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Wind and Waves, Canary Islands 2005

I first met Kirsty last summer at the Animal Beachball in Cornwall. There we hatched the idea of a surf trip together but with a twist; a skill-swap trip. An exchange of elements, air for water, water for air. I would try kite surfing and Kirsty would try big wave surfing.I got a call from Kirsty the end of October asking me if I wanted to join her and her boyfriend Richard in Lanazarote next week, where she’s just bought a new house, and get some photos for Animal. I have a thing for the Canary Islands having first surfed Lobos island when I was 10 with my Dad. I needed no persuasion, the thought of scoring that classic right hander again and escaping my 5mm wetsuit for another couple of weeks was all I needed! 

The first surprise of the trip was arriving in Charco de Palo, the village where Kirsty lives, and seeing a big, male German walking down the street, carrying his shopping, wearing sunglasses, flip flops and nothing else, letting it all hang out! Kirsty had forgotten to tell me that it’s a naturist village! 

The age of online weather forecasting is a blessing and a curse. After a thorough surf check of all the coasts we found nothing but big onshore surf or wind blown seas and cloudy skies. We went to Renaud’s house for nutella bocadillos and to check the charts. Renaud is from Belgium. He went to Lanzarote when was just learning to surf over 10 years ago. He survived the heavy surf and even heavier locals and never left and now he charges the Point and Lobos, his favourite waves. When not surfing or kiting he and his friend Seamus (an Aussie bodyboarder and videographer with red hair and freckles, strong Irish roots!) video the local talent at hell-waves like El Quemao for their latest project Chachos 2. He became our surf guru on this trip, his local wave knowledge invaluable. When he tells me I’m not gonna like Lanzarote my heart sinks. ‘What?!’ the forecast is for strong NE winds, onshore windswell and clouds! We had one small window of opportunity, the swell switches NW on monday, the wind less onshore and more importantly for Richard our photographer, no clouds! We start making plans and checking maps to see where we can maximise or little ray of hope to get the best surf.  

I get wet at Famara. It looks like onshore slop but the shore break is fun and punchy and I get to surf in a bikini again. Kirsty kite-surf’s around me. It’s the first time I’ve seen her in action. I envy her speed and power, effortless, jumping and flying over the waves when I have to duck dive the endless, pounding shore dump. I was always a little suspicious of kite surfing. To me it seemed like too much of a distraction from the main event, surfing. It involves mega amounts of expensive equipment, preparation, detangling lines and the uncontrollable, merciless force of not only the ocean but the wind too… still it seemed to me the closest one could get to flying and I wondered what that must feel like. We caught a wave together, surfer and kitesurfer. When Kirsty kicked out she jumped over my head! 

God I never realised what a mission it can be to get photos. Murphy’s Law rules, “what can go wrong will go wrong.” Kirsty and Richard’s old beat-up, much-loved van broke. It decided it wouldn’t start when we were parked on the edge of a cliff at the end of a dirt road on a deserted beach. Trying to push a van up a rocky mountain slope in flip flops is not as easy as it sounds. Eventually we managed to jump start it just before it reached the cliff edge! I guess no surf trip would be complete without a ‘break down’ of some sort… 

It’s best not to plan ahead on a surf trip. Take each day as it comes. Expectations always run high on a surf trip, the nurtured fantasy of perfection. Everything is dependant on the elements and the most fickle of them all, the wind. We want the world to allow the unconditional fulfilment of our dreams…and yet things falling apart is a kind of testing. When we let go and open our hearts to things as they are, the universe can surprise us…  

Just as we were beginning to despair that the swell would never arrive as predicted we get a phone call to say there is another island that might be on fire in these conditions but the last ferry leaves at 5pm. We had less than an hour pack our things and catch the ferry. We were a shining example of how NOT to prepare for a camping trip on a barren, desert island… no sleeping bags, no cooking utensils, no flashlight… we did pack 2 sheets, some towels, kirsty’s make-up kit, bikinis but no wetsuits, too many boards, 3 tins of macaroni and cheese (but no tin opener!). Well we were in a hurry! Luckily Ren and Jason (another friend of Kirsty’s from Wales) had decided to join us and thought of all the practicalities, 3 tents, sleeping bags, flashlight, a lighter… 

The island is a perfect place for a hermetic life, a meditional retreat, star gazing and surf exploration. Unfortunately being driven by our tight schedule and mission to get sick photos we didn’t get much opportunity to stop, be still and meditate on the aquamarine lagoons, white sand beaches, empty lunar landscape and sleeping volcanoes but we did lots of surf exploration and star gazing. We found a deserted beach sheltered by the wind. We could make out surf on the outer reefs just before the sun set. It should be pumping in the morning…We teamed up for a tent contest. Ren and I got the first tent up while Team Wales, Kirsty and Jason, were still struggling with the tent poles and ground sheet. Eventually, an hour later in the dark they had a very lopsided tent up held in place with rocks and flapping in the wind. We lit a fire and I watched the stars, I’ve never seen such an intense night sky. The stars seem to touch the earth. One fell into a volcano. There are not many places left in the world where you can pitch a tent, light a fire and wake up to the sun rising over empty surf and offshore wind. 

