Thursday, November 30, 2006

Riding the Free Market

This article was published in The Times Online on Alex Wade's 'Surf Nation' blog on 29 November 2006.

Adam Smith once used the metaphor of the invisible hand to illustrate his argument that those who seek wealth by following their individual self-interest also inadvertently stimulate the economy and thereby assist the poor. With the recent death of another advocate of the free market, Milton Friedman, the question of whether so tangible - albeit invisible - an influence flows in surfing’s increasingly commercial wake is a timely one.

One man better placed than most to deliver a verdict is surfer, shaper and businessman Tim Heyland, of Tiki fame. Tiki not only manufactures boards and wetsuits but has also recently extended its shop in Braunton, North Devon to offer the largest range of surfboards in Europe. This is a remarkable achievement on any level, but is all the more impressive given Tiki’s humble beginnings. Heyland was one of the first British surfers to take on the might of Sunset beach and other breaks on the north shore of Oahu, and recalls arriving in North Devon “with £5 in my pocket, a dog on a piece of string and a home-made wetsuit. I had to sleep on the beach in the early days.”

The early days were in the winter of 1963, when there were no surf shops, let alone labels and brands. If you wanted to surf, you had to make your own board, and Heyland became one of the first people in the UK to do so. He launched Tiki with Dave Smith in 1967, and by 1968 the company was up and running from its North Devon base. However, this was no big commercial enterprise at the time. Heyland, a man of imposing physical presence and an almost military demeanour, puts it thus: “In the first twenty years it was virtually all word of mouth with hardly any advertising.” Now, though, things are rather different. “These days it’s a commercial whirlpool with the big five brands dominating the market and anyone able to enter it just by setting up a website.”

Heyland appears to lament some of the changes. “People have got it made today,” he says. “The sense of adventure has gone and kids don’t know anything about the history.” There’s a sense in the way Heyland talks of what the sociologist Max Weber called anomie. Weber adopted this to describe the breakdown of social norms and values when Europe moved from a rural to an industrial society, uprooting its people and transforming them from family units to alienated individuals fending for themselves in the big cities.

John Milius illustrated this tension in Big Wednesday. The protagonist Matt Johnson has become an alcoholic as he watches surfing descend into what he sees as a dark pit of commercialism. This is most vividly illustrated by his childhood mentor, Bear, setting up a surf shop to cater for the skateboarders and trendsetters of the day. But even though Matt’s decline is absolute, he is still seen as the hero, romantically defending the old values, refusing to sell his soul. When Bear offers him a board to endorse, he replies: “I just surf because it’s good to go out and ride with your friends.” Later, exasperated, he cries, “You oughta know what I mean, Bear!”

So does Tim Heyland think commercialism has been good or bad for surfing? “Good”. Despite his general comments he has no reservations and there are echoes of Adam Smith’s invisible hand in his answer. “I don’t think surfing would be where it is now if you didn’t have it. Without it, we’d still be riding tree trunks. Balsa wood.” Not to mention the obvious developments which have been made in wetsuit design. “People take the benefits for granted. Kids have everything these days.” He likens the complaints about commercialism to those made in the name of localism. “It’s the most hypocritical thing I’ve ever heard in my life”.

Bear sidesteps a reply, but Heyland is not one to shy away from giving his opinion. So, does he think commercialism has been good or bad for surfing? “Good,” he says unhesitatingly. Despite some of his comments he has no reservations and there are echoes of Smith’s invisible hand as he amplifies his answer. “I don’t think surfing would be where it is now without commercialism. Without it, we’d still be riding tree trunks. Balsa wood.” Not to mention the obvious developments which have been made in wetsuit design: “People take the benefits for granted. Kids have everything these days.” He likens the complaints about commercialism to those made in the name of localism – “the most hypocritical thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

The voice is that of an authentic waterman, someone who has just returned from double-overhead Ireland and who can still be found in North Devon barrels whenever the swell is on. This is the thing about Heyland. Whether he is riding big waves or the free market, he has total commitment and shows no fear.

It is this, above all else, which distinguishes Tim Heyland from his peers.

