On Giving And Receiving…

“If I could open my mouth
wide enough for a marching band to march out.
They would make your name sing
and bend through alleys and bounce off all the buildings”.

From “Marching Bands of Manhattan” by Death Cab For Cutie.

I love the above lyrics. Whilst they are a declaration of love, sometimes there are other names that need to be cheered on too.  So this blog post is just a chance for me to shine a spotlight on three inspiring initiatives that are happening within the culture I love so much. The unfolding story of each of them brings me so much joy and excitement.  Each one is overflowing with potential and changing things for the better.

First up, the Wave Project. I first became aware of this initiative through friends of mine from North Devon, Joel and Helen Blackman. What started as a six week pilot scheme in Cornwall continues to blossom into something truly beautiful. The simple aim was to examine whether surfing offered positive benefits upon the emotional health of young people who were referred through social services, mental health charities and the like. Four years on and there are countless testimonies of how these sessions have improved individuals’ self confidence, social skills and offered a more positive outlook on life whilst having a lot of fun. Local surfers have got on-board as the Wave Project has set itself up in new locations. It enables surfers to give something back and to rediscover the simple pleasure and stoke that surfing and a bit of encouragement can bring to each and every one of us. Everyone is encouraged to go at their own pace and the development of the Wave Project has been  nothing short of a pleasure to follow.

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Last year a six-week pilot scheme was run in conjunction with our friends at Coast 2 Coast surf school in Dunbar. I keep hearing so many encouraging and positive stories from people who have had even the faintest bit of contact with the project. The Scottish initiative is being led by Jamie and I know that he’d love to hear from anyone who would like to find out more or to volunteer.  There’s a Wave Project Committee meeting on Thursday 7th August at 5pm at Beltonford Industrial Estate, West Barns, Dunbar EH42 1UW.  The aim of the meeting is to look into sustainable local fundraising for the Wave Project in Scotland and expanding on some new opportunities for people to get involved with the project over and above the crucial surf mentoring.

If you’d like to support the wider UK Wave Project then you can do so by clicking here. Alternatively, if you would like to support things in Scotland practically or financially whether by standing order or via a one-off gift, then please contact Jamie directly at jamie@waveproject.co.uk

In any event, please click here and have a look around the website.  It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

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Next up is Skateistan. An Australian guy called Oliver Percovich found himself in Kabul, Afghanistan with his then girlfriend in 2007.  His skateboard caught the attention of the local kids who all wanted to have a go. By sharing out the three boards they had between them, they started a little skate school. It took off and Ollie could see such potential. More boards were brought in and in 2009 an all-inclusive skatepark and educational facility was built. But skating is just the hook. Skateistan is about engaging those difficult to reach and marginalised 5-18 year olds. As a not for profit charity it aims to provide opportunities in cross-cultural interaction, education and personal empowerment. The project is now operating in Afghanistan, Cambodia and a team has now also been established in South Africa.

Whilst there’s a little video on the website for their latest “Keep Skateistan Rolling” campaign and also a nice video of Tony Hawk’s visit, I still think this clip below captures what it’s all about. Some people have said that I skate like a girl, but after watching this – I’ll take that as a compliment.  Enjoy!

 

Every six months there is a little fund-raising drive. Their current campaign runs for the month of July and they’re doing well with trying to raise $20,000. Maybe you could help with some loose change or a one-off donation? You can link to the website by clicking here.

Last, but by no means least, two of my favourite surfers CJ and Damien Hobgood are trying to put a documentary of their life stories together. Now THAT is a film I wanna see. For those of you unfamiliar with the Hobgoods, they are two brothers who have occupied the spotlight of the competitive surfing arena for way longer than most. Much of that competition has been driven by being identical twins and seeking to out-do what the other was doing. Being in the spotlight, however, means that their lives have been lived out loud – the triumphs and the punches. They want to tell their story honestly and I am convinced that this will be a film that will captivate not only the surf community, but many outside of it too. These two have given so much back to the wider surf culture and this will be a story of something much larger than sibling rivalry.

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In order to make this, they also have an on-line funding campaign which is running till 2nd August. They are offering some pretty sweet optional gifts in exchange for pledges and are also donating off some major trophies, boards and other paraphernalia. Check it out here.

So, I hope some of that has inspired you.

I was reading an article in Relevant magazine the other night about our culture of entitlement. It struck a chord with me. How easy it is to feel like we “deserve” this or that. I’m not suggesting that we should deny ourselves all things and live a meagre existence of self-imposed poverty, but I wonder whether I have learnt to be content in all situations? I know what it is like to have spent weeks living with peasant farmers in remote Romania and to feel hugely content and thankful despite meagre surroundings. I also know how much more the lure of newer and shinier things can seem to have over me when my bank balance is more challenging. The article I was reading advocated cultivating an attitude of gratitude. It’s like that old notion of “counting your blessings”. Funny how quickly that shifts gears in my head-space. So, with those thoughts and these projects, I find myself smiling and thinking that sometimes it’s better to give than to receive.

