The Clipper’s Maiden Voyage

07 . 01 . 17

The 7’10” single fin pintail had been back from the laminators for a few weeks, taking up residence on the workshop wall whilst we waited for a suitable swell to test her in. It being mid-winter, we didn’t have to wait very long. The Clipper is a very specific surfboard; reminiscent of 1970s Sunset guns, it was designed with size and power in mind.

Everybody was talking about this swell. It was a decent size, with a really good long period, and most unusually for this time of year it was dead west and due to be met by light offshores rather than the standard onshore storm winds that mess up most similar swells to hit these shores.

We met in the dark and drove north before most of the county rose to make their way to work, up through steep slate valleys and kissing the edge of the moor momentarily. When we arrived it was still the deep blue of the pre-dawn and the tide was high. But it was booming through. It was hard to tell just how big it was, but it perhaps wasn’t quite as big as we’d expected. It looked manageable, and despite the inside being littered with rocks and boulders the point-break waves meant that paddling up to gauge it first hand was an easy stepping stone to paddling into a first wave. This spot holds size well, but once it gets too “big” the swells start to move the boulders that line the point, and you can hear them grinding together eerily as you duck-dive. It’s daunting.

Jonny is a confirmed big wave head. Having spent a decent amount of time on the North Shore of Oahu and working with Owl Chapman, he’s put time in paddling into serious waves out there, including at sizeable Waimea, and cold water and the need to wear wetsuit boots back home in the UK doesn’t put him off. He paddled the Clipper to the top of the point, waited for a loomer, and stroked confidently into it, guiding it down the face and banking it into a long and drawn out bottom turn.

The waves this morning offered large faces to run out onto before cutting back, and as they hit the inside they boiled up off the rocks and offered a bumpy run like a racetrack paved in cobbles. Again and again Jonny dropped, drove and faded, coming back to the boulder-strewn beach for a breather at one point having ridden one beyond the point of no return, before paddling back up the point for more. As the tide dropped and the swell started to diminish ever so slightly, the larger sets became fewer and further between and more difficult to navigate, whilst the day got lighter and visibility improved. By mid-morning the last waves were ridden back to the shallows, the few surfers who’d tackled the waves rock-hopping back to the beach and congregating around their car boots on the roadside. And then, just like that, everybody headed off to their late starts at work and we hit the road back to the workshop to hang the Clipper back on the wall, dripping wet still, and get on with a day of shaping whilst we planned where to pick up the search again the next morning.

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