The Lost Art of Communication – by Jim Willis

So, here we are again, more babble because once I start talking about surf it’s a difficult task trying to shut me up. This will be about a surf trip, I think, but there is a preamble. I was having a conversation with a surfer, we’ll call him Ben because that’s his name but that doesn’t matter. He doesn’t live on the Island so you’re never likely to meet him, let alone chew the fat over a glass of beer like I did whilst discussing the lost art of communication.

He was telling me about his travels in South America a long time ago as a kind of continuation of my story about making friends, breaking the ice, knocking down walls, call it what you like but it’s just communication. He’d got off one bus in El Salvador with a mission to surf but first he’d arranged to meet a friend in a one horse village in the middle of nowhere. He was trying to board another bus to said village when an old guy took him by the arm and started trying to pull him back. Through a combination of hand gesture and broken Spanish/English he told Ben that he was boarding the wrong bus and that his sister lived in the village he was looking for.

Ben trusted the guy and went along to this village and the old guy was right. His friend never showed but for the next two weeks he was treated like part of the family as they shared what little they had with him. Through a little bit of trust and more importantly the communication of this stranger Ben had an experience that he would remember for the rest of his life, (he still had a glint in his eye when he recounted it to me nearly 20 years after the event). The catalyst for this discussion was a story about breaking the ice with locals when you’re surfing in somebody else’s back yard on a surf trip. It will make the experience that much better if, at least by the end of the session, you and a local are shouting each other into waves.

So, it reminded me of a trip we, my partner and I, took the year before last to the end of the west country and back again. The idea was to drive the VW, very slowly, to north Devon and surf/chill my way down to Land’s End along the north coast then back along the south to home. So far so good but by the time I’d got to lands end I still hadn’t ridden a wave. It had been flat, hot and sunny for over a week. We started making our way back along the south coast and after a quick phone call to my friend Nigel, pleading him to check the internet, I was told that a solid 3-4ft groundswell was on the way.

By now I was somewhere near Porthleven. Knowing that I probably wouldn’t get a look in there I pulled a map out and looked for west facing beaches. There was a small one on the Lizard peninsula so the next afternoon we drove down there. It’s a bit of a trek but as I came over a dune and looked out all I could see was perfect lines and swell with nobody on it. In all the years I’ve been going west I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line up completely empty. The place is quite rocky but the wave breaks far enough out and away from them to not be a problem. I suited up and paddled over to the corner of the bay where the best take off spot was and had wave after wave on my own.

After about an hour two other guys paddled out. One of them was a huge middle aged guy on a longboard and the other a kid on a shortboard. I could see the guy on the longboard was getting some good waves and after I’d had a long one I paddled back past him and introduced myself. It turned out he was an ex marine and now taught surfing on the north coast but this was his local break and to his mind it was better than what the north coast had to offer anyway. I asked him if it was always as empty as this and he told me that most people go to Praa Sands 20 minutes down the coast, they like to be seen. Ahh the herd mentality. I kept asking him about this little cove we had all to ourselves and he told me everything I needed to know about it. Best state of tide, rocks and where to go if it got too big to get out. We let each other have waves all afternoon. No hustling required! After the session we exchanged e.mails and I thanked him for his help. The next day it was maxing and try as I might I couldn’t get out. The guy had told me where at Praa I should go to avoid the crowds and a long walk. The private road he’d given me directions for brought me out at the other end of Praa sands. There was about half a dozen people out on perfect A frame peaks and when I looked right to the main beach about a mile away there was about 200 people out. The road he sent me down is no big secret but without him telling me I’d have probably ended up in Praa sands car park and been just another sheep in the herd. The art of communication at work!