B.

 

Surf Camp’s Up!

If Soul Surfers is about anything, then it’s about partnership. Last October I received an unexpected email from a guy called Stephen who had been following the blog for several months. Funnily enough he first found out about us after enquiring about the possibility of hiring Davina the camper-van from the previous owner for his work with SU Scotland. It turned out that he had led SU’s ski and snowboard camps to Austria for several years and had the idea of developing a surf camp for teenagers. We arranged to meet up to explore things over some hot and spicy burritos. We got on like a house on fire and our conversation became fairly animated as we visualised the possibilities. Quickly we realised that between our respective contacts and passions we probably had the resources to give it a go…Why wouldn’t we want to try this thing?

It has been nothing short of a delight to discuss our idea with others and to witness friends from different circles of our lives share the enthusiasm. I love it when a plan comes together. This time we’ve even got the t-shirts to prove it.

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So, a fortnight ago we launched our inaugural SUrf Camp. Ten teenagers from across Central Scotland had signed up and we had amassed a team of 11 leaders which included three family units who also brought their kids along. The aim of our week was to have a lot of fun and to explore the idea of living life to the full (John 10:10). After an evening of chilling and eating great food in a room decked out with inflatable palm trees, surf posters and Hawaiian lei it was time to introduce them to some of my personal surf heroes: Kelly Slater; Rob Machado; Cody Maverick, Chicken Joe and, of course, Big Z. Surf’s up! A fun DVD night seemed like the perfect way to round off our first evening at camp.

Sunday heralded in our first full day of activity. We were greeted by sunshine and couldn’t resist the lure of spending the morning on the beach which was a hop, skip and a jump from the camp. How beautiful to warm our feet in the sand, to gaze  out to sea and to share some thoughts and songs on a secluded beach.  Ruth then took us on a very creative and interactive tour as she re-told an ancient story and encouraged us to re-tread some ancient paths.

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After lunch it was time to meet up with our friends at Coast 2 Coast Surf School for the teenagers’ first surf lesson.

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The waves were a bit blown out and messy but they had a bit of punch to them. The team got stuck right into it and by the end of their first lesson, I was amazed to see most of the teenagers managing to get to their feet and catch waves. The stoke of shared experience rubbed off on the leaders too.

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The next two days saw us greeted by bluebird skies and corduroy lines in the sea. We seemed to have scored the best of Scotland’s weather and waves. Another two great afternoons were spent under the watchful eye and encouragement of the team from Coast 2 Coast.

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Our evenings were fairly chilled and we watched some great surf movies including: Surf’s Up; Soul Surfer; and Chasing Mavericks.  All of those are films that surfers and non-surfers alike would enjoy and each tackle real life issues and raise interesting questions. Naturally, those also inspired some interesting conversation.

I have taken such encouragement from the willingness of other individuals and organisations to also get involved in SUrf Camp. Mid week we had a visit from local Surfers Against Sewage rep, Alasdair. He helpfully explained about the issues associated with marine litter and the notion of conSURFation. There were plenty of practical suggestions about how we can make a difference individually and collectively.

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We followed that with a beach clean and were dumbfounded to have gathered 124.8 kg of litter in little more than an hour!

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The waves had dropped a bit by Wednesday afternoon, the sky was more brooding and the water felt colder to begin with. The wind was offshore and there was such a commotion in the ocean as all of the group managed to ride waves back to land. The whooping, hollering, drumming on surfboards and general enthusiasm created such a good vibe in the sea. The smiles and waves shared were euphoric – so much so in fact that a couple of the surf instructors themselves commented on the attitude and camaraderie amongst the group and how infectious that was throughout the week.

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On Wednesday night we were able to present a Scottish preview of up and coming surf film The Perfect Wave. A good friend of mine works for the film’s media distributor and they were keen to get some impartial feedback ahead of looking at how they roll out screenings later in the year.  Popcorn and cake was munched as Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, re-enacted a modern-day re-telling of Ian McCormack’s remarkable true life surfari story.

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With the waves all but disappearing on Thursday, the guys from Coast 2 Coast took the team on a whole new adventure…coasteering. That basically involved them jumping from greater and greater heights off the rocks and into the sea. Whilst I had personally retreated into the sanctuary of Davina the camper-van for the afternoon to prepare my thoughts for an evening talk, I was once again heartened by the stories of the fun that had been shared and the way the teenagers had all helped one another to overcome their fears.

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The week wasn’t just about surfing.  We had plenty of chill time and the most amazing food and cake prepared by Suzi.  It even included four birthday cakes, one of which was a replica of Davina the camper-van.

