A few weeks ago I was contacted by the team behind popular Welsh-language television show, ‘Cynefin’. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a series which visits different areas of Wales uncovering some of the country’s many secret and fascinating stories.
The team was developing an episode on ‘Bro Ogwr’, (Ogmore Vale area), and was looking to feature a ‘portrait’ of a local person – in this case, a Welsh-speaking surfer from Porthcawl. Turns out that person was me! After the initial terror of the thought of being filmed surfing for television, (I’m no Steph Gilmore after all), I excitedly accepted the invitation.
In any case, being an excellent surfer wasn’t the point – the feature would be sharing what it was like to live around the tides in Porthcawl, and being part of its rich local surf community.
Whenever you have visitors to your local area, I think it’s true to say that you really want it be shown at its best. On the filming day Mother Nature was smiling at us. She arranged a perfect October day, unblemished skies of the deepest blue, which beautifully offset autumn’s earthy tones on the common above the beach. I was pretty relieved at the conditions given the stormy weather and lashing rain that we’d been subjected to the week before, and pleased that Rest Bay would be seen in a beautiful light.
After meeting Aled Davies, the producer, and his crew late afternoon at Rest Bay’s brand new Surfing Centre, we headed down to the beach to start filming. Waiting for the tide to drop out, we took some initial shots on the beach. Having not done anything like this before, I felt a bit self-conscious, especially the prospect of surfing for an audience of four guys (plus Tom) with two cameras recording my every move. I needn’t have stressed though, the team was great, and the whole process was relaxed and fun. The guys were keen to know my normal surfing routine to be as authentic as possible; and enthusiastic to know more about the surf world they were capturing.
By now the surf was working – a small pulse of swell on a dropping tide, translating to thigh-high and gentle surf. Considering the conditions, only a handful of surfers were making the most of the last of the evening light before the clocks turned back over the weekend. I kept on expecting the crowds to arrive, but there seemed to be some kind of enchantment at play and it remained quiet.
Paddling out to join them, I put myself under a bit pressure to catch waves and generally not look like an idiot. But as it so often does, the ocean soon soothed my anxieties. All thoughts of being watched were soon left on the shore, and I settled into the surf session. I found the waves a bit tricky to catch and a bit wobbly, with even the seasoned longboarders having trouble cross-stepping. I caught mainly rights and a couple of lefts. I think I tried a bit too hard with my surfing, trying to eke out as much of the wave as I could. But the big plus for me was that I caught more waves that session than I had for a long time, a combination having peaks to myself and time to pick out the waves I wanted – as well as the added motivation of catching enough waves for the film crew! Sitting out in the water basking in the golden glow, I reflected that if only this was the reality of my life most of the time – surfing empty uncrowded breaks watching a beautiful sun set.
With the fading light and dying swell, the crew gave me the signal to catch one in. The gilded evening seemed to have bewitched everyone, with the team pretty enamoured with Rest Bay and pleased with the footage they’d captured. Tom had also spent the time I was surfing, chatting with Aled, who was by now converted to a surfing life, all set to buy a board and take to the waves.
Back in the car park, huddled cosily in a dry-robe in the crew’s van, we recorded the voice-over to accompany the beach and surf footage. Buoyed after a lovely surf, the words flowed quite freely. I chatted away about the magic of surfing, Porthcawl and its surf scene and what I loved about living there. Time flew by and the evening was soon a wrap.
The van doors slid open, revealing a looming dusk. The crew and I bid our farewells in the carpark, happy in our shared experience. Wetsuit boots squelching as I walked home across the field, the square Rest Bay homes were lit up like lanterns against the darkening sky. I felt lucky to live there, and to have had the opportunity to share a glimmer of what it’s like to call this place my home.
Thanks to Aled, and the Rondo Media team for a great experience filming for ‘Cynefin’. I’m looking forward to catching the programme on ‘Bro Ogwr’ when it’s aired in spring 2020.
Image – Chrissie Baldwin.