Along with Al’s usual longboards, he takes out what looks like the front half of a broken longboard from his van.
“Oh this thing? My board broke so I went to the kitchen and got a bread knife. I sawed the glass into a ‘V’ shape and scooped it out into a concave. I made some epoxy sausages and made some one-inch “fins” out of them. You can go 360 degrees and sideways on it. There’s no leash. I call it the motofish,” he says as he bursts into his iconic laugh.
When Al first surfed here, there was a hut where the locals kept their boards, including some vintage longboards, that anyone could use. But it wasn’t until a stint living by Fistral and an encounter with Californian legend Israel ‘Izzy’ Pascowitz that Al decided to ditch the short board.
“Izzy was on a dawnie in Newquay and he was on fucking fire. He inspired me to get a longboard. I thought ‘if you can ride a longboard like that, I want one’. The barrels he was getting… it was fucking insane.”
Al went from a 6’8 to a 9’4 and never looked back.
“I was flowing on it. Surfing was fresh for me again. Taking a longboard out in massive surf is more interesting. When you grab the rail and go to turn a longboard, it goes sideways. It’s fucking brilliant.”
Spots here can hold some size. It’s not all that uncommon for waves to go double overhead in big swells, and on days like that, you can bet Al will be first in and last out. But today at Compton, there are some playful summer waves to be had. Al’s already gliding on a couple of wind blown peaks before I’ve made it out the back.
Before the motofish was the motofish, it was a longboard that Al rode to victory in the 2011 BLU Masters in Gwithian. After coming second in 2012, he took a break of almost a decade from competing. This year, Al in his 50’s returned to competing, winning the Grandmasters. Whatever size of wave, Al can easily find his way to the nose. He exudes effortless style, reminiscent of the Cali pioneers. I’m not the first to make the comparison.
Al paddles past me on his way to the back. “Someone once said I reminded them of Phil Edwards, I was like ‘who the fuck’s that?’” he breaks into laughter. Alan Reed is by no means the only surfer clocking some serious time on the nose round these parts. Around three times his junior, Joel Mew is a goofy-footed longboarder with a youthful style. Son of the local log shaper and long-time island surfer, Jim Mew, Joel was always going to go long.
“The whole short boarding thing, it’s quite interesting to watch, but it’s not interesting to do. A longboard, it’s all about being smooth rather than throwing yourself around. If you know how to go fast, you can go as fast as you like, with little effort,” Joel explains.
Fresh from a trip to France hunting summer waves, Joel says it’s pretty special to have a shaper for a Dad. As we chat in the kitchen of the Mew household, we’re surrounded by boards of seemingly every colour of the visible light spectrum. Jim makes massive neon-coloured boards that ride as good as any of the best.
“I get to try all sorts of boards. I try it and see what’s wrong or right. Now I know what works for me. If you know a shaper, that’s the way to do it. If you hop on a board you’ve found on the internet, and it doesn’t work for you, you’ll just ride it anyway because it’s brand new,” he says.
Joel joined Al at the BLU Longboard Classic in Porthmeor this year, taking 4th place in the U18s. It was only the second time he had competed.
“Competing has been a bit of a shock; the standard is excellent. You come from somewhere where you’re quite good, but the standard and knowledge is just so different at competitions.” Down to earth, self-deprecating, but not lacking confidence. Common characteristics of the island’s surfers.
On busy days at Compton, Joel stands out in the lineup, not only because of the luminous red 9’6 he rides. Joel will sit at the back and whilst others scrap for the first waves of the set, he’ll methodically pick the best of the set. He’ll find speed where others can’t, walking up to the nose and hanging five while you’re trying not to get stuck on the inside.
“I’ve watched all the local guys, and I’ve been able to learn and take something different from them all,” he explains, “Al, he’s one of the few around here with that good cross-stepping thing,” he turns to his Dad, “You’ve got that one move you always do.” His Dad turns to me, laughing.
Al and Joel are just two from the island’s longboarding community. The waves here may be fickle, inconsistent and often blown out, but on its day, a few ledges and points come alive. Whilst Compton is undoubtedly the poster child for the island’s surf, the whole stretch of coast here has spots of much better quality than the locals would like to admit.
When the summer is over, and the water is still warm, the surfers will sigh relief as the island’s tourism industry goes into hibernation. This sleepy corner of England’s south coast hides a tale of a surfing community that turns the meaning of progression on its head. Here it means going longer, smoother, gliding with speed and style.
It’s a kind of island flow.