Would you drive thirteen and a half hours, two hundred and fifty miles in a round trip for a one and a half hour session on the water?
That’s exactly what Rou Chater did the other week, read on to find out why…
They say there is a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, yet due to the mechanics of science you will never get there unless you could somehow travel at the speed of light.
It was 10pm and I was just about to turn in for the night when a message on my Facebook wall caught my attention. A friend of mine was heading to a secret spot in Wales that had been on my ‘bucket list’ to ride for a few years. It’s a very critical spot for the tide and realistically I’d need to be there within 14 hours to make the most of it.
It was one of those moments where you could decide to go to bed and not bother, or you could make some last minute arrangements for a photographer, grab the bull by the horns and head off in search of a mythical pot of gold.
I don’t have a time machine, or a vehicle that can travel at the speed of light, but we do have the rather fantastic Ford Transit Custom at our disposal for last minute adventures like this! A quick look on Google Maps revealed a total distance of 250 miles and a drive time of around 4.5 hours to get from our offices to the spot in question. That’s not too far really, and something I felt prepared to do judging by the rather epic forecast that was looming.
Once the van was packed it was time to grab a scant 5 hours sleep before the alarm rudely awakened me at 5am. A final check of the crucial forecast for the day showed the road trip was on. It was time to pick up my brother, Alex (who I had roped in as a photographer for the day), down a Red Bull to help keep my eyes open and do battle with the traffic.
It was a bizarre kind of drive; heavy rain and bright sunshine broke up the monotony of nose-to-tail traffic. Rush hour in the UK begins around 6am and goes on until 9.30am. It’s a nightmare at the best of times and I would have to deal with the M2, M20, M25 and M4 in order to get to our destination.
Usually, on a drive at this time if you can get on the M25 before you hit the traffic you are doing well, sadly we hit the traffic before we even got to the M20, about 30 minutes into a very long journey. It didn’t abate for hours and at times we were doing the maths as to whether we would even reach our destination on time at all.
I’d planned to arrive at 10am, but in the heat of it all the Sat Nav was reading an arrival time of 12.45pm, some 45 minutes after the latest possible arrival time to catch the tide and fit a session in. There were discussions about turning back, but our resolve was strong and in the comfort of the Ford Transit Custom with the tunes keeping us motivated we decided to press on.
We were chasing rainbows as the sun rose behind us and refracted, reflected and dispersed the light in the spray coming off the lorries. We might have been stuck in traffic, but it was certainly beautiful!
Eventually, at around 9am the traffic began to clear and although well behind schedule we were starting to get closer to an arrival time of 12pm.
We crossed the Severn Bridge and paid the £6.50 toll (one of the added pleasures of having a van with seats in the back and a side window – it’s more than double that price for a standard panel van to cross the bridge!). It is the bridge to a magical kingdom however; South Wales has long been a favourite haunt of mine.
It offers some of the best mountain biking trails in the UK, along with some of the best beaches and surf breaks, it’s no wonder they charge such a high fee for entry, it’s to keep people out! The Welsh aren’t stupid; they want to keep all the good stuff for themselves! Either that or the Severn River Crossing PLC is running a racket…
Once off the motorway the roads got narrower and the scenery ever greener. Winding our way towards the coast the skies seemed to lighten a little and the trees were definitely bending. It was going to be a windy session alright!
As we pulled through a small village and down the road to our final destination there was a satisfaction in the van. We had made it! We’d left at 5.30am and arrived at 12pm on the dot, just in time to catch the tide working at this tricky right hander.
I’m not going to mention the name of the spot, rightly so, it is a closely guarded secret by the locals, and I want to respect that.
I did wonder for a few moments if the drive had really been worth it. The beach was strewn with rocks and the wave looked small and messy from our view point in the carpark. The wind was so strong I probably would have stayed in the van had I not just spent the last 6.5 hours driving to get there!
