Travel | No Bad Days – Surfing and Shredding in North Devon
Trev Worsey took a bit of a trip down to Devon in the South East of England to check out the guys who not only shred trails, but ride waves. We go searching in England’s South West with those who do both. This article is originally featured in Issue #015!
As I sat at traffic lights on the A38, my cold white fingers buzzed with the return of hot blood. Just an hour ago I had been floating on the Atlantic Ocean, straining my eyes against the biting wind, looking for that almost imperceptible bulge on the horizon that heralded the next set of waves. We had hiked down a farm track with our boards, dodging cow poo and brambles, before perilously sliding down the cliff face to the ocean. This was a secret spot of the highest order, and we had been rewarded with a glassy shoulder high swell and just one other person out. Surfing used to be fiercely territorial in the UK and secret spots were aggressively defended, if someone pulled a pro SLR camera out here 10 years ago they had better enjoy fighting! Times have changed now, but I still better not say where it is.
I can say that I was in Devon, home of surf, tea cakes and amazing single track, but it was far from the summer dream. It was January and the water was 8oC, there were no bikini clad sun worshipers here, just a lonely old man walking his weather beaten dog. Foam and salt whipped around my neoprene suited friends, these were the storm chasers, those who watch weather charts, following isobars as they arch their way over the oceans, predicting when the low pressure systems would unload waves on the jagged Devon shoreline. The horizon lifted and the next wave started to form – perfect, it was perfect. I sank the tail and whipped the board around, starting to paddle, steady at first then harder as the wave gathered me up, I slowly drew up the heaving face, “just one last effort” – I jumped to my feet and made the turn, the wall of water roared up to my left. The wave opened up and adrenalin surged as I carved down nature’s most elusive race track.
Just the day before I had been enjoying another of Devon’s natural race tracks, far from the ocean on the rugged trails of Dartmoor National Park. In a train of three we ripped down the rugged trail, loam and lichen sprayed skywards as we cut between the rocks on our bikes, getting wild between the gnarly granite slabs deep in the primeval forest. This was not Finale Ligure but it damn well could have been – were riding in Lustleigh Cleave and it was as good as I had ever ridden. Big rock gardens were punctuated with tail slides and heart stopping moments, dancing that fine line between not enough and too much speed. The ground was frozen hard but a thin crust of loam remained, slide – grip – slide – grip.
I was visiting friends I had not ridden or surfed with for over five years, but as with all good friends – conversation came as easy as if it had just been a few days. Our lives had changed, we were each a little older, carried more scars, and some even had families but five years of stories were gone in an instant and we were soon back to talking shit about bikes. As empty ale bottles lined up we talked of the old days, arguing over which was best – the 95’ GT LTS or the 96’ Intense. It was all so vivid, we had owned so many bikes, all rubbish by today’s standards with 620 mm bars and 90 mm stems, but they had each been a passport to adventure – free from todays categorized boxes, a mountain bike that we used to ride up and down mountains.
The traffic light turned green and it was time to be on my way, as I drove down Devon’s ‘death chute’ single-lane roads, I passed 400 year old cottages full of wholesome people who know how to walk over a cattle grid, and who could tell straw from hay. When it comes to UK riding, Devon was there from the beginning -, from the first mountain biking videos to hit the scene there was a passionate crew who were out there shredding, and many came from surf or skating. Dodgy dirt jump spots in the woods have evolved into groomed trails and smooth six packs. Even today the secret trails of Dartmoor are a well-guarded secret, with few visiting riders going the extra mile past Wales. The surf is a different matter entirely with tourists invading the beaches during the summer, all keen to live the ‘hang ten’ dream. They are soon disappointed to learn that the learning curve is so long that for most it actually becomes a circle, and those that commit their lives to ‘the search’ still take a year before they are considered ‘still shit’.
As I pulled onto the M5 to head home, I caught sight of my red eyes and huge smile in the mirror, the saltwater, wind and rugged trails had done their work. We had surfed and ridden these spots together for over ten years and with bikes and boards the weather could not beat us – there would be no bad days.
Where to ride
Dartmoor is full of stunning rugged trails perfect for a trail bike, but if you want somewhere to start we would highly recommend the amazing trails around Haytor and Lustleigh Cleave. If you want to get a trail centre fix, Haldon Forest Park has some great routes for all abilities. The red and black graded Ridge Ride Trail offers technical fast flowing fun that will be sure to get your blood pumping. If you want to push it to the max, get yourself down to the downhill trails at Gawton, where the fierce downhill trails will push you and your bike to the limit.
Sitting in the South West of England, Devon is home to one of the UK’s most famous National Parks, Dartmoor. It’s rugged beauty has inspired many stories and it brutal remoteness made it the perfect location for the UK’s most notorious prison. Devon is well served by trains and you can fly into Exeter Airport.
Where to eat
Devon is famous for the hospitality of moorland pubs, and has some of the best ales in the UK. Wherever you find yourself riding you will find a country pub nearby. Be sure to sample pints of Legend, Tribute and Doombar while you are there, and smash into a Steak and Ale pie – they are ridiculously good.
For more info on the surrounding area and riding in Devon, visit: devonmtb.com
Words & Photos: Trevor Worsey