacting the reef (had he not this could have been a very different story). The look on his face as Si dragged him back on the ski was something I won’t forget in a hurry, it simply said, let’s go home.
The ride back saw us coming into the harbour just as the light vanished, proving how tight we had left it to get back in. Had we waited another 10 minutes we would have been at sea in 20ft swells in a dory, with no lights or safety equipment, not something I would ever want to come that close to doing again. All said and done, only Tom’s two waves and about a 45 minute session were all we had to show for the ridiculous danger we had all gone though, I had passed up one of the best swells of the year and not even surfed and Gill had missed Toms wave, a rarity for such an experienced photographer. Was it worth it? I’ll let the shot of the wave speak for its self.
Paul Gill runs a great B&B called ‘Langland Cove B&B‘, and it’s the perfect place to stay if you want to surf the Gower.
‘New Zealand Surf Magazine Slide‘ went onto to publish an fantastic article on Wales including an insane image of Y-bocs and a great shot of James Ranson on the last page of the feature.
Wales A Land Apart
Words by Tom Fisher
Photos by Paul Gill
To read the Slide article please click the links below.