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Women of Watergate Waves

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From the ultimate hydrotherapy for cerebral palsy, to a marriage proposal; surfing with pods of tuna, to freezing winter mornings; geological features to mental wellbeing – wave riding means many things to the many women in Watergate Bay’s strong female surf community. We meet a handful of Watergate regulars to explore the draw of this particular section of coast…

Clara Jonas

Clara Jonas

Graphic designer and illustrator (who recently gave our beach food shipping container a bright mural makeover) and north coast local

Surfing for…
Maybe 11 or 12 years… I learnt at an after-school club in Polzeath with Wavehunters Surf School. I actually ended up working as an instructor for them, so it went full circle!

What surfing means to me now…
Surfing is the one thing that brings me down to earth and gets me out of my head. I enjoy the simplicity of it; the connection with nature and connection with friends in the ocean. It grounds me and brings me back to my body and a state of flow. I used to be far more driven with it, and strive to reach a certain level – but these days it’s the feeling of peace from being in the ocean and its ability to wash off hours on a laptop or a busy day.

What first drew me to surfing at Watergate Bay…
There’s a sense of space here that comes from the size of the beach and the few buildings that surround it. If you’re lucky and willing to walk a little, you can find an emptier peak to share with friends or solo, which is always such a lovely thing. Watergate feels attached to Newquay, but also pleasantly distant.

The Watergate surf community is…
Full of brilliant women in the line-up. It boasts some fantastic long boarders as well as women on shorter boards, drawing people from all over – it’s a great meeting point. If the waves are doing a certain thing, on a certain tide, on a certain day I can always trust in seeing many friends and familiar faces out there, completely unplanned. Year on year I see more women in the line-up which is amazing, and some days we even outnumber the men.

Highlights so far…
It’s hard to pick just one. A particular day that does stand out was a very very early surf in February where it was so cold but the waves were just so perfect and glassy I couldn’t believe it.

Favourite thing to do after a surf…
A leisurely surf in the morning followed by breakfast in the sun with friends always does the trick and fills the soul up just right.

@clara.m.jonas

Charlotte Banfield

Charlotte Banfield

Marine biology graduate, ambassador for The Wave Project and World Championships competitor

First learnt to surf…
At The Wave Project in 2014, on one of their first pilot courses. I’ve learnt to surf across a variety of beaches in Cornwall, including at Watergate. My surfing journey hasn’t been totally consistent as I’ve had some breaks when I’ve needed operations on my legs – to help me walk properly (I have cerebral palsy). But, as soon as I could walk again, it was back to surfing!

What surfing means to me now…
It’s not just a hobby, it’s my life. I’m not joking when I say surfing has kept me alive in some particularly dark times. The thing I love the most about surfing is the way it makes my mind and body feel. Before going surfing, sometimes I feel uptight, anxious, and sad. As soon as I put one foot in the ocean, all those negative emotions fade away and I feel alive and free.

Physically, surfing has helped to keep me fit and strong. Having cerebral palsy means I need to stretch out my muscles a lot because they can get really tight. Being in the water is like a fun type of hydrotherapy – I love it!

I hope that I’m a role model for other girls going through challenges. I want to show them that no matter what life throws at you, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

What first drew me to surfing at Watergate Bay…
I had a few Wave Project lessons at Watergate, and it always felt like a major treat to be able to surf there. There’s nothing more beautiful than Watergate’s rugged cliffs, with the golden sand and crashing turquoise waves. It’s a very inviting yet dramatic beach, and it draws all my attention into it – it’s just the most magical place to surf.

The Watergate surf community has…
An amazing diversity of people! Everyone is so lovely and friendly. You can have a great time without judgement. Be who you want to be, surf where you’re comfortable and ride the waves that you want to. Watergate has such a good vibe to it.

Highlights so far…
A very special memory is of my first time competing. It was a dark gloomy day in September 2017, and the waves were HUGE. I was walking down Sea Lane, to the beach, with the first ever surfboard I’d owned (that I’d got from eBay for £50 ) and noticed some sort of event.

