Surf’s Up!

Lee Newby and his partner Sara Langmaid live at 1 Townsend Cottages, North Street – Sara is John and Olive Piper’s granddaughter. As his day job, Lee runs the West Devon Mat Company, but his real passion is surfing (that’s him in the picture!). We thought it would be interesting to find out a bit more.lee_surfing1

When did you start surfing?

I was eight. We lived in Exeter and I went on a school residential week to Holsworthy. This included a trip to Bude, where we had a try at body boarding on Summerleaze Beach. I was immediately hooked.

Did you have lessons?

When she was in her twenties my mum dated a surfer. They travelled down the Atlantic coast of France, along the north coast of Spain and on to Morocco, chasing the best waves. After they split up they remained friends and he, Jeff, opened up a surfing equipment company in Exeter, Circle One. It’s now a huge company, selling wet suits, surf boards and so on. Jeff taught me to surf. I had a few lessons with him – how to paddle and how to look out for currents – and after that I was on my own.

Where did you surf?

My dad bought a VW Type 2 camper van, and throughout the year we’d travel up from Exeter to the north coast. We’d go to Woolacombe, Putborough, Croyde and Saunton. Saunton is a great place to learn to surf. There’s a fixed rip current that takes you out, and then the waves come in long and slow.

Since then I’ve travelled all over the world to surf. In 2001 I spent a year in Australia and surfed from Bell’s Beach in Victoria, Byron Bay in New South Wales and Manleigh in Sydney. I got home and couldn’t wait to get back to surfing, so I turned round and went to New Zealand for another year. Luckily I got a job with the Bank of New Zealand – it interfered with the surfing, but it paid for the trip!

I’ve surfed in France, Spain and California (which is very expensive). From a surfer’s point of view, I would say that Australia is the best of all.

How important is the type of surfboard? Does it make a lot of difference to what you can do?

The board is very important. Starter boards are thick and relatively soft – this makes them slow and stable. They’re also quite cheap. After that the prices of boards rise rapidly – a good standard board is about £250.

Long boards are good for picking up slow waves. Short boards are nimble and nippier.

What kit do you wear? Does it get damaged? Does it cost a fortune?

I wear a full wet suit to the ankles, a hood, booties and gloves. That kit costs me about £250. The better the wetsuit, the warmer you stay. Some surfers wear helmets, which is sensible but not cool. I have a Velcro loop round my right (back) ankle and a leash tied to it and that’s attached to the back of the board.

The nature of the sport is that you do lots of damage to your kit and board, so expect repair costs.

Do you take part in competitions?

No. There are basically two types of surfers – people who do tricks and turns, a bit like skateboarding, and want to compete; and those who want to keep it simple and aim for really long rides along the waves -that’s me. I never stop marveling – those waves have come from thousands of miles away. It’s you against the elements.

How do you know when the surf is going to be good?

I check the Weather Channel and Met Check regularly (perhaps obsessively!). You get to know what sort of weather is going to produce good conditions. Added to that, each beach produces good conditions at different times of the tide – Widemouth is best from mid to high tide, Sandymouth from low to mid and Duckpool at low tide. At Bude a low spring tide is quite dangerous, because huge amounts of water are being moved about.

Are you able to surf throughout the year?

Yes, I aim to surf a couple of times a week throughout the year. I surf for one hour periods at a time in winter – hot soup breaks are essential! If I see that the conditions are good, I often pop across to Bude early in the morning to get some surfing in before work.

Do you surf alone or with a group?

Both – mostly alone, sometimes with one or two friends. Sara doesn’t surf, but she comes along sometimes and takes photographs.

I understand that you volunteer for the RNLI? And I heard about a rescue that you were involved in last summer?

I became an RNLI beach lifeguard in 2009. I’m a casual – if they need someone to cover they’ll give me a call, so I’ll do occasional weekends throughout the summer, sometimes on the south coast and sometimes at Sandymouth.

As for the rescue, to keep it short, the man in the picture with me and the other lifeguard had hit a boat navigation marker whilst kite surfing at Exmouth.RNLI_pic1

He broke his pelvis, a couple of ribs and was unconscious when we got to him. Fortunately we managed to resuscitate him back on the beach and send him off in the ambulance. We met ten weeks later for an interview and photo. Good result.

What about your plans for the future?

I’d like to keep surfing for as long as possible – it’s my way of keeping fit, as I don’t do any other sports or fitness training. It would be really great if we could live somewhere where I could walk down to the beach. On the work front – I’d like to start some sort of surf business. I haven’t quite figured out what yet, but it’ll come to me!

Lee Newby was talking to Alison Ansell

June 2012 (Summer issue)