“People surf in England?!?”
You may never have given it any thought. Indeed, if you're anywhere other than Australia, California or Hawaii (or other popular surfing destinations), you'll have heard a similar question about your local break. In the case of surfing in the UK, there happens to be a very vibrant surfing community, surfing the more-often-than-not cold, dark, windblown waters. There's more, of course – a whole lot more – as is ably documented in Alex Wade's book, Surf Nation: Searching for Fast Rights and Hollow Lefts, which you should check out on Amazon.com, here. Wade is a recovering lawyer and surfer in England who formerly ran the Surf Nation blog at the Times, a popular newspaper, and who currently provides commentary on SurfNation.co.uk.
With Surf Nation, Wade spent 18 (mostly frigid) months documenting each surfing community in England, Ireland and Wales, and along the way meets the characters (some clearly British prim and proper types and others not quite so) who make up the tight-knit, eclectic and dedicated crew of surfers. Wade's descriptions of secret spots paints the UK as a largely untapped surfing destination. Forget tea and Buckingham Palace and head straight to Portleven etc.
Perhaps the best feature of the book is that Wade gives surfers a road map to the possibilities of surfing in the United Kingdom (as the chapters are divided that way) without coming close to giving away every single spot. And all the while, he drops into local surf shops that would remind you in many ways of your own local spot. Turns out surfing is surfing after all. (I think, however, that the book would benefit from a map – not a spot map, per se, but a map of the areas that Wade visits. I found myself frequently heading to Google Maps Satellite View to see the breaks in action…)
In one particularly interesting chapter, Wade is invited to surf the River Severn Tidal Bore. A tidal bore occurs where the ocean tide runs headlong into a river, creating a two to six foot wave that can be surfed for miles. (At least, I think that's what a Tidal Bore is…) Wade's account of surfing the bore is hilarious, as he and many other bore surfers start by surfing on their bellies in a kook-like manner so as to avoid falling off and risking missing the wave in its entirety. Wade describes his desire to actually surf the bore – he pops up and has a truly awesome surfing experience. It's the kind of story that makes you want to jet over the pond to see and surf a tidal bore yourself.
If your still somewhat skeptical of the potential for surf, remember that Wade has written a detailed book covering the subject. It's there, and it's real and he covers it in some 300 pages, with a healthy dose of surfing history from Hawaii and California mixed in. I can say that I learned a few new things about our favorite passion.
Any surfer who is interested in how the other half surfs will be intrigued by the book, Surf Nation. Highly recommended reading.