This Is Me: Zoey Cotton

Interview by Sam Haddad, photo by Lucia Griggi

I love a Cornish storm. My favourite kind of weather is sunshine, with no wind and glassy waves, but storms are great as they remind us how powerful the sea is. And how insignificant we all are.

Groups of stag dos are the worst for beach safety. Some of them think they’re super-human and that it’s only water, but the sea always lets them know who’s boss. They don’t get rips, and they don’t like being told what to do by a woman. When I’m teaching they’ll often start off all bolshy and be making macho jokes, and I’ll just smile sweetly. By the end they’ll be quiet, seeing me duck dive and surf waves, when they haven’t even got up on their knees.

The best learners are those that are up for it. Physique isn’t as important as being really keen. Sometimes people are just there because someone else wants them to learn but that won’t work, you have to really want it yourself, and put the time in the water. Transferable skills from other sports, such as snowboarding, help too.

People worry about jellyfish and sharks but weever fish are the biggest problem on Cornish beaches. They’re common in the shallows, especially at low tide and normally sting feet. After a few minutes it gets very painful, but as the venom is protein-based hot water can help it disperse. Shuffling your feet as you walk can be good to scare them off.

I’ve lived in Newquay all my life. The whole going upmarket thing doesn’t bother me, as we’re trying to attract a better class of people from the stag and hen do crowd. It’s such a beautiful place, it deserves better than that. And we’ll get nice restaurants and shops. But yes house prices are way too high for locals but I want to live in a nice Cornish house in a village and not in Newquay anyway.

Surfing doesn’t scare me now, even if it’s big. I’d go out in 8-10ft waves if it was clean, and not sketchy. Surfing is all about confidence and I think I’ve been out in big conditions enough, so I know it’s ok. When I was younger the biggest problem was going too far out back to avoid waves breaking on me. Beginners often make that mistake, and people worry about that rogue wave, that 1 in 300,000 one that gets you anyway.

My late Dad is my hero. He was a lifeguard too, and he taught me how to swim and surf and to love the sea. My Mum is my hero too.

In my experience people who live by the sea are happier. Some people might disagree but my sister is a lawyer in London and I think she envies my relaxed life. There’s such a good vibe here, especially when the sun shines. We sometimes forget how lucky we are.

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