The Best Beach in the world

I have been to alot of beaches in my life.

White ones, red ones, orange, yellow, brown and black ones. Rocky ones, chalky, fossily,shell-full, seaweedy, muddy, pebbly. I have been to beaches where the water is so clear you can see each grain of sand under your toes, to others where the sea’s so murky you can’t tell if there even is a bottom. I have been to salty and freshwater places. I have seen waters of turquoise, ultramarine, deep blue, blood red, green and golden too. I have stood on those shorelines and seen white horses chasing each other across oceans, whipped up by Poseidon himself before crashing at my feet. I have run barefoot and sweating into water so warm it feels like a bath and dived confidently into grey waters, only to surface with blinding ice-cream headaches.

I happily admit I romanticise about beaches. I am drawn to the seas, perhaps it is my Pisces heart, but they call to me and I am unable to ignore them. There is something about the places on earth where land falls away and the water creeps in. Something wild and ancient is evoked. Even on a packed out resort beach at the height of  season, full of sound-systems, Coca Cola and baby oil, if you dig your toes into the sand at the point where the waves lap the shore, stare down, it is there. There in that cooling, grainy, sinking sand, an ancient feeling fills me up. Excitement, expectancy, and a calming knowingness. When I am there, at the edge of  the elements, I am filled with the knowledge that it is OK. I can breath.

Of all the beaches I have visited there is one that I return to again and again. To me this beach stands out above the rest, even the remotest most perfect desert island beach is no contendor to my BB (BEST BEACH!) It is an ancient place called Bantham Beach. Lying on the southernmost part of the Devon coastline (UK), for me it is simply un-comparable.

When I was a child I used to trudge through the lanes from West Buckland to the beach. Wearing flip flops dragging a body-board and fishing net. I had swimming costumes under my clothes, that rubbed terribly but I couldn’t have cared less! Being England it was often raining too but again my mind was elsewhere, it was on the beach, in the rock-pools and sand dunes.

Bantham has everything and more that you could ever want in a beach. There are no buildings within a mile of the shoreline. A headland has grown out of sand-dunes, that provide amazing hide-and-seek places, butterflies, shelter from the wind and blackberries. From there you can check out the surf and hide from your parents! There are dozens of small limestone cliffs to scramble up and down. Each cliff protrudes onto the beach at different angles and distances, making one beach into 100s of smaller ones. A super fast, deadly River meets the sea at Bantham too. When the tide is right you can jump into plunge pools and let the current spin you down stream 400m before you bob up. The Tide is HUGE at Bantham, a smallish beach becomes 100s of meters wider and deeper as the moon moves. As the tides move they leave behind hundreds of rocks pools, mermaids purses and treasure troves abound. Out to sea looms Burgh Island, a quintessential child’s-idea of what an island should be.

Surfing spots along the English channel are notoriously poor, few and far between. Bantham is one of those rare exceptions and when surf’s up at Bantham she is truly magnificent! Such is the pull of this beach for me that while at uni I once made the 10 hour journey from the North just to sit on that shoreline for half an hour. It was one of the best 30minutes of my life!

Today was a glorious spring Monday morning. At 9am, whilst the rest of the world worked we headed out to Bantham. I haven’t been well enough to attempt the walk over the sand-dunes onto the beach for the past 3 months so today was triumphant. I had the sand, the sky and the water pretty much to myself, a few dog walkers passed by as I lay on the sand drinking in the glory of that place. I am so blessed to have grown up playing along that shore and today it gave me such Peace just to be there. Appreciating little things, realising that they are in-fact the big things, feeling Love for Bantham, is all helping me heal. One Love Bantham!

 

 

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Our female bodies

Whilst I was researching for my previous post Wave Rider I came across a few images which really frustrated and saddened me. These are perhaps the worst two.

