Making a living out of watersports writing and surfing journalism was never going to easy. Turning my passion into a career has always been a goal and getting to this point has certainly taken its time.
Windurf! – pic Julia Toms Photohgraphy
Having a deep understanding of surfing and the action sports industry (from years of personal involvement), being able to (hopefully) string a sentence together and having the right contacts and network in place are the key things that have helped me along my chosen path.
Becoming a surfing journalist is hard work and you have to really ‘want it’ but it’s definitely plausible.
If anyone is considering something similar, but struggling to figure out how to make it work, then here’s how I ended up in the position I am today.
‘Surfing’ – a broad term
For me, surfing encompasses many different elements. ‘Surfing’ in the broadest sense of the word is simply about riding waves; simpler than that, it’s the act of sliding across water (even snow –which is only frozen H2O after all). As to what craft I choose – it doesn’t matter – I pick my ‘tool for the job’ based on the conditions I’m faced with on the day.
During my ‘yoof’ I was typical in that if it wasn’t a surfboard then I wasn’t interested. These days I’m a lot more open minded, stemming largely from spending time at flat water venues – utilising what I had to hand was the only way to get my fix.
It may have a sail attached, but it’s all just ‘surfing’ to me! – pic Tez
Today, windsurfing, stand up paddle boarding, surfing, snowboarding, kayaking, kitesurfing, bodyboarding and body surfing all play huge parts in my life – in some way shape or form. They’re all sports which allow me more time on the water, whatever the conditions.
It’s all just ‘surfing’ to me!
Where it began
When I was a ‘nipper’ I spent most summer holidays on the Coast Blanca, Spain – not exactly noted for its wave riding potential. And yet, there were still days when the wind would puff in bringing a decent amount of choppy wind swell to the Sangria and sun drenched shores.
In efforts to keep my brother and I occupied (and out of trouble), our parents purchased some naff bodyboards to play with. When those magical days appeared we were ‘on it’ – smashing about in the ‘soup’ and slowly learning how to ride. One thing led to another and before long we were standing up – a logical progression.
I have to hand it to my parents for making the sacrifice, back in the UK, after those long hot Spanish summer holidays. Had it not been for them regularly travelling considerable distances to the coast then we wouldn’t have carried on getting our fix. (The middle of England isn’t exactly noted for its wave sliding potential!)
Moving on up
As I got older I felt I wanted to make surfing my life but realised that I wasn’t ever going to be a pro – and in fact, didn’t have the competitive drive for slugging it out at events.
During my mid-teens I was unsure of where to go and was in danger of falling into a rut. It was only through the intervention of a former girlfriend who suggested, after flicking through one of my surf mags, I should become an instructor.
Reason to get qualified – testing in Dahab, Egypt – pic Jules Toms
At first I was sceptical, but after some soul searching (deep down I knew this would spell the end of our relationship) I took the plunge and enrolled on a four month long watersports instructor course.
Based in Cornwall, my stint would qualify me in surfing, windsurfing, dinghy sailing and kayaking. At the time I was only really interested in the surfing part and saw the whole exercise as a way to get more waves.
It was during this stint in Bude, Cornwall, that I discovered windsurfing, although at first I hated it. Stuck on an inland lake, in February, freezing my nuts off, trying to get to grips with the basics when the waves were pumping wasn’t my idea of fun! I could already surf at an advanced level and automatically assumed that windsurfing would be a doddle – how wrong I was…
The early days of my windsurfing love affair – pic Dave Norton
As a petulant and impatient individual I had little interest, at the beginning, for such a technical discipline. It was only a year or so down the line when a colleague had the patience to actually show me where I was going wrong that everything suddenly fell into place.
Once qualified as an instructor I spent some time on the west coast of Ireland teaching surfing and coaching kayaking. It was an awesome time – the parties were particularly epic!
First Neilson season (Mar Menor) crew – pic unknown
However, I did feel I was missing something and really needed some vitamin D (sunshine). At the suggestion from a friend I applied for a role with watersports holiday company Neilson – one of the best decisions of my life.
After successfully completing the interview I was offered a summer spot in Spain (ironically) and jetted off to the warm water playground that is the Mar Menor.
Networking and knowledge
Over consecutive seasons I slowly developed my windsurfing skills and understanding of the industry – Neilson has strong connections with a number of top UK equipment brands. Solidifying relationships and becoming friends with individuals who I had only previously looked up to, read about in magazines and seen on videos was eye opening to say the least.
I still deal with many of these same people to this day…
It’s not all work, work, work!