We named the wave in front of our campsite ‘Rippies’. The swell was bigger than we thought and a little out of control. There was a rip raging through the line-up dragging  unsuspecting surfers down the coast where the sea vented its fury on the unforgiving, rugged, cliffs…The waves of the Canaries are very deceptive. Don’t be fooled, the hidden extras include razor sharp lava rock-strewn ‘beaches’, vicious sea urchins were there aren’t rocks and surf at least twice as big as it looks from the shore.  

As the surf got more out of control, detonating on the reef in one big closeout, we went searching for a more sheltered spot. We found a little gem breaking on a slab of reef (wow, flat rocks!) Painted on the rocks is the surf mantra ‘Locals Only’ and a small but dedicated local crew rule the line-up. The surf was much smaller on this side of the island but fun, fast and hollow rights and lefts. We spent all day surfing at first just taking the left over waves but gradually the locals took more notice of us and by evening were giving away set waves and hooting. Maybe there were advantages to forgetting our wetsuits and freezing our asses off surfing in bikinis. I would like to consider myself a feminist who knows when to use the power of the feminine to her advantage! 

We were only allowed a taster of the huge potential this island has to offer before the swell died. I’ll be back. We catch the ferry home to Lanzarote and are plagued by 30knots of onshore wind for the rest of the week. Happy days for the kite surfers! I finally give-in. I want to know what this wind obsession is all about and I’m fed-up sitting on the beach watching Kirsty turn the onshore mess into a playground of aerial rollercoasters and ramps. Kirsty takes me for a body-drag, the first stage of learning to kite surf. The wind is howling and her 7m kite is hopping in the wind, struggling to break free of its lines. I started getting really into powering the kite up and getting dragged down the beach in the water. It was reassuring to have Kirsty behind me, holding on to my harness. All of a sudden a gust caught the kite in a massive power surge, ripping me out of Kirsty’s grasp and lifting me out of the water, flying in the air. I got dropped like a ragdoll before the kite powered up and took off again. One second I’m in the sea the next flying through the air, feeling a sensation I’ve only dreamed of. I did have a vision of me skipping down the beach at the mercy of the wind, attached to a run-away kite but Kirsty’s shouting reminded me to let go, crash the kite and unhook! Kirsty was looking all concerned and worried when I came up out of the water until I burst out in a fit of laughter. ‘Give me more!’ Everyone watching on the beach was gaping at me it must have looked so funny! After my brief flirtation with the kite I’m beginning to understand the appeal. It’s such an adrenaline rush. Go to the Hamburgeusaria for Famara Hamburgers to recover from my excitement. Possibly the world’s best après-surf burger loaded with eggs, bacon, cheese, tomato, lettuce, sauce, chips… 

Saturday night’s party night. Richard demonstrates fire-walking on the bonfire much to Kirsty’s horror and everyone elses awe. Somebody opens a bottle of rum and the craic gets mighty outside under the stars and my Donegal accent gets stronger. The next morning I experience just how evil Canarian rum is. Feels like lightning running through my viens. Now I know what Bono was talking about. Poison!  

Finally our prayers are answered. The swell arrives on Monday as predicted. The east and west coasts pump for the next few days and the wind is light and offshore. I surf my brains out at a different spot every session. The local surfers don’t like getting up early so it meant that over the next few days we found some spots that were quietly going off and weren’t full of surf starved Canarian locals in a feeding frenzy.  

Sun sinking into the volcano, the sky a riot of golds and pinks, the full moon rising over the surf and shining in the rock pools. It was the most magic session of the trip. Muy grande y muy fuerte! As Jason would say, ‘de puta madre!’ A session where I got as high of other people’s stoke as my own, stoked just watching other people charging the most beautiful, powerful, big-ass waves… only a couple of guys out on big yellow guns and me and a local La Santa charger Davinia under-gunned on a 6’6 and 6’3! I met her 2 years ago on a big day at the Point and here we are getting intimate with our fear again… After surviving a few big take-offs of my own, surfing till I couldn’t paddle, I returned to shore blissed out in the moonlight.  

Driving to the airport on our last day the Dark clouds moved steadily across the volcanoes blocking out the sun. It even started to rain. Ren tells us he ordered it for our departure so leaving wouldn’t be so hard. I’ll miss the island and all the good friendsI’ve made. What makes a surf trip magic (besides scoring epic waves!) is the people you meet and the friendships you make, the sharing of ideas, surf knowledge and experiences with others. Big thanks to everyone who made me feel welcome and shared their waves. Thank you, please muchachos! 

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