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It was a joy to be able to let others experience Davina first hand. We let the teenagers use Davina as a space to meet in as small groups and to have some quiet time. We also rotated who got to travel in her to the beach each day and to tell of her own story and how we came to hold the keys. You can read about that here.

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We  embarked upon a host of other fun activities during the week too. These included: obstacle courses; zip wires; beach frisbee; nuke ‘em ball; flume races in the local swimming pool; BMX races and fun on a giant inflatable structure.

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In addition to the various surf movies we enjoyed during the week, we also used the On The Rocks series of surf DVD resources produced by CS South Africa/SonSurf to explore issues of faith. Those provided a natural springboard to chat at whatever level the teenagers wanted to.

No camp would be complete without a campfire and sing-song on the last night. So, after an awards ceremony, what started off in tranquility morphed into a riotous medley of songs old and new accompanied by enthusiastic dancing and a glow stick party.

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As the fire began to die thoughts were gathered, ukuleles and percussion dug out and a reflective chorus arose as we enjoyed a few moments of late night reflection.

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I turned to see this on the sand…

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Friday morning involved sleepy heads and messy bedrooms needing to be tidied up.  We still found time for a quick jaunt to the beach where we discovered the smoldering relics of the previous night’s fire.  With a little prodding and blowing, the embers caught light again and we sang one last song and shared short thoughts and prayers as the week drew to its natural close.

As I pause to reflect upon things, I realise afresh that this is not something we deliberately set out to do. Let’s face it – we wouldn’t have had a clue how to run a surf camp.  As has so often been the case with our stories, a conversation was started and an idea ignited that became an opportunity worth pursuing.  I am so grateful to Stephen for having made contact last October and I’m somewhat blown away by how far we have come in such a short space of time.  SU have over 70 years experience of running activity camps. They had the know-how, the resources, the procedures, protocol and insurance to ensure that we could concentrate on making it happen and trying to make it as much fun as possible.  Stephen is a hugely gifted leader with a sharp sense of humour and a great means of creating a very relaxed atmosphere and chilled-out vibe without neglecting all that needs to happen behind the scenes.  He quickly established great relationships with the campers and fellow leaders alike. His input into the daily sessions and quiet times was invaluable and he is a very natural and engaging communicator. It has been a privilege to get to know him and his family these past few months and to assist him in running SUrf Camp.

All in all, it was an amazing week.  I want to give a huge shout out to the teenagers that came and made it so much fun.  I have found myself inspired by their willingness to throw themselves into a week dedicated to a pursuit which most of them had never tried before.  It’s made me wonder whether there could be the possibility of running shorter SUrf camp weekends in the future too? A huge debt is owed to all of the leaders who sacrificed a week of annual leave and paid their way to help make this happen.  Their willingness to do so much behind the scenes demonstrated servanthood.  Also, a big “thank you” to Scripture Union for having the faith to let us try this out and to Christian Surfers UK for supporting us and donating a Surfers’ Bible to each of the teenagers.  Thanks also to Central for endorsing the camp. We hope that we have honoured you all in the camp we have delivered.  Last, but by no means least, a huge thanks to Coast 2 Coast for bringing all of their expertise and investing in the teenagers and encouraging them.  We literally couldn’t have done it without you guys and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. The evaluation forms and feedback from the campers have been a joy to read. What a blast! Surf Camp k

Wanna do it all over again next year?

B.

 

plan BIG.

I left my heart in San Francisco 16.5 years ago, but then and again that was easy to do.  We were newly weds honeymooning our way around the hilly city enjoying the vistas, watching the world go by and soaking up life over strong coffees and the twinkling of early Christmas lights.

Six years ago another long distance relationship was sparked.  It caught me unexpectedly and started as a holiday romance of sorts – not with another person, but with: the very land; the coastal trails; the headlands; the wide open beaches and the acres of sky.  Cornwall wooed my wife and I both and we have travelled the length of this island to return to her shores as often as we can in the subsequent years.  It’s become a pilgrimage of sorts - not just to the places we have come to truly love, but also to the people with whom we have built genuine friendships and community.

So on Thursday night we packed the car, strapped a couple of surfboards to the roof racks and headed south.  The first time we made the trek we set off at about 5.30 in the morning.  A combination of the stuff of life, the commitments of our kids and the insane ability to survive on very little sleep that parenting alone brings saw us set off about 7pm.  Mind you, extensive road works on the M6 coupled with a sleeping family resulted in a costly missed turn off, a jaunt across much of middle England via minor roads and a car park height restriction fail at 4.07 am.  Thankfully, no damage done!