Photographs © Dr Michelle Tempest

Monday, November 27, 2006

Time's Dominion










Mountain,
silent warrior,
bearing time’s scars
in its noble crags.

Ocean,
mountain’s mirror,
refusing time’s ravage,
without form and void.

Mountain,
decayed, honest,
embracing time
with dignity.

Ocean,
time’s subconscious,
internalising
polluted memories.

Tide,
ocean’s heartbeat
on the shoreline,
outside of time.

Mountain,
living.

Ocean,
dying.

Its soul unfurling
to time’s dominion.

Photograph © Dr Michelle Tempest

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Surf clips

In addition to the surf sources mentioned previously, here are a few surf clips: Riding Giants, Teahupoo, Jaws (he survived), Puerto Escondido, Kelly Slater, Rip Curl clips, Endless Summer, Tubes, Hebrides, more Hebrides, Mundaka, Surf's Up Penguin cartoon and Surfing in Wales.

The picture (above) is the copyright of my girlfriend Dr Michelle Tempest and was taken in the Outer Hebrides last month.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Legal blogs

It has taken some time for the blogosphere to really take hold in the field of UK law. However, there have been some trailblazers which are now coming into the mainstream. One of the best of these is the blog of the self-styled Charon QC which provides an eclectic mix of law, humour and contemporary interest ranging from politicis to sport. It's run by Mike Semple-Piggott's team at the online student magazine Consilio and the CPD training for lawyers The Legal Practitioner. It really is highly recommended.

Bringing blogging firmly into the mainstream of legal comment, The Times Newspaper Online provides a blog from Alex Wade entitled A Legal Life. Alex is a media lawyer and writer whose topics range from hard-hitting legal issues to his hobbies of boxing, surfing and poker. He's surrently writing a book about surfing in Britain and he also writes a blog in this respect which can be found at Surf Nation.

If you're after a more general look at legal blogs in this country, then look at Blawgle which is a tailoured search engine for this area provided by Nick Holmes at Info Law. Nick himself also runs an excellent blog which can be found at Binary Law.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Don't drop the NHS

The article was published at ConservativeHome.com on 10 October 2006.

First it was Gordon Brown and now it’s David Cameron. Everyone wants to set the NHS free, to take it out of politician’s hands. The idea is that this will restore faith in politicians ironically by taking the day to day decision-making away from them and allowing it to be run by professionals uninterested by short term political gain. This approach is partially supported by a recent You Gov which followed the publication of a book The Future of the NHS which showed a two to one majority in favour of the government withdrawing from the NHS.

However, what both the Chancellor and David Cameron seem to have missed is that the frustration with the NHS in its present form is based upon ever more distant decision-making from the people those decisions affect and his solution will only serve to exacerbate this problem. It reflects the very real democratic deficit which exists in the NHS. For example, when the people of Kidderminster objected to the closure of facilities at their local hospital they started a campaign which eventually led them to winning a majority of their local council seats and even the local parliamentary constituency. However, despite all of these efforts, they remained disenfranchised. They were unable to exert any direct control over the decision-making process which remained entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State for Health. The introduction of an independent body is hardly going to empower people such as those from Kidderminster. Instead, it will take decision-making one step further away.

One solution to this problem is to introduce democracy directly into the NHS. This could immediately be done by changing the structure of the NHS and in particular primary care trusts and other health organisations so that their boundaries coincide with local authorities. Once this has been done, decision-making power can be handed over to locally elected politicians who can respond directly to the needs of local communities, failing which they will be accountable at the ballot box. This would not only invigorate the NHS but it would also empower the PCTs and health authorities through the extra legitimacy.

On a wider level, it is to be hoped that this is not the direction in which the Cameron Conservatives intend to go more generally. It was also reported only recently that the country now has 882 different independent governmental bodies or quangoes, each of them not only taking power further away from the people but costing those people a total of £124 billion for the privilege. If the Conservative Party wants a radical proposal for their first day in office, perhaps they could promise to abolish all quangos in their present form within 2 years and instead to hand over the regulatory functions to locally and nationally elected bodies.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Life at the Bar: Wigs and Gowns

This article was published in The Times on 31 October 2006. You can listen to a similar version of it as a podcast here.