There were tents and flags and a lot of people. I was feeling shy, but Mum and I still went over to take a look. It turned out to be the English Adaptive Surfing Championships. Mum persuaded me to enter, and so I did.

It was way out of my comfort zone, but I was on one of my favourite beaches, so I thought I’d give it a go. I entered a mixed category, for people who stood, and I made it all the way to the final! I came 1st out of the girls, and 4th overall. That’s where I began my journey as a team England athlete.

Five years on, I’ve been lucky enough to compete in America, Hawaii and Costa Rica. If I didn’t go for a surf at Watergate Bay that day, I wonder if my life would involve the same things as it does today?

Favourite thing to do after a surf…
Have a cup of Earl Grey tea, a nice shower and take a nap!

Charlotte wows the surfing world

Hayley Lawrence

Hayley Lawrence

Freelance writer and co-founder of Family Surf Co, living within a stone’s throw from Watergate Bay’s shoreline.

First learnt to surf…
In Australia and Wales, then moved to Cornwall in 2003 and bought my first surfboard. Having a family and other commitments stalled the process somewhat, but in the last 10 years I’ve been much more committed to learning to surf.

What surfing means to me now…
Surfing is at the heart of my mental and physical health, my family and work life. I totally believe in the ‘blue mind’ and how the sea has the power to promote wellbeing. I love being immersed in saltwater – that feeling of casting away from all my responsibilities on land, riding the waves and being rinsed by the energy of the ocean. As a single parent, surfing is what I do to have some time out and stay fit. It’s also how I spend time with my three boys and my friends, playing in the waves and sharing the childish joy of being in the ocean.

What first drew me to surfing at Watergate Bay…
I’d surfed Watergate a few times before, but it became my go-to surfing beach when I moved to the area about eight years ago. It offers so many different types of waves – you can get small longboard peelers or punchy shortboard waves. You might be the only person paddling out for a dawny in the middle of winter, or surrounded by hundreds of surfers on a sunset session in the middle of summer.

The Watergate surf community has…
A diverse and sociable crew in the line-up – with lots of really friendly women out in the water, which is great to see. When I was less confident in the waves, I found most people friendly and encouraging, and I always try to make other new surfers feel welcome. Now when I paddle out, I recognise so many faces, and there’s a strong contingent of amazing female longboarders, including the Gather & Glide crew. We’re also part of the Watergate Bay Surf Lifesaving Club, which has a strong community of surfers.

Highlights so far…
We’ve shared the waves with seals, dolphins and pods of tuna. I’ve been in the ocean at sunrise and moonrise, and had countless dreamy sunset sessions with best friends. The evening light at Watergate is incredible.

Favourite thing to do after a surf…
In winter I love huddling in the vans for coffee in the carpark. In the summer, coming in to light a beach fire and watch the sunset…

@familysurfco

Sophie Williamson

Sophie Williamson

Wavehunters surf coach and geology undergraduate

Surfing since…
High school; my college had a surf club where we’d have monthly trips to beaches around Devon and Cornwall. Seeing new places inspired me to move to Polzeath, right next to the beach. Despite being self-taught, I learned a lot about surfing from watching others, including local standouts like Rory Morgan and Rosie O’Neill, and watching the WSL championship tour.

What surfing means to me now…
It’s not just a hobby or a job. It keeps me fit, encourages me to travel, see new places, and makes me happy. I’m a strong advocate for the benefits surfing can have on mental wellbeing, having struggled with my own mental health in the past.

What first drew me to surfing at Watergate Bay…
The first time I surfed at Watergate was on a residential with Exeter College Surf Club. I loved it for the quality of the waves, but also the geological features you can spot from the water along this stretch of coastline.

The Watergate surf community has…
A much stronger female presence compared to the beaches around where I live, which is always fantastic to see. The ratio of women to men in the water is on the rise, and due to the incredible work of people like Allannah and Samantha at Gather & Glide, there’s greater accessibility of high-quality surf coaching aimed at women in Cornwall.

