The Journey (A 12 Image Photo Essay)
It has often been said that if you are in a relationship with a true surfer, you will always come second. It’s all about a chase to riding the crest of that big one. The euphoria that overcomes surfers when the conditions are right is unique. At those times the most important thing in the world is to get in the water and brave her unpredictable rage.
I set out on documenting a hitch hiking journey from London to Newquay to see if hitch hiking is still possible in this terror-fearing, unneighbourly society. Instead, though, I kept finding myself in Neil’s footsteps.
I started my uncertain journey on the M4 next to the Hammersmith flyover in the true swell seeker fashion. A piece of cardboard with my destination written on it and my thumb pointed to the road behind me. About 20 minutes into the first leg, a Turkish shuttle driver named Oktai stopped and offered me a lift. He said he stopped because he thought my cardboard box said Heathrow. He was going to take me to the next service station but had to turn off at a very unsuitable spot on the motorway and I had to get out.
Walking on the hard shoulder of any motorway in the UK is viewed as a detainable offence and I soon found myself locked in the highway patrol vehicle of officers Ben and Omar on our way to Slough police station.
It took some cajolery and flattery for them not to detain me and they agreed to let me go after I promised them I will take a couch to Cornwall instead. I stayed true to my word and left that evening on the 406 sleeper bus.
7 hours later I arrived with the sun at my destination to a town centre still fast asleep.
It was 6am as I dragged my camera cases impatiently over the cobblestone anxious to see how vicious the raff of Mother Atlantic will be today.
It was breathtaking. I gazed in awe as the beautiful rippled swell rolled in from the oncoming storm. I didn’t waste a second in getting down to the beach to taste the salt water. It felt like a reunion.
It was getting close to midday when I looked up the backpackers that my friend Neil called home for the summer of 2004. The manager Dave couldn’t remember him but offered me a room to put my luggage down and spend the night for only a fiver.
After my breakfast, there was one thing I still had to do. I had to paddle in. I needed to be at the mercy of her awesome power.
I met John at Fistral Beach Surf School who kindly lent me a surfboard and wetsuit for the day without charge. Running to the water, board under the arm I felt the anxiety building.
I knew that the water would be cold, but cold has never been that shocking. Thanks to the wetsuit I quickly got used to the temperature and started paddling to the line-up. The first, second and third whitewash covered me and I felt the sand fade away under my feet as I went deeper and deeper in. I made it past the brake zone and was now at the back.
A scream of satisfaction burst out of my chest as I realised I had made it. I completed my journey.
A tribute to Neil Coetzee.