Firstly, anyone with even the tiniest bit of knowledge of Sport, particularly surfing or kites would know that, if the shiny-skinny lady standing with that board, tried to get on it with all that oil she’d slide straight off! It is also highly likely she’d snap in two if she did manage to stay on the board, as her skeletal frame couldn’t manage the strain!…(a little poetry there as an extra treat for ya’ll)

Secondly, and I’m looking at you Mr.Branson! You sort of made me laugh with this picture but if this is how you like to spend you spare time -great, enjoy! but don’t publish it! Whilst you are demonstrating your Testosteroned-Manly-Prowess, living out some sort of pre-pubescent fantasy there, you are also undermining every surfing girl, every woman that has ever dared to Kite surf alone! You might as well have had a Kite reading: “The only way women can access surf is by being models and nakedly clinging helplessly to my back!” It makes me sad that in the C21st  in the supposedly ‘developed’ West there is STILL so much gender and body discrimination, illustrated by sport images like this.

Everyone knows that Male Footballers get paid trillions, entirely because they are male. People in general do not even know who the female players are and no one knows or cares if they even get paid. In Surfing if you look at the female surfers they rarely have model body shapes. They are serious athletes with bodies that show it. However, there is also no doubt that it remains true that women who fit into the skinny-model body shape category still find it easier to get sponsorship and be able to continue as athletes. Sex-sells. These are the current ASP Top ranked female surfers, I would like to see more of them coming up when you google ‘Surf’ and less of Branson.

I am not going to rant on about Gender discrimination in Surfing, if you would like to see an article on this check out SurfSister which does a brilliant job. My aim as ever is to be positive, to celebrate that progress has been made but I also want to highlight that more is still needed. I hope we will continue to see more women in the water and less pictures of bronzed bottoms, lovely as they may also be!

Underlying all of this is, (I suppose my main reason for writing, perhaps a selfish reason)my fear that because of my spinal injury I might not be able to do some of these physical sports again. I don’t know that yet and I won’t dwell on it. But if that is the case, at the very least I want to support and champion those women who do. They are women who truly, independently use and appreciate their bodies, in harmony with nature and I think that is an amazing thing to behold!

 

 

 

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Wave Rider

One of the hardest things dealing with both Epilepsy and my spine, is accepting and understanding that both these ‘conditions’ are not going to ‘totally-heal’. Whatever that means. They are part of my life and I have to learn to live with them, not let them rule me. I need to learn to manage them and not wait for that elusive day when ‘it’ll all be back to normal‘. That day won’t come. Sometimes you have to know when it’s time to SUCK IT UP. This is one of those times. These health challenges are part of me, but do not need to define me.

My problem or perhaps my blessing, depending on how you see it is that in my mind I am an adrenaline junkie. I LOVE (in capitals) extreme sports. I can watch Surfers and Snowboarders for hours. I love climbing, I love Kites so big they can carry you around the world. I love watching humanity pushing themselves against Gaia, working with her. It takes my breath away. I love sand in my toes and salt-stiffened hair dreaded by cold wind.

I love the simplicity in these sports, the way they all force you to be in the moment. I am so deeply Pisces, maybe in a past life I was a Ceatecan. Huge Ocean swells and wild winds call to me. When I look out of the window and see trees leaning over in the wind, the hairs on the back of my neck prickle up and I can’t wait to get out into the elements.

This is all at odds with reality. I really feel the cold, I’m actually very fearful, I’m not especially good at any of these sports. I am downright terrified on Snow! I hate the competetive-too-cool-for-school attitude that is so dominant on the slopes. As I’ve got older, I’ve definately developed some Vertigo too. Last year on my probably-all-time-happiest-holiday-in-europe in Sardinia, I actually had to be helped/pushed/cajoled down from an oversized rock…! Hardly the extreme sportswoman of my dreams! But despite all this in my mind this is me:

I think it’s great that I have this Schizophrenic image of myself! It is my dream to make at least some of it a reality. Some of it already is. I am brave, I suspect actually braver than alot of the people in those pictures. I might not slide into Giant Barrells and stare down a mountain abyss. But I have stared into strangers eyes and not known my own name (and not because I was intoxicated), I have been next to someone I love and been unable to reach out and touch them. I have known when to ask for help. I am no less a rider, no less a surfer. It’s just that the waves and couloir’s Gaia sends to me are currently a bit different to other peoples.