My time spent with Neilson was super fun. Good times, fantastic experiences and some cracking windsurfing – I even met my future wife…
Good time boys – Neilson debrief – pic unknown
There are friends I’ve met who will stay that way forever and I often find myself daydreaming of the past. Some scenarios make me wince, some make me smile, but all have contributed to my career development.
Back in the UK
After finishing our final season – by this time my girlfriend and I were also working in ski resorts – we headed back to the south coast, UK – although there was no way either of us were moving back inland. Through luck rather than judgement we ended up on Hayling Island – the birth place of windsurfing.
Snowboard love – ‘surfing the frozen’ – Tignes – pic Fi Plavenieks
Pete Chilvers first attached a sail to a plank of wood in 1958 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hayling is slap bang in the middle of ‘Windsurfing UK’ with many industry luminaries choosing to base themselves somewhere along this stretch of coast. During any breezy day at the beach the chances of bumping into somebody ‘known’ within the sport is high.
Home sweet home, UK – Hayling Island – pic Fi Plavenieks
Having sorted out digs, jobs and how we ‘fitted back in’ after seasons abroad, I found myself employed in work that I didn’t really care for.
Not wanting to follow the windsurfing instructors’ path in England I ended up working in sales. At the time I found the office environment restrictive and boring but have to give the period credit for teaching me about the corporate world.
It was during my time in sales that I began writing. A friend of mine had started working at Windsurf Magazine and she was searching for contributors. I contacted the mag and started to feature in a regular Hayling Island windsurfing column.
A recent writing gig (click image to see full story) pic ThePaddler.co.uk
I appreciate I’m no Charles Dickens, but what I did start to feel was that I could accurately convey the stoke about the sports I’m involved with. Understanding the disciplines from the inside out is one of the fundamental skills I have which sets me apart.
First writing gig
After a number of years spent working in sales – writing in my spare time – I was getting increasingly disillusioned with the corporate environment. Internal politics and general rubbish you have to put up with was starting to wear me down. I knew I could do the job well but I just didn’t have the drive.
Around this time the features editor at Windsurf Magazine decided to move on. Ever the opportunist I was straight on the phone telling the owner that I was the man for the job. After a few false starts I was eventually offered the position.
Spending time on the water trying out new kit, liaising with many key global industry players, chatting with pros, writing articles and editing features was something I never would have expected to have landed in my lap!
Stand up paddle boarding
It was just before all this that I found stand up paddle boarding. As a long term surfer, who now windsurfed, SUP came along and changed the way I view my own backyard.
Hayling, for those not aware, isn’t really the ideal place for traditional surfing. Waves are slow, infrequent and break offshore over a sand bank. When the breeze kicks in this makes for perfect windsurfing conditions – but when the wind doesn’t materialise many are just left on the beach staring out to sea longingly.
SUP – just another way to surf – pic Fi Plavenieks
Stand up paddle boarding completely revolutionised my wave riding exploits on the island. We (the wife and I) were some of the first in the UK to get involved with SUP and also the first to start riding the Hayling SUPer Bank (as I call it).
At this point I was known to some of the main equipment companies in the UK and when one of the brand managers set up a dedicated stand up paddle boarding website he called on me to be the editor, moderator and admin – something I still do to this day.
More SUP surfin’ – pic Fi Plavenieks
Working on SUP UK started to give me an understanding of working in an online environment and has benefitted my career no end.
The day today
After a couple of years the writing was on the wall for the print magazine job and I switched to working online full time. Nowadays I write, contribute, edit and produce lots of different articles, features, kit reviews and blog posts for a whole host of different action sports platforms. Social media plays a huge part in my job and the web environment is a thriving and fast paced beast that’s perfect for action sports. I still do some print work where necessary, to keep my hand in, but the majority of my writing ends up on websites, blogs and ezines.
Caribbean travel story trip – pic Fi Plavenieks
Had it not been for my previous job as a watersporst coach then I wouldn’t have the understanding of these sports, have met the right industry contacts or developed the necessary knowledge that enables me to do my job as a surfing journalist.
Kit testing in Grenada, W.I. (click image for full story on Exploco) – pic Fi
Throughout my journey there have been some ups and downs, as there always are in life. Some people have taken huge chances on me and I thank them for that – whereas at other times I’ve been bull headed enough to force my way into a situation. I’ve taken risks – some of which have paid off, while others haven’t – and I’ve made friends and no doubt a few enemies – another fact which is unfortunately inevitable. Hard work, determination and tenacity pay dividends. If you believe in something, yourself and have the guts then go for it.
Still surfing – still fun – pic Greg Couling
If anyone out there is thinking of becoming a surfing journalist or watersports writer then feel free to contact me via my blog as I’m happy to answer any questions.