Published: 06:00, 29 January 2021
| Updated: 10:49, 01 February 2021
There's a thriving surf scene in Kent and we spoke to Andy Webb from the Kent Surf School, based in Broadstairs, to find out the appeal of the sport in the county.
WHERE IS BEST IN KENT?
Broadstairs is the place to be and we are based at Viking Bay. Stone Bay, Viking Bay and Joss Bay are all good spots. A lot of surfers only recognise Joss Bay Beach for surfing, which isn’t the case.
Waves get up to about two metres and you need about two foot to make it work, that gives you enough push to ride a wave.
At Viking Bay we are east-facing so the winds you need are northerly, they are the ones that predominantly make the surf work. We get those winds on low pressures, they are the cold winds that nobody likes but it stirs the sea up and over a few days you start to get the surf.
When you get a good day in Kent it is like something you would see abroad. Everything has to be right, the swell and the wind.
The Magicseaweed App is what we use at the Surf School. That gives you a weather report and a full surf report. You can then watch the swell and the winds coming over the country and where the surf is coming from.
When it is quiet you can still keep up your expertise with paddleboarding which you can catch with just a foot wave.
THEY CALL YOU ‘SHAGGY’?
Everyone in the surfing world knows me as Shaggy. I used to be a beach lifeguard from the age of 16 and I was really skinny, with long hair and little tufts growing out of my chin.
One of the lifeguards went, ‘you well look like Shaggy,’ and that name has stuck with me for the rest of my life! I am 42 now and still kids who I do lessons with call me it.
I have been a beach lifeguard here and in Australia. I was a voluntary lifeguard on Bronte Beach, which is next door to Bondi Beach. I travelled the world and was a school teacher for a bit. I came out of teaching and started the surf school, took it over in 2010. I was a crew member of the Margate lifeboat for five years. I just love the sea!
I also teach first aid courses and I teach others to train surfing and stand up paddleboarding (SUP). This is my living.
Interest in paddleboarding has taken a big jump, everyone is buying a paddleboard and getting into the water.
The sales have increased by 300% in the last year, which is incredible. There was a 15-week waiting list to get them, which is nuts!
We have the surfing scene which has been here since the 70s and then the newish scene of SUP. I love them both.
EASY TO GET INTO?
The best thing is when you teach people and they have never done it before.
You see them catch their first wave, they stand up and mother nature is taking them along and they are letting out a hoo and saying ‘this is the best experience of my life!’
Surfing does change our life, in many ways. Once people have a go they are hooked. A massive thing at the moment is outdoor swimming. They are nuts!
For me, I have a wetsuit, 5mm. That is the kind of thickness you need for winter. Summer would be about 3mm. It keeps the cold off you. Sea temperature in January has been about six degrees, so it is quite cold! Sometimes though the air is colder. The better wetsuit you have, the longer you can stay in the water.
IS IT SOCIABLE?
Surfing can really help with your mental health. I have seen before lockdown people going out alone or not knowing people, so I started a girls-only club, that was really popular. The lads wanted one, so we did that too. Then on Sundays, we did family days.
We have got a community together, we have about 70 girls and 60 members in the boys club. We meet, not now, but in the summer outdoors for social and paddleboarding, and some workshops.
So many people wanted a club and now I am the president of Kent Surf Club and about to launch with a committee and everything. We have already raised money for a disabled riding centre, with a quiz. Surfing is about a vibe, it is a cool thing to do and people want to be involved.
IS IT COSTLY?
Surfing is a multi-million pound industry now but the reason is because it is so affordable.
Back in the day a fully resined surfboard, made to shape, would be about £380 and when you are a kid you don’t want to be paying that. Wetsuits were astronomical as well.
Prices have changed and competition is out there for making the equipment and you can probably get a whole set-up now for £100, in the water.
You can get second hand boards. It is affordable now for people to come and get involved and we have seen such an increase.
If you get a lesson, find out how to do it properly, find out the etiquette and then you get friends together with the same passion and meet others.
GOOD FOR KEEPING FIT?
I am also the owner of Surfset Fitness. We are Surfset UK. A guy called Matt Hartwick set the business up in America. It is the concept of keeping people and surfers fit by doing aerobic exercises on a surfboard. He designed a surfboard that helps with core stability.
We have taken that concept and brought it over here. I bought it last year but then we had the Covid lockdown.
We have all the equipment, 12 boards, I planned to keep up people’s fitness throughout the winter. It helps with core stability. People will paddle, catch the wave but then can’t pick their body up but that is down to a lot of things, including the core stability to help them bring it to the centre point and keep stabilised. It builds you and makes you better.
We are trying to get kids surfing too. We want to help get people fit and interested as a community, and involved with something new and different. We are surrounded by the sea, what annoys me is that schools don’t utilise it. Schools are missing out on an opportunity to get kids educated about the water.
WHY DO YOU LIKE IT?
It is in my blood. It is a family sport, it is truly engaging and a very spiritual thing to do. You meet so many different people and you share one thing.
A bit like music, you can play a song and they would all know the lyrics, that is what surfing is like. You can be in the water with people you don’t know but when you catch that wave they love it and will be high fiving you.
You are all searching for the ultimate wave. It makes you feel free. It sounds a cliche, but you are part of nature. I am passionate about it, I love teaching it, I love meeting new people and I love sharing my knowledge of the ocean and the sea with other people.
I even take my dog on the paddleboard as well, on the front. He sits on there watching the world go by. I have a Bulgarian Shepherd Dog. I have been teaching him to sit on a doormat so he can sit perfectly on the paddleboard because when he walks about on it he puts me off balance! I don’t wear a wetsuit on the paddleboard in the winter because my aim is to not fall in! It is for everyone - even the dog!