Stretching out into the English Channel, the Isle of Wight boasts some of the best beaches on the South Coast. Add to that a jaw-dropping setting, with dramatic white cliffs, rolling downs, wide sandy bays and wooded chines, and you have a little slice of surfer heaven for the novice and the more experienced surfer. Waves range from playful and fun — perfect for polishing up your technique — to a handsome swell, where you’ll hear them whooping and hollering all along the coast. Here, four Island surfers share their experiences, from how surfing keeps you fit to how it helps sort out your head — and proving that it’s never too late to learn how to surf.
Chris Mannion, surf instructor, 40
I got into surfing when I was a kid. I tried everything, but surfing stood out largely because it’s different every day. There are a lot of options for surfing on the Island, which is good as it spreads the ever-increasing crowd. My favourite wave? Ah, that would be telling, but it only works a few days a year — it’s one of the longest and most challenging waves I’ve ever surfed on the Island.
I started to teach surfing when I was 16. After five years working the surfing seasons around the world, I decided I needed a proper job so, I worked at the United Kingdom Sailing Academy (UKSA), the maritime training charity, for many years. But when I turned 30 I was sitting on Compton Beach and I had a revelation — this place needs a surf school. This year mark’s the 10th anniversary of iSurf, the only dedicated surf school on the Island.
We started teaching mainly tourists through the summer. Now we work with schools, too, and operate various weekly surf clubs such as iSurf Ladies and iSurf Nippers, which is something I’m particularly passionate about. We have the opportunity to nurture young people into being confident individuals who understand and respect the sea.
In 2014, I started working with the Wave Project, a surf charity based in Cornwall. They provide six-week courses for young people with emotional and social difficulties. I love that surfing is seen as a form of therapy. It’s probably why most of us surf in the first place.
Matt Harwood, garage owner, 38
I saw the film Point Break and I was hooked. Growing up, I was obsessed with skateboarding and snowboarding, so surfing was a natural progression.
You never feel bad after a surf. It’s a great workout, it clears your mind and I always feel incredibly motivated for the day ahead. It’s fun, yes, but there is always the challenge to keep getting better and that motivates me even more. The surf on the Island might not always be world class, but it is consistent and we are lucky to have that.
Surfing has also encouraged me to travel around the UK and the rest of the world to the iconic surf breaks that I grew up reading about in magazines. I’ve competed over the years, too. In 2013 I represented England at the European Championships. I’m really proud of that.
I’m lucky to live on such a beautiful island and to get to surf regularly on stretches of stunning coastline. There are some really good spots to surf here. Some are secret, which I can’t mention, but two of my favourite spots are at Sandown, which has a great wave more often than people would think, and Whitecliff Bay, especially during huge winter storms.
Doug Richards, musician, 29
My parents moved to the Isle of Wight for the sailing, so I was born on the Island. I’ve been surfing ever since I was nine years old when I went on holiday to Polzeath in Cornwall, which is when I got my first board.
A bunch of my friends on the Island got into surfing around the same time. Our parents would take it in turns to drop us off at Compton Bay. As a teenager, I took part in several national surfing competitions and became your classic surf bum. In between all the surfing, I would build boats. These days, though, I’m a full-time musician.
Our band, Plastic Mermaids, has been going for three years now. We have released three EPs and are working on our first album. I do sometimes compose music when I’m on the water.
As well as being great exercise, surfing is good for your mental state. It’s the perfect place for mulling things over — you spend a lot of time waiting for the surf, thinking.
When I’m travelling abroad, I seek out the best surfing spots — western Australia and Bali are particular favourites. But on the Island, Compton Bay is still my favourite place to surf.
Abbie James, charity worker, 40
I moved back to the Island five years ago, when I had my second child, and only started surfing a year ago. When my daughter began surfing lessons with iSurf instructor Chris Mannion, he offered myself and some other mums a surf lesson and iSurf Ladies was born.
I’ve met so many amazing people through surfing. It was this connection that led me to my job at the Wave Project. It’s hugely rewarding to see the benefits it has for the kids. And when your brain is constantly bouncing from one thing to another, you can get away from all that on the water. You’re totally in the moment, with no distractions. I think that’s what makes surfing so addictive.
It is more difficult to learn to surf as an adult, but it’s rare to be able to put yourself so completely out of your comfort zone. My daughter is a much better surfer, but she sees me persevere and that’s a good lesson for a child.
A group of us mums will surf sometimes up to a three times a week. We have such fun and it doesn’t matter whether we’re any good or not.