It's about life - not "lifestyle"

Jon Davey is a 33 year old bodysurfing from Cornwall, England. A teacher by trade, he spends his free time like so many of us at certain stages: surfing in the many forms, fishing, and growing his own food in his "polytunnel" - details of which I'll try to pry out of Jon for a new section of
The surf's nothing special, two feet on the sets maybe, but at least it's clean and peeling well in the light and early Spring breeze. There are a few surfers out on mals, bodyboards, and thrusters, but there's plenty of room for all. The St. Ives Bay area on Cornwall's North coast is where I do most of my surfing. It's a beautiful sickle of sand extending some four miles from Godrevy at its Eastern end to the fishing village of St. Ives at its rugged Western extremity.

I suit-up in the car park, cross the river, take my habitual path over the boulder and shingle-strewn upper shoreline and walk down onto the soft sand heading for the main peak.

Today is somewhat different, however. Instead of my usual bodyboard or kneeboard I've come equipped with a new device: a home-made handboard. For years I've poured over the occasional pictures of bodysurfing and handboarding which I have found in old, imported surf magazines and more recently on the internet. I have become fascinated, obsessed even, with this form of surfing. I think that its minimalism, its simplicity appeals to me but also, if truth is to be told, its nonconformity: there's nothing quite like being and individual in a world dominated by advertising and market forces.

My handboards are made from balsa wood blocks which I laminate together to form a blank.  They are then shaped with hand tools, given four or five coats of yacht varnish, and have a webbing hand strap attached.  I try to keep the dimensions down - roughly a foot by seven or eight inches. This allows me to swim out to the break, using the board like a single paddle. It also allows efficient duck-diving in heavy or dumping surf. Very few people in the United Kingdom bodysurf - even fewer use handboards. In seventeen years of surfing I've only heard of two that have been commercially available! I look upon this as liberating rather than restrictive. It gives one free-reign to experiment and to become innovative - nothing is bog-standard, there are no preconceptions.

I pull on my long and lightweight swim fins, watch some oystercatchers skitter around the tide line, and wade in.

A few strokes take me out to the lineup. I wait inside my usual position, knowing that on such a light day as this I'll need to squeeze every pound of pressure out of the wave to allow me to turn and trim.

In the distance a wave bulges out of the blue-grey Atlantic. I jockey for position, kicking to the left in an attempt to intercept the dark and hollow shoulder. The wave begins to feather a little further out than I had anticipated. I swim furiously across and toward it, then stop, turn, and with two or three huge, almost bicycle-like strokes of my fins, launch myself down the face. The acceleration is incredible. Suddenly instead of being in the water I'm planing and skipping on top of it. A quick glance to my left, though, and I realise that I am too late. By the time I've placed both hands on the board, the wave closes out. I take the drop and shoot inward on the creamy white water - and exhilarating experience in itself. I pirouette around undeR the white water and swim back out, easily diving under the remaining waves of the set.
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Copyright (C) 2003. All rights reserved.

Words copyright (C) Jon Davey.
Photo (C) Jon Davey