TIME TO END THE SYRUP AND FIGS
Wigs have their place but it is not in the courts
OCTOBER is the month for all those barristers and solicitors who have been given the title of Queen’s Counsel to have it officially bestowed on them in the Houses of Parliament. The pomp and circumstance of the ceremonial dress is a wonderful thing to behold and reminds us all of the noble history of the English system of law that has inspired so many others around the world.

But beyond this little piece of living history it is extraordinary that wigs (or syrups, as they are known in Cockney rhyming slang) continue to be worn in our courts. The law represents the balance of freedoms and obligations worked out over centuries and it works because it has adapted to the fresh challenges of the times. It is something to which the population as a whole should feel a connection at a very basic level. Yet the ancient regalia serves only to distance the dispensing of justice from the people it serves and to some extent entrenches a “them and us” mentality between litigants and lawyers. Besides this, many barristers would agree that wigs can be uncomfortable, particularly on hot days.

Of course, some say that it is essential to ensure the anonymity of the Bar. This is simply unrealistic in these days of the internet and access to profiles within clicks of a mouse. Others say that the dress enhances the authority of the lawyers. Even without the obvious question as to how the wearing of a horse-hair wig can increase one’s authority, there remains the point as to why, if this is such a formidable tool, no other profession uses anything remotely similar. Then there are solicitor-advocates, who argue that court dress should be uniform and that they should not be barred from wearing wigs while their barrister counterparts do so.

It is perhaps worth remembering that the reason that wigs were introduced had nothing to do with high principle. They simply reflected what polite society was wearing in the reign of Charles II, with fashion-conscious courtiers trying to outdo each other with the size of their wigs (hence the name “bigwig”). Interesting, yes — but no reason for this anomaly to continue. By all means let the judicial ceremonies remain. But please, let the law be for the people and by the people, rather than by lawyers in outdated attire.

This is the first in a series of articles on Life at the Bar. The others can be found at:
Barristers' clerks

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Surfing the Hebrides

This article was published on The Times Online on 30 October 2006 on Alex Wade's 'Surf Nation' blog.

Thomas Malthus, back in the eighteenth century, made a name for himself with his “Principle of Population.” The English demographer contended that the population would eventually outrun its food supply. There are many in the surfing world who might find the Malthus world-view congenial. Just as improvements in public health helped fuel an explosion in the general population, so advances in wetsuit and board design are now contributing to the over-population of many of our best beaches all year round. If Malthus is right, the inevitable consequence is that there will be a catastrophic decrease in waves per person. The evidence is persuasive, from the ultra-crowded beaches of North Devon and Cornwall to the once-deserted, and now all too populous, cold-water havens of Easky and Thurso East. Even the Algarve resembles a building site with new apartments being built to accommodate the surf tourists. It is with all this in mind that the Outer Hebrides looked alluring even in late October.


The journey there is one reason that keeps people away. Getting to Stornaway, the main town on the wave-rich Isle of Lewis, is both expensive and time-consuming, taking the better part of a day. The other alternative is to drive up and then take the ferry, weather permitting. Once you’re there, you realise that everything is weather permitting, particularly as you get into Autumn. Just a cursory look at the map makes it clear that Lewis will pretty much be hit by any of the swell which is generated in the Atlantic. However, it’s the wind that matters most on this barren island where the distinct lack of trees provides physical evidence of its ravages. If you’re wanting guaranteed waves and an easy time, this is not the place to go as the surf can be ruined for long periods by the ferocities of the wind. However, if you’re of the view that much of a surfer’s soul is carved in the time waiting for the right conditions - and you’re able to adopt a little of the stoicism and patience of the locals - the rides are all the sweeter for the wait.


The main beach break on Lewis is Europie, on the north-west tip. It feels like the edge of the world but such is its quality that it has seen world class surfers such as Tom Curren and Derek Hynd riding it on a big day. It tends to pick up most of the swell and the sandbanks provide powerful hollow waves on even medium-sized days. Further south, there’s the friendly reef break of Barvas which tends to work on all times of the tide. It sits opposite a point break at Bru and an appropriately-named wave in the middle called Bus Stops. Following the coast further, there’s a long left hander at Braggar and the beach breaks of Dalbeg, Dalmore and Cliff. If the swell’s from the south, then it’s down to Mangestra. If it’s from the north then the east coast might also be working, particularly at the beach break of Tolsta. In addition to these, there is also the inevitable secret(ish) spot or two including an incredible right hand reef break that it would be unwise to describe further.