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Friday, saw us enter the Peoples’ Republic of Kernow and I couldn’t but help think about how much greener the grass appeared factually and metaphorically.  With only 36 hours or so to try to condense the highlights of a week’s family holiday in Cornwall, we made a bee-line to Padstow for a stroll, pasties and ice-cream by the harbour.

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After a little chill time we headed to Polzeath and hooked up with a few of our fellow Soul Surfers crew who had also made the journey down from Scotland before we wandered over for food in the marquee outside Tubestation.  We were gathered for the 20th Christian Surfers UK National Gathering and it was a joy to catch up with faces old and new amidst the bustle and laughter of al fresco dinner conversation.  We meandered into the Tube where Knoxy, Sophie and a shuffling cast of barefoot friendlies helpfully carved out some time and space to gather our thoughts.  Founding member and head of Christian Surfers International, Brett Davies, had flown in from Australia to be there and gave us a brief canter through the CS story.  We were then treated to the UK premiere of “Beyond Sight” which is one of the most inspiring surf movies I have seen in a long while.  I won’t give too much away, suffice to say that it involves a blind surfer, Pipeline and a host of big name pro surfers who provide far more than a series of cameo appearances.  You can get a flavour of it here and we hope to be able to arrange a series of UK screenings later in the year – possibly with a couple of very special guests – watch this space!

We rustled our sleepy heads out of bed on Saturday morning and I placed my trust in a trucker cap to hide my bed-head hair.  Breakfast was followed by a helpful morning reflection from Daren before Knoxy, Sophie and the crew helped us gets our hearts and heads closer to where they ought to be.

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Gill Davies then picked up the theme of the weekend, “If God is your partner, make big plans”.  She talked around the story of Nehemiah and of how he enquired about a people and how that gave him a heartache and a holy discontent because he saw a vision of God’s preferred future.  Once he knew what that was, he stepped in.  It was practical and thought-provoking stuff.  The rest of the morning was dedicated to discussing the core mission and vision of CS.

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The afternoon involved free time and people headed off to spend that time as they saw fit.  Despite a lack of waves, there was beautiful sunshine and enough of a lure for a few of us to get wet and let my daughter christen her new surfboard.

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We reconvened over a wonderful bbq before gathering to share stories and celebrate the 20th anniversary of CSUK.  It was a night to honour the shoulders of the giants we get to stand upon.

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It was a delight to see Jess and the CS London crew be awarded the “Outstanding Contribution to CSUK” trophy.

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There was barely a dry eye as Mike Scott talked of his late wife Chris’ commitment to CSUK before awarding the trophy in her honour to Brett and Gill Davies in recognition of all that they have poured of themselves into CS over 37 years.  How fitting at this point in history where they draw close to handing over the reigns.

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For every story that was told, I found myself thinking that everyone in the room has their own equally important tale of where CS has connected them into an extended family of sorts and helped them to journey with others who loved the same culture and speak their language.

It seemed perfectly fitting to faithfully tell something of our own adventure and story in the very place where much of it began for me.  It was an evening heavy with the presence of God and a sense of heritage.  I spent a good few sacred moments where it seemed as if time slowed down a  little soaking up the enormous and palpable sense of gratitude in the presence of some friends whom I hold very dear.

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With that we wandered down to the headland and perched to watch a setting sun paint the beach in oranges and golds.  The chattering disappeared as we watched in silence as the ball of fire sunk towards the horizon before simply disappearing into the sea.

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Despite a lack of waves forecast, I heeded my early morning alarm call and tip-toed out into the bright morning sunlight and dewy grass as my family slumbered.  I slung a longboard under my arm and suited up at Tubestation before walking across the sand to the turquoise sea.  Alice met a small group of us there and encouraged us to unpick what the phrase “Be still and know that I am God” means.  By the time the session had finished there were about 30 surfers gathered.

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We then paddled out into the beautiful, tranquil, sea and made the formation of a cross.  Dave Matthews then lead us through The Lord’s Prayer.  At the end of that the quiet was interrupted by “yews” and “yelps” and much splashing of water.  We then reformed into a large circle, hands held and all facing inwards as we all simply went around the ring calling out the name of someone who was on our mind and offering it as a prayer.  It was the most inspiring start to a Sunday I have experienced in years.

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So we paddled back in, dried off and enjoyed a feast of a breakfast from the Tubestation crew.

I have long loved the idea of taking the things that are attractive and authentic about a community of faith and planting that out in the open rather than behind the confines of the walls of the buildings that we often congregate behind.  I want to live my life out loud.  So, this is what church looked like on Sunday morning…and it was very good.

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After coffee we had a final session together which was followed by lunch and a pretty sweet little skate session on the miniramp in the Tube.