My buddy Neil, who had posted that fateful comment on my Facebook wall less than 15 hours earlier, assured me it would get better as the tide dropped a little more. So we braved the freezing cold, pulled on some neoprene and pumped up our smallest kites. Clambering down and over the rocks to the launch site I considered that this was possibly the windiest I had ever been out with a kite – I could barely walk into the wind to the launch site.
It was nuking! The 6m Blade Skinny Boy is the smallest kite I have at the moment, it’s a great little wave kite, perfect for gusty conditions and it has a decent top end range too. The stick I had brought with me was a classic surfboard shape, extremely thin in the nose, a prototype I had been given to test and review for a brand.
I’d not ridden it for a while as the glass construction was getting a little tired, but in these conditions I wanted a board that wouldn’t get blown off the face of the wave.
The ION Onyx Select 6/5 hooded suit was doing a great job of keeping out the elements, it was freezing as we pumped up the gear. Lastly, the trusty Manera Exo harness was something I knew would be up for the job. I’ve been wearing this harness for a while now and it is without a doubt the most comfortable I have ever worn, an important factor when you are about to tackle some seriously strong winds and gusts.
I was nominated crash test dummy and Neil and his mate Wayne helped me launch. I can put my hand on my heart say it was scary, the wind was pumping and the gusts were turning the kite into a fluttering mess. I could barely hold my ground on the beach to stop me from being dragged towards the rocks just a few yards away.
It’s always safer in the water, so I got there as quickly as possible and jumped on the board and headed out to the waves.
What can I say, this was Wales delivering at its finest, whilst the wind was causing a lot of chop on the faces the point was working perfectly and what looked small and rubbish from the car park was altogether more imposing and impressive from the water.
My brother Alex was up on the cliffs trying not to get blown off whilst taking photos and wrestling with the long lens as the wind buffeted the coast. After about ten minutes he had to reach lower ground and tuck himself amongst the rocks for a less exposed vantage point, that was until the memory card ran out. He’d filled it in less than an hour, the place was that good!
The kite was handling the conditions well and for the first 45 minutes Neil and I had a blast, lining up nicely in the waves. We were picking them off on the sets and getting countless turns in. I’d go so far as to say it was some of the best wave riding I have had in the UK.
Porthleven, one of my other bucket list waves, that I had ridden last year in similarly hectic conditions, was powerful but ultimately only good for a few hits. This Welsh pot of gold was delivering smiles for miles, as I did my best to keep the board in the water as the wind tried to dispatch me into oblivion.
All good things must come to an end however, and after a while the wind was becoming too much to handle. When you are depowered to the max on a 6m and fully sheeted out as you crank a bottom turn and are still getting pulled around, then you know it’s time to call it quits!
As I headed back to the beach with Neil I felt satisfied to have conquered the conditions and to have scored one of my bucket list waves off when it was truly firing. We packed up and the stoke was tangible, after a quick glance at the images on the camera, and a swift round of high fives, all that was left to do was load the van and head back home.
Needless to say we hit rush hour on the way back, and as we drove with the sun setting behind us I couldn’t help but think the Ford Transit Custom had a small part to play in all of this. I definitely wouldn’t have done that journey in our old van. You never really knew if you were going to make it or not, and the RAC had got rather bored of towing it…
It certainly made the journey home more enjoyable. All told we spent 13.5 hours driving for 1.5 hours of kiting. I think that might set a new personal record for the longest distance travelled for a single session in a day. It was a true coast-to-coast effort, fuelled by Red Bull and Greggs (though I’m not keen for yet another sausage roll anytime soon!).
It goes to show what is really possible when you put your mind to it, the world is a small place, even when you are stuck in the mire of the traffic that is the South of England. You never know what you might find around the next corner, never stop exploring and never stop searching…
Good things come to those who wait. Much better things come to those who get up off their ass and go and find them at 5am though!
Words: Rou Chater
Photos: Alex Chater
Tue 19th May, 2015 @ 8:48 pm