King of the Surf
Do you dream about making a career out of living by the beach and surfing? We catch a few waves with Pete Abell of KingSurf, to get the lowdown on running your own surf school in Cornwall. But before you read on, check this video showcasing a typical day in the life of a surf instructor.
IT’S A BEAUTIFUL OCTOBER DAY when I paddle out at Mawgan Porth to meet Pete in the waves. When there’s 2-3ft clean surf, there’s nowhere better to meet a surf instructor than in the very territory that set his path to running one of the best surf schools in Cornwall. As he rides wave after wave, chatting enthusiastically between each ride, Pete’s passion for surfing and the ocean shows no bounds. Eventually I persuade to get him to return to dry land, for a coffee and chat.
WAKE UP CALL
“Every morning when I wake up, I look out the window to see if the sky’s blue and the surf’s good. I get the coffee machine going, check the waves and the flag on the back on the surf school, to decide whether it’s worth leaving the wife and the baby to head in for a surf before I’ve got two or three lessons to teach. I often wake up 5am, and once I’ve looked outside I can’t get back to sleep if the conditions are good – I just want to be out there in the waves.”
“I’m actually just a regular Dad – a family man. As I’ve got older I’ve found myself getting up less and less for those early surfs. I end up playing with the baby and wooden train set instead. I do try and get a surf in for myself every day if I can, but most mornings my wife and I walk up to the top of the cliffs together to get a better view of what the waves and banks are doing from a higher point of view. If it’s looking good, we’ll come back, have breakfast and get in.”
“I live right beside the surf school, in Mawgan Porth. Which is great in the winter when you can just pop down, do your lesson or have a surf, then get warm again. And it’s easy to nip down and get the boards out to be geared up and ready for the first lesson each morning. But sometimes in the summer you can end up spending all your time at work. I spend practically all my time in Mawgan Porth – work there, sleep there, socialise there – it’s a great community. I can go six weeks without leaving the valley. If Tesco didn’t deliver I wouldn’t eat.”
CALL OF THE OCEAN
“My father took me to Mawgan Porth when I was eight and we borrowed some foamies to mess around in the waves. As soon as we got home to Gloucestershire I craved being back by the beach, even at that young age. Whenever we went on holiday to the beach I’d spend about 10 hours a day in the sea. We had family holidays all over Cornwall, but as soon as I got my driving licence I always returned to Mawgan Porth. Eventually it became my home. And now the time’s come for me to pass that love for the ocean onto my own son, Marlon. He stood up on his first wave at Mawgan Porth when he was 11 months old.”
“Surfing’s become so popular now. We run two or three surfing lessons a day. We don’t want our group sizes to get too big, so we keep the ratios down by running three, or even four lessons a day. We put everyone in groups that suit their ability, and try to keep that personal experience. Mawgan Porth beach is so wide at low tide, that even if there are three groups running simultaneously, you feel like you have plenty of space.
We’ve got huge boards and high-tech kit, so everyone’s got a 99% chance of standing up in their first lesson. Our main aim is make sure you ride your first wave and are stoked. But we also ensure we teach you about staying safe in the ocean.
I love watching people progress, then see them come back with their own board (I’ll even take them to the shop to make sure they get the right board to suit them) for the odd advanced lesson. It’s not just the physical progression; what I love most is when I see that I’ve made surfing a part of someone’s life.”
“Look at us – we’re sat here in short sleeves, balmy sunshine, just out of the sea. September and October are the best months ever in Cornwall, and May and June are epic, too. The best advice I can give to families and couples that don't have to fit in with school holidays, is to come down before and after peak season. In fact, the most under-rated season in Cornwall is winter. It’s just so good – there’s no one here, it’s half the price to stay anywhere, there are no queues, you can book a table at any restaurant, and the waves can be amazing. We run winter surf camps – including food, surf forecasting and video analysis – that we can run from your Beach Retreat. It’s a huge step up from a regular surfing lesson.”
BRAVING THE ELEMENTS
“Bad weather can make surfing even better. And it’s way more fun than playing pitch and putt in the rain! When you head out in the wind and rain, I know you’re committed and that you really want to learn to surf. I would – hand on heart – say that I can keep you as warm in the winter as I can in the summer. Sometimes even warmer. We’ve got 5mm wetsuits, hoods, boots and gloves. A bit of wind and blown out waves aren’t going to affect you if you’re just learning. And if you’re intermediate and looking for green waves to progress on, we’ll take you to a more sheltered beach. Being on the outskirts of Newquay, we’re so lucky to have access to beaches for all different conditions.”
I used to listen punk or heavy metal to get me amped for surfing. But now I go surfing just to glide around on the waves and I don’t push myself. So I prefer to listen to something mellow like Ben Howard instead. I go out to be at one with the sea and in harmony with nature. The older I get the less waves I want. To let someone else go and catch the stoke is almost as good as having it myself.
I love the surfing and beach lifestyle here in Cornwall. The pace is less hectic and the nature of life is less competitive. People pay thousands of pounds to come down and live the lifestyle that we live every day… the surf, the laid-back social life and the sundowners. 99% of my life revolves around surfing. We’re so lucky to call this place home.