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Whilst some people needed to head off, we were able to spend the afternoon back at the beach playing amidst the small waves again.  What a joy to witness our friend’s seven-year old son catch his first wave where he managed to pop up, stand and ride his Dad’s longboard and then to do so repeatedly with such a relaxed stance whilst loosely shaking a shakka sign with his trailing arm!  Invites were thrown out and a ruckus evening unfolded at the Cornish Arms in Pendoggett which included an impromtu set from Kris and Joff of The Grenaways, albeit my four-year old son replaced Henry on percussion duties.  A good night was had by all.

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So, Monday always marks the start of long amble home.  In usual fashion, we resisted that for as long as possible opting instead to linger in the company of other fellow sojourners.  We then headed to the Eden Project which is a place we never tire of and chatted with some of the Scottish Soul Surfer crew about a host of things and some of the thoughts that were taking shape in our heads and hearts as a result of being at the Gathering.  When it couldn’t be delayed any longer, we reluctantly headed back up North just before the staff locked the car park gates for the night.

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Like any long distance relationship, we had no sooner made it over the border into Devon before we were scheming and planning our next welcome return…maybe October?

B.

 

Share the stoke.

I have found little in life that lifts the spirits more than a shared adventure or a shared story.  The language I would naturally use to describe that is to “share the stoke.”  So, here’s a little story that I hope puts a smile on your face and restores your faith in things…

If you read my previous post then you will be aware of the huge generosity of Surfer’s Attic in donating some high quality, new and unused surf equipment to Christian Surfers UK (CSUK) in order that they be sold to raise funds for CSUK’s work.  With Surfer’s Attic having started out above a skate shop in Inverness, CSUK themselves suggested that they passed the goods to us so that any funds raised could be used specifically for CS Scotland.  We were blown away and, in turn, suggested that the money raised be directed towards our on-going funding of Davina The Camper-van which is one of our key projects here whilst subsequently passing 10% of any proceeds back to CSUK for their wider initiatives.

So it was a delight to drive across the M8 to Glasgow under a setting sun last night to hand deliver the lovely surfboard we had been donated to its new owner, fellow Soul Surfer and CSUK member, Ruth.  There’s beauty in the detail, however.  Just like Surfer’s Attic, Ruth also has strong family connections with Inverness.  We actually met her in the Tubestation in Polzeath two summers ago and have become friends and tracked one another’s developing stories in the years that have followed.  She will be taking the board down to Christen it in the Cornish surf in the coming days.  We ourselves will be heading down there for the 20th CSUK National Gathering the following week, so ought to be able to share a surf or two with her there too.

The way things have worked out are so honouring of Colin from Surfer’s Attic’s generosity where his preference was that someone within the CS or Soul Surfers community would get the benefit of the equipment.  Not only has Ruth bought herself a beautiful new board for an attractive price, but the money she would ordinarily have paid a surf-shop is simply being re-cycled to help fund the camper-van which operates as a mobile sacred space – the concept of which is something she spent a lot of time studying during a recent year-long course associated with Forge.

After a good old catch up over a cup of tea last night, I drove home with my iPod shuffling its way through an eclectic  playlist which took my mind to a host of times and places and people.  Sometimes it’s hard to feel little other than gratitude for this life we get to live, the people who form characters big or small and the stories we get to write.

We still have two wonderful brand new Tiki wetsuits for sale (a male one in a size medium and a female size 12) that Surfer’s Attic donated.  All of the information on them can be found by clicking here.  All proceeds will be used in the same manner as the money received for the surfboard.  If you want further information then you can email me at brian@biallen.freeserve.co.uk with the heading “westsuits for sale”.

Stay stoked!

B.

Brand New Surf Gear For Sale!

In an act of enormous generosity, Colin from Surfer’s Attic has kindly donated two high performance wetsuits and a fantastic surfboard for us to sell.  All funds raised will go towards our ongoing funding of Davina The Camper-van which is a key piece of our CS/Soul Surfers project here in Scotland.  These are all new and unused items.  We want to honour Colin’s generosity and his preference was that someone within the Christian Surfers community would benefit from them.  With that in mind, we are putting these up for sale here in the first instance.

First up, we have a men’s Tiki Prodigy 6/5/4 mini-zip heated wetsuit with integrated hood in a size medium.  I’ve included some photos below, but you can get the lowdown by clicking here.  This is a very technical suit and I understand that the list price was orginally just below the £350 bracket, although I’ve seen them priced out of season at closer to £250.  So, with that in mind we are inviting offers starting at £175.

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Secondly, we have a women’s Tiki TK50 5/4/3 wetsuit with rear zip in a size 12.  I”ve also provided a direct link to Tiki’s website which provides all of the technical details here.  The list price for this particular version from Tiki directly is understood to be £140, so we are asking for offers of £80 or above.