 

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My Top Ten Strangers

Today, due to the ongoing slipped discs in my back I have mostly been doing this punctuated by an excruciating walk to the GP for prescriptions, (what a thrill):

In my mind however I am doing this:  Spot the difference!

Kite girls

credit: Miami Kites

I therefore decided that this would be a great day to celebrate my all time Top Ten Awesome People I have never met!

In no particular order of Awesomeness:

At number one His massive-off-the-scale-awesomeness: Nelson Mandela / Madiba. An incredible human being, beloved by a nation and by most of the world, I have no words to describe the impact learning about him had on me. I was lucky enough to work in South Africa for a while and will never forget the standing ovation and deafening applause I got from quoting him in a speech about girls education. This is that quote which I still meditate on daily.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” I recently learnt from an inspirational blogger (The Progressive Parent) that Mandela was infact quoting Marianne Williamson.

No. 2: Layne Beachley SEVEN times world surfing champion. In a male dominated and frequently outright sexist sport Layne is a surfer I’ve watched with awe. Unlike the Kelly Slaters of this world (unworthy of even a hyperlink in my oppinion!) women like Layne have to work twice as hard to be allowed to achieve the same success.

“There are so many people out there who will tell you that you can’t. What you’ve got to do is turn around and say,’I can. Watch me.”

No. 3: Ellen MacArtur The fastest person to circumnavigate the globe single-handed (in 2005)and she is a SHE! I  love sailing but I’m not very good at being alone and whilst the sea is magical to me I have huge respect for it’s power and I can’t begin to imagine the challenges she faced, alone out in the deep. Her book ‘Taking on the World‘ totally gripped me. I found in it, like with so many sea faring tales, a deeper more profound understanding of  how humanities own story is inexplicably intertwined with the oceans and wisdom gleaned from it is relevant even to a landlubber like me. Ellen’s words stay with me when I feel like my ailments are swirling around the tiny vessel that is my earthly body:

-“When I was out there I was never ever alone, there was always a team of people behind me, in mind if not in body”

-“Courage is not having the energy to go on, it’s going on when you do not have the energy…”
-“You don’t fear for your life in the middle of a storm, you can’t really afford to”

 No. 4: Patch Adams Reading this man’s autobigraphy puts a lump in my throat and an ache in my heart. To me he symbolises hope, compassion, love and common sense. In the course of my life I have so far seen a great many Doctors in many different hospitals around the UK for a variety of different afflictions, not least for my epilepsy. So many infact that I want to make this topic ‘My search for a Doctor’ a separate post entirely. All those Doctors, specialising in a myriad of medical disciplines, largely trained in the West, some ‘good’ and some less so, all, every single one of them have one unifying fact in common. This fact is that they see the human body as being made up of distinct sections and they all specialise in their own very specific sections. They do not study the other sections and do not consider the possibility that these sections interact. According to these doctors not only do these fleshy-biological-humanoid sections have no relationship to each other they also exist in isolation to their community and environment. To me, this attitude at the heart of so much western medicine seems fundamentally flawed and totally non-sensical.

Dr. Patch Adams is pioneering holistic medical care based on the belief that one cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the family, the community, the world, and the health care system itself. His model is organized around these extremly simple principles which are totally lacking in any hospital I’ve ever been in:

  • Care is free.
  • Patients are treated as friends.
  • Ample time is given to the care interaction (e.g. initial interviews with patients are 3 hours long).
  • All complementary medicine is welcomed.
  • The health of the staff is as important as the health of the patients.
  • Care is infused with fun and play.

It is one of my most despearte and feverent hopes that this type of thinking will become a global standard in my lifetime.

“The purpose of a doctor or any human in general should not be to simply delay the death of the patient, but to increase the person’s quality of life. ”

 No. 5: Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama Probably features on alot of ‘Top Ten’s’ but I felt that I can’t really leave him out as our home is festooned with more of his quotes than any other. Although I am Christian by culture, many other faiths, particularly Buddhism speak strongly to me and the Dalai Lama’s personal story is also about as inspiring as stories come!

-Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.

-If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

– If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

– My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

– Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

No. 6: Dan Eldon artist, activist, adventurer (1970-1993) My Mum gave me ‘The Journey is The Destination‘ when I was doing my GCSE Art. It totally BLEW MY MIND. MAAAAN! By that age I had already visited Kenya several times, fallen in love with the country, the people and of course, the elephants. I spent hours looking at his sketch books, drinking them in and researching the young man, only a few years older than me who had made them and then lost his life so suddenly and brutally. Dan Eldon taught me that creativity heals, that being creative does not have to be a scheduled thing. The idea that ‘Now it is the Art Lesson. We must do ‘Art’ and use our creativity’ is completly wrong. Creativity infuses daily life and I need not look further than my window for inspiration, great and powerful artistic opportunities are there for us all if we only reach out and take them. Dan Eldon’s books helped me to reach out and realise that ‘The Journey is The Destination‘, every journey, be it the journey of happiness or even health. The Journey itself is the true destination and therefore we should strive to embrace the wonderful array of journeys we find ourselves on now.

No. 7: Laird Hamilton A fellow Pisces, water lover and there our similarities come to an abrupt end! Surfer and big wave rider. ‘big’ seems like puny weakling of a word to describe the gigantic moving water mountains that Hamilton rides. One human being’s ability to survive, against the odds on some of the Goddesses wildest creations amazes and inspires me. Hamilton along with the likes of Gerry Lopez are the kind of surfers I can watch, in jaw-dropping-stunned-awe for hours on end. They illustrate why surfing is like no other sport, that there is a deeper more spirtiual side to it whether it be in Lopez statement, (on towing into Peahi/Jaws) “Okay, shit, I guess this is a good day to die!” or Hamilton trying to explain what surfing really is… “For those searching for something more than just the norm. We lay it all down, including what others call sanity, for just a few moments on waves larger than life. We do this because we know there is still something greater than all of us. Something that inspires us spiritually. We start going down hill, when we stop taking risks.” These men, these surfers, remind me to live in the moment, because afterall, the moment is all there really is.

No. 8: Betty Williams. An ordinary woman and co recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. On my list after I saw her speaking on TV at a youth rally in Canada in 2009. She is here because of he ordinaryness, a mum, a receptionist interested in gardening and dressmaking and founder of  the World Centers of Compassion for Children International, in honour of His Holiness the Dalai Lama! She has travelled the globe recording the testimonies of children who have been subjected to horrors beyond belief and has dedicated her life to developing a new paradigm within global cultures and governments that embrace, nurture, and empower children with a compassionate world view.

Women are strong enough to help the men to understand. They are the givers of life and they must now protect life’.

No. 9: Dame Jane Goodall DBE, is a mother, grandmother, a British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. She carries an aura of Peace whenever I’ve heard her talk and a feminine strength and passion for the earth and its creatures that is almost tangible. I would love to meet her and hear some of her wisdom first hand.

‘People say to me so often, ‘Jane how can you be so peaceful when everywhere around you people want books signed, people are asking questions and yet you seem peaceful,’ and I always answer that it is the peace of the forest that I carry inside.’

and last but by no means least! No. 10: Richard Leakey politician, paleoanthropologist and conservationist. If photo’s speak a thousand words then this one does to me:

In 1989, Richard Leakey burnt a pyre of elephant tusks to confirm the Kenya Wildlife Service’s commitment to a ban on ivory. image credit: Andrew Holbrooke/Corbis

This act caught the attention of world media more than many had previously thought possible and Leakey made great progress protecting Elephants in Kenya. However, there is much still do. Leakey spearheaded a campaign and reform that benefitted, Elephants, Kenyans and the world.

‘Earlier 100,000 elephants lived in Kenya and we didn’t have any noteworthy problem with it. The problem that we have is not that there are now more elephants’.

So there it is my top ten awesomest strangers! Whilst I lie here I wonder what they are all doing right now? If they ever have grey horizontal days too? I suspect they do, but I also hope that like me they are kitesurfing in thier minds on those days too!

 

 

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