Saturday, 26 May 2012

The music of life

Three days of good, head-high waves out here on the far western tip of Breizh. This country’s very like Cornwall: windswept open moors or fields, tight little valleys with trees huddled in the bottom, granite coasts, low houses.

Just down the road is a beach with at least three names. An attempt by local surfers to keep its identity obscure? More likely the product of being somewhere with two languages, and an uneasy relationship with the rest of France. The local Mairie has a plaque outside, noting that two deputies from this region voted NON to Pétain’s accommodation with the Germans in 1940.

The surfers here are the usual mish-mash: kids practising aerial 360s in the shorebreak, older gentlemen on larger boards (more and more, stand-up paddleboards), everything in between. You couldn’t, in your wildest dreams, say the surf was busy. I haven’t seen more than 20 people in the water, in conditions that would have an equivalent British beach looking like a sea of fibreglass.

I’ve been riding my 6’4” Bear Wombat. It’s a board that has a particular feel to it. The soundtrack in my mind when I’m riding it is always the late, great Michael Petersen in Morning of the Earth: all pivoty, jangly 70s fun. Though obviously there's less hair, less style, less speed, and quite a lot less heroin involved in my version than MP’s.

In an attempt to give the board a different soundtrack (Sure Feels Good by Brian Cadd wears thin after a while), I’ve been experimenting with different fin setups. (Apologies to non-surfers reading this: just skip to the photo of the food, if you prefer.) The results so far:

1) Single-fin only: slow, boring, ponderous – some Wagnerian overture, or one of those mind-numbingly endless guitar solos by Lynyrd Skynrd.

2) Full-size FCS side fins, but nothing in the middle: unreliable, frivolous, you shouldn’t like it but you do – it’s got to be Middle Period Kylie, some time around I Just Can’t Get You Out Of My Head. Or maybe the Pussycat Dolls' Don't You (Wish Your Girlfriend Was...). 

3) Proper Mark Richards twin fins: fast, zippy, snappy – no-brainer, it's Acid 8000 by Fatboy Slim.

4) Thruster setup, made possible by Ade Keane, a well-respected former shaper who got tired of the toxic fumes of board manufacture. I was telling him how I wanted to try a thruster setup, but couldn’t because an FCS centre fin wouldn’t work in the longboard-style finbox. Two days later, a thing of great beauty (albeit to a very specialized audience), shown left, turned up on my doorstep: a handcrafted fin. Merci beaucoup, Ade. I haven’t tried this fin combo in good waves yet, but I have high hopes the opening chords of The Ace Of Spades will start to play as I paddle for the first wave.

Meantime, yet more beauty. Yes, my Glamorous Companion – but also, look at that fish supper! Without going into detail, it tasted as good as it looked – apart from the cockles. Why do they always have to put in a bum note like that? An Islamic stitch?


  1. I got the Wombat working properly in Morocco with the big centre fin / small side fins. How did Ade (send him my regards - we stayed with him last year)'s thruster fin set up go?
    Looks like you had nicer surf than we got last weekend. Still, it was wet and warm.
    Cockles are the kings of the diminutive curly mollusc world, by the way.

  2. Bonga! So far, the best combos are the standard-issue big centre and small side fins in more powerful waves, and MR twin fins and no back fin in less powerful waves. The thruster, which I'd hoped would give the Wombat a bit more of a performance edge, turned out to be a bit skiddy in critical situations, and resulted in me almost decapitating a paddling-out Basque near Guéthary last week. Fortunately he agreed not to blow me up as a result, so we shook hands and parted friends.

  3. FCS used ro make a box fin adapter. It was a bit brittle so you had to be careful but once in it worked great. I used it with a couple of kneeboards.


    PS Nice shot of them ex-pats. :-)