Newquay’s a funny old town: the Blackpool of the South West of England, it’s day and night persona’s couldn’t be more contrasting. Like a bricks and mortar Jekyll and Hyde, by day it’s the centre of the UK surf scene; all salt soaked surf stores, veggie cafes, street sellers and tacky tourist shops, as bronzed, wet suited locals weave between plodding crowds of portly, sun burnt tourists, dreaming of the wave riding lifestyle sold everywhere. But at night a different side emerges and it becomes hedonistic party central, from the mellow live music of Belushis and Aussie-flavoured Walkabout, to dressed up house at Koola and the rather less salubrious strip clubs and chav-packed Sailors.
This full on atmosphere, consistently good swell at Fistral Beach and Cornwall’s warmer micro-climate, has made it the perfect location for the Boardmasters festival since 1981 – originally just a smaller stop on the ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS) tour, skate and BMX contest on the beach were added, followed by, for the last four years, a music festival on the scenic headland of Watergate Bay. With some sponsorship changes, a refocus and shorter format, plus 200,000 visitors, this year’s Relentless Boardmasters in Association with Vans was easily the best yet… yet, despite it’s established history, huge mainstream coverage and large numbers of women ticket holders, it remains a very male dominated affair.
Things kicked off on Tuesday with the first rounds of the 5 star WQS, which, despite August renowned for being small and windy, saw waves of 1.5 to 2 metres. Round 1 wrapped on Wednesday, heading into Round 2, which finished on Thursday, when the final 24 surfers headed into one-on-one Rounds 3 and 4, with the finals on Friday. With the best waves the contest had for years, some of the highest level surfing ever witnessed on UK shores was on show. Animal’s local poster-boy Alan Stokes was the highest scoring Brit getting into the Quarter Finals, while current WQS leader Australian Dan Ross came top again defeating Txabr Renobales Trojaola in a heated final.
Watergate on Friday
The surfing may have finished early, brought forwards due to changing conditions, but the majority of the weekend had just started – as the music festival kicked off in Watergate. A mixed bag, aiming to appeal to a huge cross section of holiday makers and more, the main stage was pretty pop friendly headlined by ‘I Like All The Girls’ man Calvin Harris and The Streets’ universal chav-rock anthems, while the dance-orientated Relentless stage ending with Kissy Sell Out. The Vans stage threw up the more interesting choices though, showcasing new harder edged bands like 80s revivalists Jettblack and the pop-core of Failsafe.
Tainted by a record of torrential rain, Saturday was another gloriously hot one, so, instead of watching the Vans Summer Sessions Midi Ramp BMX contest which was underway, many of us hit Fistral’s famed surf, for some mellow longboard sessions, battling past the mush.
Back on the beach to watch the incredible final, won by Ben Wallace, it was then back on the bus to Watergate by 5 to catch some more music, with Cypress Hill peddling out their nostalgic stoner tunes to a spliffed up crowd as headliners, in contrast to the electric Ghost Of A Thousand topping the bill at the Vans stage, who’s hardcore influenced rock and roll was a shot of adrenalin just before midnight.
Sunday was a little colder, with a rising wind chill, but, with storms on the way, it also brought bigger cleaner waves. While the Vans Summer Sessions Vert Skate contest quarter finals were warming up, I hit the rising surf again on a 7.5 mini mal – far better than yesterday’s cumbersome foamy. Just sitting in the surf at Newquay is inspiring: the mecca for UK surfing, sponsored riders from around the world come here in the summer to earn some pounds and practice, who, next to local free surfers, make the sea come alive with talented riders sharp slashes up the waves, mellow cutbacks, walking to the nose of their longboards, or launching off the wave’s vert, right to the beach. That is when they’re not colliding with beginners and holidaymakers, whose surf etiquette leaves something to be desired.
One of these epic locals is Candice O’Donnell, former Cooler cover star and Roxy global team rider who lives just twenty minutes away. A longboarder by choice, she charges like she’s riding a shortboard but has a supreme elegance as she dances her way back to the beach. Then, despite being slim and petite, she’s paddled all the way out back from the shore while mere mortals like myself are struggling with the white water. Her smooth style is completely covetable. Look out for a video interview with her from the festival on Coolermag.com soon.
I’ve been keeping a careful eye on the huge vert ramp in the distance on the beach as the Vert finals are about to take place – and with local 14 year old lad and X Games winner Sam Bosworth, alongside fellow Brit teen Sam Beckett set for the finals it promises to be impressive. Cheered on by his huge hometown crowd, Sam’s trying to land what looks like a kick flip 720 flying huge out of the coping. But it’s not quite enough as he came fourth, as France’s Alex Perelson takes the £3500 cash first prize for his lofty, floaty styles and 900 spins.
With the wrap up party seeing Australian electro troop Sneaky Soundsystem play on the chilled out Beach Sessions tent, it’s been an incredible weekend of incredibly talented athletes, brilliant bands and a really positive, keen-as-mustard atmosphere.
But, one thing bothers me: despite the increasingly large proportion of female ticket holders now going to The Boardmasters we’re not represented at all, even on the music stages – and the Nuts Bikini Babe competition doesn’t count. True, cash and time are limiting factors, especially in the current climate, but the days when we’re happy to just spectate are long gone. Perhaps it’s time for the UK’s biggest surf, skate and music festival to drag itself into the 21st century with the addition of some kind of women’s event – whether surf, longboard, or mini ramp to inspire a new generation to participate, capitalising on the large numbers of teenage girls flowing through the site, hovering around the Roxy stand, and wanting to get involved – but intimidated by the testosterone levels on display. After all, it was a visit to Newquay over on a family holiday, when Rootjoose were playing on the beach at an earlier Boardmasters that first inspired me to surf at age 14.