Hanging Ten with South Hams Surfer, Ben Howey
The sunny South Hams is blessed with some of the best surfing locations in the UK, every year attracting scores of wave-riders to its gleaming shores and sparkling breaks.
With so many of our guests getting hooked on surfing, we wanted to find out more. Who better to talk to than South Hams longboard guru, Ben Howey, fresh from his European Tour and no stranger to the local surf scene.
We sent out our very own roving reporter, Mr Toad, suitably dressed in his board shorts and Hawaiian shirt, to find out more about Ben’s surfing exploits and the art of longboarding…
Mr Toad: Ben, I’m thrilled to meet a fellow paddler. Let me start by asking: how did you discover surfing?
Ben: Great to meet you Mr Toad. I started surfing at the age of around six years old at local South Hams beaches with my brothers. I went to primary school very near the beaches, so getting there was never too difficult. I spent many happy days surfing with my brothers and friends.
Mr Toad: Is it true that longboarding is all about style?
Ben: I see longboarding as a mix of style, embracing both tradition and the progressiveness of new age surfing. Over the years the style of longboarding has changed, but at the moment, in competition, it is important to surf with a smooth style whilst maintaining speed, power and flow.
Mr Toad: What are your favourite longboard manoeuvres?
Ben: It depends what the waves are like: if it is a small, perfect point break you can’t beat a long hang ten in the pocket. If it’s a powerful beach break, nothing beats a full figure of eight roundhouse cutback.
Mr Toad: Longboarding has taken you to some distant shores; where are the most exciting waves you’ve ridden so far and why were they so memorable?
Ben: One particularly good trip was a photoshoot in Mexico. The water is warm, the waves are amazing, and the Coronas are 30 pence a litre! If you are up early in the morning, it’s impossible not to find empty, barrelling waves. That said, France is much closer to home and that always provides some treats.
Mr Toad: What’s been the highlight of your surfing career to date?
Ben: The highlight of my career to date has to be finishing fifth in the world at this year’s ISA World Longboard Games in China. I was selected to represent the country by Surfing England and everything came together, narrowly missing out on a medal. I finished fourth on the World Surf League (WSL) European Tour this season leaving me in contention of a WSL World Tour spot, so hopefully that will be my new career highlight.
Mr Toad: How vibrant is the West Country surf scene?
Ben: The West Country surf scene has grown hugely over the past few years. There is a new group of youngsters who are very keen and I’m sure some of them will follow the contest scene as I did. We don’t get the consistency of waves here, but that doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm!
Mr Toad: Surfing is forever being described as a ‘soul sport’. How much does this description resonate with you?
Ben: In the past, surfing was seen as a ‘drop out’ sport, done by those who were not interested in conventional lifestyles. Since then, and particularly in the advent of the competitive arena, this attitude has changed a lot. However, one thing remains, only the best dedicate their lives to both the sport and the lifestyle: to catch the best tide, wind or swell conditions, you have to be ready to go at the drop of a hat, and everything has to fit around this level of commitment. I think that is why it often gets described as a soul sport.
Mr Toad: If you had to pick out a couple of essential words from the longboarder’s dictionary, what would they be?
Ben: ‘Trim’; the art of smoothly generating speed using the rails of the board, and ‘style’; style is in the eye of the beholder – everyone has their own.
Mr Toad: Is there a certain etiquette or a set of unwritten rules that all true longboarders follow?
Ben: Just because you are on a larger board doesn’t mean you can just sit further out and take every wave… sit with the short boarders and take off in the same spot!
Mr Toad: Is there plenty of friendly rivalry and camaraderie on the longboard tour?
Ben: Absolutely…. Everyone wants to win, but everyone on the tour remains friendly and we are all quite a close-knit bunch. Everyone understands what it means to be at these events which can result in some very heated contests! But as soon as we are out of the water, we are all friends again.
Mr Toad: Have you had many experiences with marine life when you’ve been wave-riding?
Ben: Thankfully I haven’t been in the water with any VERY large marine creatures, but there have been a few cases in the Mentawaii Islands involving smaller reef sharks. It didn’t help that to get out of the water there, you had to paddle across a deep-water trench!
Mr Toad: Who’s your surfing hero?
Ben: Bonga Perkins – Hawaiian longboarder and world champion.
Mr Toad: When you’re not in the water, what else do you get up to?
Ben: I love making the most of living here in the South Hams, so when the waves are flat I’m usually either out on the golf course or tennis court, or enjoying a nice long cliff walk followed by a pint at the Crabshell in Kingsbridge.
Mr Toad: What are your hopes and ambitions for 2019?
Ben: I hope to qualify for the World Tour and my aim is to try and break into the top 16 in the world rankings and enjoy all the travelling that’s involved. I hope also to finish my PhD this year, as well as marry my fiancé, Sammy, in South Milton where I grew up.
Mr Toad: We’ve given you unlimited ‘surfing’ air miles but only 48 hours to use them. Where are you headed and why?
Ben: It would have to be a trip to Australia – perfect waves and climate, and they will be just coming out of their ‘winter weight’ wetsuits.
Mr Toad: What advice would you give to someone thinking about taking up surfing?
Ben: Be wary. Once you are hooked you will quit your job, move to a remote island and want to surf every day!
Mr Toad: You obviously nurture a deep connection with the ocean. Does it go without saying that you’re also passionate about marine conservation?
Ben: Absolutely. As with any development, it must be done sustainably for it to benefit future generations. With the beaches getting busier and busier every year, it is so important that we keep our shores and oceans clean. I have spent a lot of time in the tropics and you would not believe the amount of plastics and rubbish littering the oceans and ‘pristine’ beaches. If you see rubbish on the beach or in the water, pick it up and bin it.
Mr Toad: When you drop in on a wave during competition, do you have a pattern in mind or do you just go with the flow?
Ben: One of the best and most addictive parts of surfing is the fact that every wave is different. The wave dictates what you do. If it’s the other way around, it is likely to look forced and ugly….Go with the flow every time!
Mr Toad: Thanks so much for taking some time-out to chat, Ben. Before we sign off, would you like to give a quick shout out to your sponsors?
Ben: It’s been my pleasure Mr Toad. I’d like to say a huge thank you to my sponsors Xcel wetsuits, Dryrobe UK, Crabshell Inn of Kingsbridge, Voyager Coffee and Plymouth University. Without these guys I could not have dreamt of reaching the levels I have. Next year is going to be a big one!
Since the time of this interview, Ben has been crowned British Longboard Champion at Cornwall’s Fistral Beach, the latest in his growing list of accolades!
Enjoy some of the UK’s best surf spots when you book a stay with Toad Hall Cottages. With holiday properties up and down the magnificent South West coast, we’re sure to find your perfect beach house.