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Finally, we have a lovely 7’6″ Hydra Lite Mini-Mal surfboard complete with fins.  It’s still in its protective wrapping and is super light – a wonderful all-round board.  Once again, you can get the details by clicking here.  The list price direct from Tiki has been reduced from £299 to £249.  So, there’s a chance to grab a real bargain with us seeking offers of £200 or above.

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To make an offer or seek further information, please email me at brian@biallen.freeserve.co.uk  Please remember that your generosity will really make a difference to our community here in Scotland.  Whilst all funds raised will go towards one of the main projects for CS Scotland, we will also donate 10% of any money raised to the work of CSUK.  We will happily post the kit and charge at cost.  Alternatively, we can bring this to the Christian Surfers National Gathering in Polzeath, Cornwall on 20th – 22nd June.

Thanks,

B.

Perfect Day.

“It’s such a perfect day.  I’m glad I spent it with you.

Oh, such a perfect day. You just keep me hanging on”.

By the simple process of me typing the two lines above into a keyboard and you reading them, you may very well now have Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” rattling around you head.  I make no apology for that.  I read the transcript of an engaging lecture that Nick  Cave gave to students a few years back where he advocated that the most noble of artistic pursuits was the creation of the great love song.  He navigated a lifespan of influences, observations, wrestles, disappointments and emotions and suggested that this particular song by Lou Reed pretty much hit the mark.  In part that was down to the fact that so much of what it articulates is ordinary and everyday in nature or, at least, that there was a realisation of a return to that.

The problem for me with the idea of mapping out a perfect day is that I’d try to cram the entire contents of a bucket-list into the space of 24 hours – trying my utmost to stomp every last bit into the allocated space.  It’d probably start with watching the sun-rise from the vantage point of being out in the sea enjoying a dawn patrol surf with some good friends whilst also, simultaneously, having had the benefit of a long lie after a rare night where our sleep is not interrupted by our four year old clambering in-between us and flailing around.  It would include a leisurely breakfast with granola, fresh fruit, yoghurt, pastries, citrus juice, black coffee and the space to sprawl the newspaper out.  There would be: time spent pootling along coastal roads and slow-lanes in Davina the camper-van; a snowboard session in Whistler; a quick skate session with friends I see all too little of; the chance to be lost in wonder gazing at Alaskan ice floes; an evening meal alone with my wife at Fifteen in Watergate Bay watching the sun go down on the water before jumping into a time machine to get a late night drink in a Café known as Sin-e, 122 St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan’s East Village whilst an, as then, little known Jeff Buckley would play a solo set in the corner before we headed back to the kids and enjoyed a night of camping out under the stars close to the banks of Loch Morlich…It sounds great, but let’s face it – it’s never gonna happen.

Much as I love social media, there is a danger that we just spend our time comparing our exaggerated near-perfect lives with cyber versions of our “friends” lives through a lens devoid of much counter-balance or contrast to the colour-boosted, cropped, tidied and edited snapshots that are put up for exhibition.  There is a tension between the reality of our everyday-ness and the lure of adventure and a life less ordinary.  I strive for the latter, but need not to neglect the responsibilities that come with the former.

When I think about the snapshots of “perfect days” in my own mind’s eye – thankfully, they are varied and many.  Undoubtedly one of the highlights of last year started with a sunny dawn-patrol surf in Cornwall but where the reality rendered it probably the singularly most frustrating and disappointing surf of my life.  Sounds like a strange example of a “perfect day”.  The opportunity and invitation that was offered later that morning to embark upon another mini-adventure that evening involved re-arranging some of our plans.  The experience that unfolded, however, was amplified against that backdrop of such a dis-heartening morning surf on the last day of a trip to my beloved Cornwall.  I’ve written about it elsewhere here and from the grin on my face and the glint in my eye in the photos below, you can probably get a sense of what a perfect day it really was.

 

Severn Bore 7

Severn bore 8

One of the characters that I met that day was a guy from Durban called Sihle.  It was nothing short of an honour to meet him.  The stories I heard out in the water that night were so inspiring.  I am not alone in being touched and moved by them and it has been so rad to see the amount of coverage that Jordy Smith’s little video inspired by the same people and things has received in the surf media in recent weeks.  Sometimes we just need a bit of perspective and a place to escape to and a place to belong.

Just watch the clip below…

Today is perfect.

B.

P.S. For those of you interested in the Nick Cave lecture, you can read it by clicking here.  It is profound!  (Warning: includes the occasional swear word)

 

 

 

Sunshine, greener grass and sandy feet.