Highlights so far…
I’ll always remember one surf when I was first starting out… Some friends and I were surfing at high tide in some of the biggest conditions I’d ever been in at the time. This surf sticks with me as I did my first ever end section top turn which was a massive achievement for me.

Favourite thing to do after a surf…
Hydrate, refuel, and check the surf forecast to see if there are any more waves to be caught later that day! Many of the spots I surf are 'off the beaten track', which encourages me to go on some lovely post-surf walks. If it’s a sunset surf, then having a beer on the beach after getting out is also pretty nice.

@spicyvegetablepasty

Celine Bennet

Celine Bennet

Swiss-born professional kitesurfer and travel expert now settled in the fishing village of Port Isaac – runs Family Surf Co with Hayley (above)

Surfing for…
12 years... I learned the basics all over the world when travelling as a professional kitesurfer, but really got stuck in when I moved to Cornwall in 2010. Being from Switzerland, surfing wasn’t something we had on our doorstep obviously, but I think my background in snowboarding has helped me lots in becoming a surfer.

What surfing means to me now…
It has a very special place in my busy life. It’s my ‘timeout’, where it’s mostly about me and enjoying what I love doing in the ocean. When I first started surfing it was just another sport I wanted to get good at and put all my free time into to get better. Now, being a mum of two young children, it’s some well-earned me time where I can enjoy some quiet, reflect on my day and stay fit and healthy while doing so. Surfing is a great way to spend time with my friends and have a chat whilst waiting for the next wave. I also really like being a role model to my kids, hopefully they will catch the surf bug just like I have.

What first drew me to surfing at Watergate Bay…
Watergate was the first beach I went to when I moved to the UK. Its beauty made me fall in love with Cornwall straight away. It’s is one of those magical places where you can surf at any stage of the tide and it’s always a bit different; that’s what keeps it interesting. And when it’s windy, its perfect for kitesurfing, so that’s a bonus.

The Watergate surf community…
Definitely has more women surfing these days, especially in winter – it used to be mostly men. Now with wetsuits being so much better, everyone I know is in the water all year round. Over the years I have got to know the most beautiful ladies and we all surf together whenever we can.

Highlights so far…
Probably the most memorable surf at Watergate was when my now husband, Will, proposed to me in the line-up! I’ll never forget this day and it was the perfect place to get engaged. We both love this spot and have spent many hours in the sea at Watergate.

Favourite thing to do after a surf…
A beer on the beach, watching the sunset with friends around a fire. Or going for a hot tub and sauna, especially in winter!

@familysurfco

Kylie Griffiths Wilson

Kylie Griffiths-Wilson

Based in Newquay, one half of creative duo DIY Creative, and creative director and founder of London Girls Surf Club – a network and community encouraging more diversity and women into surfing.

Surfing for...
Just over six years – originally did my first lesson during a Boardmasters weekend in Newquay.

What surfing means to me now…
Surfing for me is a release and a chance to fully switch off from a busy life and a busy brain! It’s one of, if not the only time that I feel truly in the moment as you have to focus on what you’re doing in the ocean, there are no distractions. Mentally it’s almost a form of meditation, so whenever I feel like I need to switch off I grab my board and go.

Previously I used to work a busy job as a fashion stylist in London, and surfing really helped me get some perspective and peace when I was feeling very stressed and living in a fast-paced environment. I’d head to the beach most weekends and feel refreshed for the week ahead.

What first drew me to surfing at Watergate Bay…
It's one of my favourite waves to surf. I like a ‘cruise-y’ wave and I love getting my longboard to go down there.

The Watergate surf community is…
Very welcoming, which is another reason it’s one of my favourite spots. From starting to surf six years ago I’m definitely noticing more and more women out in the waves.

Highlight so far…
When a seal was bobbing along catching waves next to me!

Favourite thing to do after a surf…
A sunset beer when I can – or chilling out on the beach for a while.

@kyliegriffiths

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