These world class waves are coupled with a backdrop of truly outstanding natural beauty. The landscape ranges from the rugged moors of Lewis to the Caribbean-style white sandy beaches of Harris further south. Added to this is one of the richest sources of birdlife in Britain where golden eagles soar over the lochs, heron fish the kelp reefs, oyster catchers skuttle from the incoming tide and curlew take their pickings in the marshes just off the coast.


As for accommodation, the west of the island is more convenient for the surf and probably the best located is Rock Villa in Barvas which is a peaceful, surf friendly bed and breakfast run by Mrs Kristeen Macdonald. If you want to avoid the airport staff manhandling your board then you can hire one from local legend Derek McLeod (telephone 07881 435915) who will also act as your surf guide and tutor. This is invaluable given the massive number of breaks and variables in the weather. When the conditions are right there is something for everyone from the most experienced to the near beginner and the feast of quality waves which is served up is enough to leave everyone sated throughout the next inevitable bout of high winds.


To top it all, the locals are friendly – something not always guaranteed given the ever-increasing crowds at so many breaks around the world. While some might expect them to be overly protective of their liquid jewels, this is not the case. As local surfer Rodney “Cheggs” Jamieson says: “We just want to treat people in a way that we’d want to be treated ourselves.” Such generosity of spirit sums up this old-fashioned, traditional and under-stated rural community whose roots are firmly embedded in its Christian history. However, while it still seems relatively untouched by the twenty-first century there are some signs of the encroaching of modernity and the challenges it may have to face in the years to come. Perhaps the most symbolic of these is the debate which is currently raging as to whether wind farms should be allowed on the island. Whilst most might agree that alternative sustainable sources of fuel are a good thing, the idea of packing them into this natural wilderness has sparked heated debate.


Time will tell how the Outer Hebrides copes with its own burgeoning surf community and greater numbers of visiting surfers. For now, this is one place where surfing with just a seal in the line-up for company is still a reality.


The photographs in this article were also published in The Times Online and were taken by and are copyright of my girlfriend Dr Michelle Tempest.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Green innovations in business

As governments continue to fail us on the environment, it is private enterprise which is leading the way. This doesn't just involve the massive initiatives such as Richard Branson's recent committment to investing in alternative fuel research. The real work is in the small everyday choices which we all make. Businesses which help facilitate more green choices are therefore of the utmost importance.

One such business is launched today, that of CPD Webinars which will provide online lectures for lawyers to gain their CPD hours. This means that lawyers will be able to watch lectures from the comfort of their own offices. As part of the launch, they're offering access to one of their seminars for free which will give the viewer two hours of CPD accreditation. Not only does this forego the need for hundreds of enormous hard copy handouts but they also mean that delegates avoid having to use carbon-emitting cars and trains to attend the lectures.

I also stumbled upon another green business recently when I was copied into an email from inventor Simon Daniel who mentioned his new green USB battery. It is rare to come across something which actually changes the way you look at an issue. For a small battery to cause such a paradign shift is even less likely. However, this one certainly does just that. It's one of those products that's so good that as soon as you've seen it you believe it must have been out there for years. Well, it hasn't, it's brand new and promises to change the way we go about powering our gadgets.

Nor is it likely to rest there. It's been produced by Simon's green energy company Moixa Energy Ltd. As they say on their website: "Our belief is that Modern homes and offices need a new power supply - A low power and voltage supply - sitting alongside and ultimately largely replacing the traditional AC 110/240v mains supply for many modern applications. It's safer, greener, less wasteful and more convenient for consumers than filling houses with large adaptors, plugs and cables. This could have a significant impact on reducing energy consumption." It's inventors and businessmen with the vision of people like Simon who are going to lead the green revolution which this world so dearly needs. I wish him every success.