With it having been the first Sunday of the month, a bunch of us were doing what we usually do – carving out some time and space and heading to the coast.  There’s always an open invite, so vehicles left various Scottish towns and cities with people car-sharing and rendezvousing at Belhaven Bay.  The weather predictions had been a bit dodgy during the week, but sun-shine and a warm 19 degrees welcomed us.  Picnics were unwrapped and food and stories shared amongst friends and friends of friends, quite a few of whom hadn’t met before.   Whilst I was simply caught up in conversation at the time, looking at this photo now makes me ponder how beautiful it is to take the things that are authentic about friendship and community and to plant those out in the open rather than behind the confines of buildings…

SS3

Whilst days like these normally involve sandy toes or muddy footwear, the picture below that my wife took on her phone was a truer reflection of much of this Sunday.  It’s funny how often the grass can seem greener elsewhere.  I caught up with a friend who runs the local surf school.  He was commenting on what a beautiful day it had been to be running surf lessons and, yet, how easy it was to feel jealous of the other Dads who he could see simply enjoying the weather with their kids.  Whilst he had been out sharing the stoke of surfing it came at the cost of sacrificing another chunk of a weekend where he was absent from his own family -”Not that I can complain”, he said with a big smile.

I smiled back and thought about how I used to feel so conflicted on these days.  There would be a big part of me itching to check the wave forecast and to be out in the sea any time we headed to the beach as a family.  I knew that the waves would be fairly mellow and nice for a lush little longboard session this weekend, but I had deliberately left my gear at home in order to ensure that I wasn’t absent or, more likely, present with friends whilst my mind was somewhere else out in the water.  I’d made a mental gear-change in my head and had determined that this day was about spending time with these people – whoever it was who turned up.  The great thing was that I had no inner wrestling – I just enjoyed hanging out, seeing where conversation took us and recognising that there would be other days in which to surf.  Simple!

SS2On strolling back to the play park, I was greeted with the sight below.  I found myself thinking…You know what?  Life is full of obstacles, but if you haven’t got folks around you and the ability to have fun along the way – well that could be a fairly sad and empty picture.  I want to live my life out loud and I want to do that with a host of other people. You can read so many theories of how to build community and do life together.  You can talk about a host of ideas.  Sometimes you just need to get on and simply do it and see who’s keeping pace, who jumps onboard and who you bump into on the way.

SS5

A number of those who gathered are involved in our inaugural SUrf Camp in a month’s time.  We packed up a little convoy and headed off to Scoughall to check out the facilities and to begin to dream and imagine how all of our ideas might actually come to be.  All of a sudden it felt very real.  The kids scampered off to play on the beach and splash in the waves.

SS6

…and it would seem that angels were present…

SS4

With four weeks to go, Davina the camper-van was parked up awaiting her impending adventure down another road as yet un-travelled.  Next stop, SUrf Camp!

SS7

I couldn’t believe that we rocked up back at our house over 7 hours after we had left.  Time flies when you’re having fun!

B.

Soul Sunday – 1st June.

We’ll be taking Davina the camper-van down to Belhaven Bay by Dunbar on Sunday afternoon.  Consider this blog post an open invitation to come and join us.  We plan to be in the John Muir Country Park car park (the one by East Links Farm) from 2pm.

Soul Surfers Exit Van E and C

The aim is simply to carve out some time to chill out.  Some of us may take a walk across the salt marsh to the beach (bring appropriate footwear) or we may hang out at the activity play-park.  The surf forecast looks fairly small, but there may be a longboard-able wave for those who want to get wet…

If you follow this blog, or know something of the Soul Surfers story, then you may be aware that some of us are assisting with a new SUrf camp in a few week’s time in partnership with SU, CSUK and Coast 2 Coast Surf School.  With that in mind, a group of us will probably head over to the Camp base at Scoughall near North Berwick at some point in the afternoon to scope it out.

Feel free to bring a smile, a conversation, and some food to share on Sunday.

Maybe see you there!

B.

What Difference Does It Make?

This blog post takes its title from a song by The Smiths.  I want to address that question together with addressing another one – why?  Three letters, the sum of which is probably one of the most important words in the English language.  A question that provokes, challenges or one that can drive you demented – particularly when repeatedly asked by three-year olds in response to each answer you give to the previous “why?”

So, why did over 80 volunteers turn up each day at beach cleans organised by Barefoot Wine and Surfers Against Sewage on two consecutive days in Scotland the other weekend? Picking up litter from a beach is hardly glamorous and could be likened to shovelling snow in a blizzard.  What difference does it make? Why?  What’s the point?  Surely it’s just a drop in the ocean?

SAS Dunbar

Perhaps the latter phrase is actually a useful one. In recent weeks a news report surfaced with some shocking research findings. Some of the deepest parts of the ocean bed were being mapped for the first time ever by mankind. What the scientists discovered was that our rubbish had got there before we had. The impact of discarded fishing lines and plastic tides is huge upon marine wildlife. As eco-systems are altered, so is the food chain and some of these lead to mutations which can also find their way into our own human food chain. It’s less about our clean-up efforts being a drop in the ocean and more about what we drop in the ocean in the first place.

