Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Scribblings from the Surf' - Devon Life 4/10: Surfing in the Professions

The tenth in a series entitled 'Scribblings from the Surf' for Devon Life. To read the article see the text below or click to enlarge the pictures of the original article below that. To see the whole series, click here.


Barrister and writer Tim Kevan meets a surfing dentist, vet and architect

Many people don’t see the laid back image of surfing necessarily fitting with that of a traditional profession. Yet paddle out in North Devon and you may well find yourself bumping into dentist Chris Preston, vet Rachel Kyle or architect Jim Gardner.

Chris Preston – Riverside Dental Practice
For Chris Preston, his love of surfing grew out of an early passion for skateboarding and later snowboarding. But eventually surfing took over and in 2001 he moved from Bristol to Braunton and then a few years later took over the
Riverside Dental Practice in the village with his wife Rachel (a snowboarder and surfer as well as the practice’s hygienist). He’s now one of the most stylish longboarders in the area and can often be seen hanging ten at Saunton. But variety is definitely the spice for Chris and you’ll not only find him riding a huge variety of boards but also getting stuck in to whatever new activity is taking his fancy at the time. Yet he seems to excel at them all, from stand-up paddle boarding to photography for his surf blog ( Or for that matter writing about surfing through Drift Magazine and where he has become a thoughtful and discerning voice within the surfing world. Oh, and then there’s the little matter of his surf movies. The first, Long Way Round which he filmed himself was critically acclaimed, The second State of Play for which he edited film mostly taken by Ross Johns was described as “the best British longboard movie to date”. This he did in spare moments at work such as when patients didn’t turn up. As for what it is about surfing that so captivates him he talks about it being a great stress relief where you “focus so much on the act itself that the rest gets forgotten.” Then he adds, “It speaks to the soul if you want to get cheesy” and gives a wry smile as if that’s just a bit uncool for him to say but hey, he’s gonna say it just anyway.

Rachel Kyle – Argyll Vets
Rachel Kyle is another of those people who is not only multi-talented but has also followed her heart in ending up down by the sea. She’d always wanted to be a vet and qualified at Cambridge University where she gained half blues (represented the university against Oxford) at both lacrosse and football. After cutting her teeth in mixed and then small animal practice in the Cotswolds and Maidenhead, she realised she then had the time and the opportunity to pursue her other passions of skiing and surfing. Supporting herself working as a locum vet around the country, she spent the next two Winters in the Alps (Val d’Isere, then Verbier) working as a chalet girl, skiing constantly and getting cooking skills thrown in for good measure. After that she spent over two months in Sri Lanka working for the first half for an animal charity in a tsunami torn village called Hambantota on the South coast treating, neutering and vaccinating the stray dogs. This helped save the population from getting rabies and the dogs from getting shot by the army. Following that she spent the rest of her trip surfing on the East coast at the world class spot in Aragum Bay.

On return to the UK, Rachel could think of no better place to settle than Braunton in North Devon with its local surf and friendly community and in 2006 she took at job at
Argyll Vets which covers not only Braunton but also Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. She says that living in the mountains, every day she would look at the beauty and majesty around her and be reminded how insignificant we all are. Now she says she “experiences the same thing looking at the ever changing sea – with it’s vastness”, a place where you can find “serenity or wildness”. She adds, “I always think, ‘It’s hard to have a worry in the world if you are on top of a mountain or out back on a board.’” Though she’s at pains to emphasise that her love of surfing far outweighs her ability (definitely her words not mine!) she says that the freedom and thrill found in surfing and skiing far surpass anything else. “They make me feel glad to be alive…and that’s not a bad way to spend your Sunday afternoon!”

Jim Gardner – David Wilson Partnership Architects
It’s that same pull of the ocean which has drawn Jim Gardner back to North Devon. Brought up mostly in Barnstaple, it wasn’t until he was studying architecture at university in Plymouth that he started surfing. Actually it was during a Summer holiday whilst working at the Ruda holiday camp in Croyde. He remembers his first board was a 1973 Tiki single fin and it was perhaps that classic board which sparked what has become an enduring interest in older boards and led him to build up somewhat of a collection of around 15-16 boards. After post-graduate study in architecture and landscape design and seven years in a commercial practice in Exeter he was having to do a lot of driving to get to the surf. So it was a real pleasure for both him and his wife Kath to move to Braunton in 2005. Since then he’s become a partner at the
David Wilson Partnership in Barnstaple. Being local, he’s clearly proud of the fact that his firm specialises in community projects from the renovation of housing stock to community centres, village halls and schools. So too with his work on listed buildings and conservation work which has ranged from historic barn conversions to public buildings such as the recent Albert Clock renovations in Barnstaple funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. He’s also learnt to make his own boards as well as re-shaping older ones which are beyond repair. As for surfing, he describes the freedom it gives you and the fact that when you’re doing it, it’s the only thing that matters. He also very much enjoys the community side, describing it “like a youth club for grumpy old men”. Or, he goes on, “just sitting in the sea in the line-up is like having a garden shed for a retreat. You don't necessarily have to dig the garden but sometimes just to sit and take in the environment is enough - if I had a paper, beer and a pair of wellies it would be no different.” Oh, and he enjoys pointing out that you don’t have to go to the golf course to do business as he’s even met clients and made contacts through the surf.

So whether it’s an escape from the stresses and strains of the day or simply a way of feeding the soul, Chris, Rachel and Jim provide good examples of surfers working at the very heart of our community.

Tim Kevan is the author of the comic novel ‘BabyBarista and the Art of War’ (Bloomsbury) and the co-author of ‘Why Lawyers Should Surf’ (with Dr Michelle Tempest).

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