Words: Lou Boyd Portraits: Carl Wilson
All surfers know the feeling of instant relief and calm when they pull on a wetsuit and paddle out into the waves of their nearest break. More than just another hobby, surfing for many is a form of therapy, a connection to the natural world, a way to meet different social groups and a necessary physical and mental release. With this in mind, being a landlocked surfer living in London can be tough. With the nearest surfing beach a cool four hours away, balancing creative city life with that crucial time on your board feels difficult at best and near impossible at worst.
There are ways to make it work, the city sees hundreds of ocean loving individuals head out of Zone one and towards the coast every weekend, making their way back in time on Sunday eve to get some sleep and catch up on their emails by the morning. The level of time, money and commitment that this takes however, shows the level of passion that people who go surfing while living in London must have for this very special sport.
Creative director and brand consultant Kylie Griffiths is one of these people. A lifelong Londoner, Griffiths found her love of surfing later than most, going for a surfing lesson while visiting Fistral Bay in Cornwall with her now husband. Suddenly finding her spare time split between exciting media life in the city and the need to get into the ocean whenever possible, she realised that she couldn't be the only woman in London feeling this way. "I wanted to share my new found love of surfing with other city based girls" Griffiths explains. "To give those that might not usually have the opportunity of surfing, a chance to go on trips and meet other city based women."
What she decided to do was form London Girl's Surf Club, a network to connect the female surfers of London and get city based women into the ocean. It's a group that is as much about escaping the pressures of London life in a healthy way as it is about sharing the joint love of surfing. LGSC organises four trips a year to a UK-based destination and one trip abroad, that are great for both experienced surfers and total novices. With fully instructed lessons in the whitewater, newbies can get the hang of their pop, while the more able surfers go out and join the line up. It doesn't matter if its your first time on a board, or you've shredded for years, everyone can benefit from an escape to the sea.
"London will always be somewhere I feel at home, but I definitely feel more rested and relaxed by the ocean" says Griffiths. “There’s something very tranquil about being in or near the sea that I think is a positive for everybody's mental health and happiness."
"I’ve always had a tendency to be a real workaholic and struggle to switch off, which is great for my career but not always the best for health. Surfing gives me a much needed downtime where I’m forced to just be in the moment and relax. I find it almost meditative. The great thing about surfing and being in the ocean is that you are truly in the moment. We are always on our phones and laptops, so it’s really key for our happiness to have those moments of calm."
"We want to share the joy of surfing with as many people as possible and make it an accessible sport to all"
LGSC launched last year, running two wildly successful retreats to Croyde Bay in North Devon and in the Algarve in Portugal. Taking groups of city dwellers out to the coast to bond over wine, good food and the shared experience of being on (and often falling off) a board, Kylie is proving that a balance between the manic excitement of the big smoke and the chilled out happiness of the line up can be struck, for both the club's members and it's founder herself.
"Surfing means a lot to me personally" says Kylie. "It’s given me a completely new lifestyle and some amazing friends. As cliche as it sounds, it’s changed my life in a business and personal capacity. In business it’s opened up my eyes to other possibilities and has changed my direction, personally it’s giving me an amazing community."
This year the club is heading back to Croyde and over to Morocco to explore the corduroy sets of the country's magical coasts, as well as looking outwards to spread the love as far as possible. "We are partnering with charities to give other communities the chance to go surfing and reach out to those who may never have the opportunity to get out of the city let alone surf" says Griffiths. "Overall we want to share the joy of surfing with as many people as possible and make it an accessible sport to all, no matter where you live."
We caught up with a couple of London Girl Surf Club's members, to see how the gang has changed their life, both in London and at the beach...
City of residence: London
Profession: Designer / Director, Boodi Jewellery
“I moved to London when I was 19 from Kuwait, so I’ve been living here about 15 years. Looking at grey sky and grey buildings can get you down every now and again when all you want to do is feel the sun on your skin or run over some hills somewhere. There’s definitely a fight within myself to not be on laptops, phones, or watching tv I think, especially in the Winter. It can be quite easy to get into technology, hibernating, storing food mode.
I think that staying active and physical really helps your mood and mind in whatever scenario you're in. Also eating really well, fuelling your body with goodness makes a real difference. I love living in London but my goal is to move by the sea eventually.
I had been following LGSC for a few months and thought it was a really great concept. I had been wanting to surf again for so long and only really not gone because I didn't have friend that wanted to go, so when the trip came up, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to go on my own. It was in the UK, not too far, girls from the city wanting to surf like me. For me, surfing means trying something new and challenging myself and my body. I love the social aspect of it as well. It’s always great finding people who love the same things that you do and doing it together. For me there isn't any better place to hang out than on a beach really.
I love the difference of the air when you leave the city. The fresh air, you can really feel it and the smell of the beach. I always feel really exhilarated after swimming in the sea or being on a boat. Sounds cheesy but it’s almost like the sea washes away any bad feelings or issues you've been having and gives you a new perspective. So that plus surfing and being active in the ocean, is a double whammy of exhilaration! There's something spiritual about it too. Standing in the ocean, looking out to sea, hearing and feeling nothing but waves. I always feel cleansed, uplifted and excited about life after being in the ocean."
City of residence: London
Profession: Project manager, Natural History Museum
"Living in London definitely affects your mental health, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in fast-paced city life and feel as though you’re spending most of your time in the office or on the tube. I tend to spend most of my free time there seeing friends, going to galleries and doing yoga. There is so much to do in London that it’s easy to stay busy but sometimes I get the overwhelming need to get away from the city, see some greenery or get salt water on my face. Whenever I’m able to get out of the city and head to the seaside or countryside for a few days I always come back feeling like a new person.
I went surfing in Sagres in Portugal a year and a half ago and have been hooked ever since, it's about having great fun but also challenging myself, falling and getting straight back up, slowly progressing and gaining confidence in the water.
I had some time off and didn’t know what to do with it and stumbled across LGSC on Instagram. I went along on my own and came back with a new gang of new friends, the girls on the trip were some of the loveliest, friendliest and funniest I have met. They all made the trip so fun, cheering each other on when we got up on the board and laughing when we fell off.
Getting away from the city now and then is really important to me. You can slow your pace down and reset. When you’re in the water you’re not thinking about your work or social obligations or looking at your phone every two minutes, you’re just enjoying yourself in the moment."