I also like to think that the attendance at the beach cleans wasn’t just down to the fact that TV presenter, Kate Humble, made it along to Dunbar on a sunny Friday afternoon…although, I’m sure that that helped!

Kate Humble

As a bit of a beach clean veteran, the thing that I’ve come to understand is that a beach can often look fairly clean upon first inspection.  Dispatch a host of volunteers for an hour or two though and you’ll be amazed by the variety and volume of rubbish that is returned.  On each of the latest Scottish events, about 120 kg was collected before being recycled or deposited responsibly.  There were the usual suspects of cigarette butts, plastic bottles and fishing line, but, personally I was flabbergasted to pick up a can of Schweppes  Lemonade Shandy which was dated from 1986 and a Golden Wonder crisp wrapper also from some point in the 1980s.  How had that stuff been swilling around in the sea  for the best part of 30 years before being washed up?  It doesn’t go away.

SAS Shandy

So, we can’t undo litter louting from years gone by.  A few years ago we were forever picking up the plastic stems of cotton-buds.  SAS have, however, repeatedly brought this to the attention of the major manufacturers and the labelling on the packaging often now clearly discourages flushing these down the loo.  I’ve witnessed first hand the liberation afforded to school children when they discover that they are permitted (and actively encouraged) to shout the word “poo” at the top of their voices in a classroom when SAS have been running an educational session.  The purpose, in case you are wondering, is to help them to learn about “the four P’s” that it’s okay to put down the toilet…pee, poo, paper and puke.  These may be small things but if it causes people to think before they flush then our seas might just be treated a bit less like a fluid landfill site.

So if turning up at a beach clean raises the profile of an issue, gets others involved in the debate, creates a social atmosphere and enables us to influence positive change then that might just go some way towards answering the why?  Things have moved a long way in a relatively short space of time.  SAS was founded in 1990 by surfers who were sick of getting sick and coming face to face with faeces, tampons, condoms and needles in the water.  It’s grim, but that was the catalyst.  Much of that has been effectively tackled, but there is still much to do.

I heard Billy Bragg state at a gig last year that apathy and cynicism are our biggest enemies.  That is true in so many areas of life.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the state of our environment, our economy, our politics or a host of other things.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was directed by a lady in our church towards a friend of mine who was feeling frustrated with some things there at the time.  She stopped him in his tracks and said, “stop moaning, find some like-minded people and do something about it”.  That has never left me.  With that in mind, I’ll chose to be one of these:

hopetimist

B.

 

Something For The Weekend?

It’s May Day on Monday which means that many of us have a welcome long weekend.  If you’re looking for inspiration then there are a couple of pretty sweet things happening which you could get involved with.

Those of you familiar with the blog will know that a bunch of us have tried to build some rhythms into our weeks and months.  These tend to include doing something social on the first Sunday of the month.  We’ve come to refer to those days as “Soul Sundays” in the hope that carving out time and space with others in places we enjoy creates a bit of rest, a host of good memories and a side helping of stoke.  Because we personally wanted to support the SAS beach cleans we’re replacing this month’s “Soul Sunday” with a more general invite to come and join in at one of these other events that are already running this weekend.

First off, Surfers Against Sewage and Barefoot Wine have teamed up for their 7th consecutive round of annual Beach Rescues.  This year TV presenter and environmentalist Kate Humble will be joining volunteers on a number of beaches.  These afternoons are always very sociable and a fun way to join a wide range of like-minded people in giving something back to the coastlines that so many of us love.  There’ll also be a glass of wine and a free T-shirt in it for you!  There are fuller details here.

SASDunbar

Our family and a few friends plan to be at both events – so why not join us at East Beach, Dunbar (not Belhaven) from 2pm till 4pm on Friday 2nd May or at West Sands, St Andrews from 2pm – 4pm on Saturday 3rd May.  We’ve a couple of spare seats in our car on Friday and are planning on taking Davina the camper-van to St Andrews on the Saturday.  A few of us are talking about finding a camp-site and making a weekend of it up at St Andrews.  In true flip-flop-wearing-surfer dude-style the finer details are currently filed under “TBC”.  Get in touch or leave a comment if you want to camp.  Oh, and there might just be a wave or two to be surfed…

This weekend also sees the return of the annual War Of The Thistles skateboard event.  That means that it is a year since this photo of me was taken…

soulsundayaberdeen1

The competition kicks off at Transition Extreme in Aberdeen on the Saturday before relocating to The Space in North Berwick on Sunday 4th May.  You can find out more info here  or by contacting either of the venues.  It should be a chance to see some truly rad skating and having the opportunity for a wee sesh if you want to.

wott-2014-poster

Hope to see some of you somewhere at some point!

B.

 

 

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