Horse Head Reef


I look across the bleak flat through the fug of a banging hangover at Yorkie and Martin.Martin sups from a bottle of Stella whilst gazing out from the large window of the tower block flat to the city below. The sky is grey with low lying fog pressing down  on the rooftops. Martin’s freezing breath echo’s the conditions  outside and confirms to me that further time spent in my warm sleeping bag contemplating on recent events is the best option for now.

It is Winter 1988. I have taken the coach from  Plymouth up to Newcastle to spend a few days in the North East. Yorkie picks me up at the coach station and his old Saab creeps out of the city  towards the coast.With the pride that only an incomer can convey, he shows me some of the breaks north of the Tyne. The city beaches of Tynemouth and Whitley bay first and then the breaks around the post industrial landscapes of Seaton Sluice,Blyth and New Biggin. The landscape has been flogged by callous industry for centuries.  Coal mines and engineering works press down on the land like dinosaurs that have sucked in their last breath and lie on the ground rotting with their guts displayed skyward. The beaches are strewn with sea coal and other detritus. Figures pick at the coal  and watch for unsecured vehicles like crows foraging for carrion. The quiet  Northumberland countryside  comes into view at Cresswell. The Saab draws to a halt and we check out the surf playing on the reef.  Three quarters of an hour latter we are done. It is completely dark and the occasional peelers have been swallowed by the frigid jet black North Sea.

I wake up next morning to the shriek of Credence belting out ‘Have you ever seen the rain’ and the smell of cooking bacon. A glance out of the caravan window confirms that the swell is filling in to Sandy Bay. Sandy Bay comprises  of a low headland and a ribbon of beach that is briefly golden but at the top gives way to rebar , crumbling concrete and shards of land that are in the process of being licked away by the sea. The back drop is a field full of hundreds of green caravans and the outskirts of New Biggin by Sea beyond.Sheesh… its not Honolua Bay but hey we both seem to have got away without a hangover last night and there are waves.

Yorkie says that he has to work this morning. His job is to relieve hard working people of their cash on a monthly basis in exchange for brief ownership of the green aluminium  structures that blot the landscape in Sandy Bay. Mainly though  he seems to surf and lark about the north east portion of Thatcher’s Britain. I disguise my resentment. I have a proper poorly paid responsible job for now. We are oblivious to the men of our own age even right now barking down brick sized mobile phones, making unfeasible sums of money whilst wearing business suits with red braces only 200 miles further south in the City. A Zietgeist walks past the caravan dressed in a  fluorescent shell suit speaking into a brick. Neither of us notice.

Suited up now, I survey the chaotic beach break in front of me. There will be a few waves that will keep me happy there. I shuffle up to a shattered piece of seawall and launch into the maelstrom. There is a sharp tug on my right leg as soon as I hit the water. I look back to see my leash caught around the tentacular rebar that sprouts from the wall in tufts. The largest set of the day looks up from reading the paper when it spots my predicament , makes it way around Church Point and unloads right in front of me and the rebar. Three waves in quick succession push me against the sea wall. Confusion, fury and humiliation spread in equal measure from a gland that relishes these occasions. I push these unwelcome intruders back at the same time that I make the final attempt to push my self away from the wall. I take stock after a brief paddle out to the line up. All surfers have a check-list for these situations. Mine is, in order of priority. Is my board dinged, is everyone else ok, is my leash snapped,is my wet suit ok and has my body got any new holes in it? My  flouro pink 6′ 3” thruster  has a ding on the rail near the nose. This is the worst , but familiar news. I snapped my leash whilst trying to get free of the rebar tangle as the third set wave washed into me.I have holed my Gul winter steamer, with flouro panels, near the right knee but there is no sign of blood or broken bones. This is all too discouraging but in final analysis not terminal to this surf trip.After a while I start to pick off some reasonable rides. The tide drops too low and waves become uncooperative.I paddle in.

Yorkie’s girlfriend is an air hostess. Thats pretty good but get this , she brings free Stella Artois back from her trips. Every pause in the action during this trip we celebrate these amazing facts by drinking her health …..and then drinking a whole lot more. We do this starring out to sea. I ask about the mushy break approximately 200 yards out beyond the beach break. Yorkie says dismissively that it rarely breaks and does not look any good. ”As far as I know no one has ever surfed it. It;s called Horse Head reef on the map” Right there the rest of my afternoon had been decided.

Carefully avoiding all rebar and concrete I paddle out,,,and then paddle out some and then some more. By the time I find and reach the lineup I reckon I am close to half a mile out to sea. Now this thing is no brown water Teaphoo but it is not 3 foot mush either. The walls are slopey but on some waves peel left for 150 to 200 yards but the most interesting feature of the wave is that the peak is a bowl that constantly renews itself as you go down the line.My roundhouse cutty never looked so good. I surf for a long time until the wave is broken by the tide. I paddle  in a state of near bliss and very unoriginally name the break ”Horse Head Reef”.

Back in Martin’s flat the thrill of my discovery is still with me. More recent events will take more time to soak in.The inadvisable quantity of beer consumed by me in Newcastle’s infamous Big market last night makes focussing on the concert and the company of the fashion girls we met difficult to recall. ”Hey Martin, chuck us another Stella. Where are we going today?”