The white of the sheep stood out against the green of the hills as I drove toward the coast. Narrow roads meandered under shadowed tunnels created by the canopy of trees overhead. It felt odd to be looking for surf in Wales. Passing numerous inns and old ruins, it definitely wasn’t what I was used to on a surf trip. But perhaps that’s what was so charming about it all.
Wales is a small country but boasts roughly 870 miles of coastline. And it’s rarely mentioned when talking surf, partly due to a small swell window and partly due to the proximity of more consistent surf zones in nearby Scotland and Ireland. But it does have waves. Either way, I didn’t really know what to expect when I set out for the Welsh coastline myself. I was simply told to bring a board for smaller waves and low expectations. Not exactly the advice you hope for but I appreciated the honesty.
The topography of the Welsh coastline can vary drastically and is largely undeveloped in most parts. It is currently the only country in the world to have a continuous coastal path stretching its entire length, the Wales Coast Path. And with so much coastline undeveloped yet accessible it’s no wonder the Welsh created their own sport, Coasteering, that blends rock-hopping, shore-scrambling, swell-riding, cave-exploring, and cliff jumping. But I wasn’t hoping to go Coasteering in Wales. I was hoping to surf.
Mike, my host, has been surfing here most of his life. If there is a hint of swell in the water he knows where it will be breaking best. He has spent a good portion of his life serving the people of Wales; first as a trauma nurse and now as a pastor. Having grown up in what some would call a rough area, he’s seen the best and worst people have to offer. It has made him about as genuine and down-to-earth as they come.
At first, it was a familiar scenario: one spot had some swell but the winds were wrong, another was clean but lacked swell. We checked numerous spots and drank too much tea (like their English neighbors, the Welsh enjoy their tea). And as we drove looking for waves, Mike would give me mini history lessons about the area. Unlike the U.S., Europe is old. The countries that make it up are full of history and legend and Wales is no different. Some of the towns date back centuries so it’s not uncommon to see ancient castles along the side of the road as you drive. It’s not a typical sight you expect for a surf trip. But it all adds a certain romance to the search that makes finding waves a little less important yet somehow more exciting.
We drove slowly over the narrow, cobblestone road. I didn’t need to ask to know that the town was probably as old as America itself. Farmers still used the stone fences that had been erected in the fields long ago, their sheep not seeming to mind the rain. The road eventually made its way along the cliff-lined shore, down a hill to a carpark fronting the ocean. We stared at an empty beach with a headland off to our left.
“Does it ever get crowded?” I asked.
“On weekends it can,” replied Mike.
In the water, I watched for a set as the rain gently washed across my face. Off in the distance, the hills grew slightly darker as the storm approached. I glanced back to shore to see the carpark nearly empty. Just past that stood the ruins of an old estate overlooking the headland. I clocked back toward the horizon. As dusk approached I knew it was time to go in. But the waves were quite fun and I had the headland all to myself. I waited for one more.