Monday, May 24, 2010

'Scribblings from the Surf' - Devon Life 6/10: Waveskiing for England

The twelfth in a series entitled 'Scribblings from the Surf'. For more information on Devon Life, click here. 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.

WAVESKIING FOR ENGLAND

Barrister and writer Tim Kevan meets a world champion waveskier and a shaper

Waveskis are the surf canoes that you sometimes see catching waves in the surf. It’s a less well-known sport than surfing and those that take it up are sometimes disparagingly called ‘goat-boaters’. But there are two waveskiers in North Devon who are held in equally if not higher regard than many surfers. One is a bona fide world champion and the other is an experienced and highly respected shaper.

Kieron Davies – The world champion
It’s not often that you get to meet a world champion, particularly in a remote location like North Devon. But Kieron Davies is not only a former World Masters Champion at waveski but also fourteen (yes, 14!) times British Open Champion, five times European Champion and the current Irish Open Champion as well as having placed fifth in the world open in Brazil. Phew, and that’s before you even look at his numerous other Welsh and Scottish titles. Yet when you meet him, you’ll find one of the most understated men you could imagine. That’s probably because he’s got nothing to prove to anyone. It’s probably also due to his thirteen years in the RAF during which time he sometimes got flown around the world to compete internationally at this sport in which he has excelled. He’s happy if you want to call him a goat-boater. You can call him whatever you like as far as he’s concerned. A man who trains pretty much every day and who’ll charge with the best of them. He really isn’t going to worry what pre-conceptions people might be starting off with.

Yet it wasn’t waveskiing which made me first sit up and notice Kieron Davies. It was simple enough. I wanted to put some sisal carpet down in my house but when I visited an established local shop I was told that it was just too difficult, for which I read, ‘not worth their while’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve since realised that given the difficulties involved with such tough material it probably wasn’t worth their while. But despite this I was told to ring Kieron at K2 Carpets and sure enough his can-do, nothing’s a problem attitude prevailed without the slightest whinge.

Originally from Plymouth, Kieron started with canoeing when he was six or seven and then progressed through from a surf shoe to white water paddling, rock-hopping and then finally paddling a ski when he was around eighteen. But it was perhaps the RAF and specifically the waveski trainer Paul Beak that really inspired what has become a lifelong passion for the sport along with numerous skis being shaped for him by Alan Neighbour of Pro Design. That, and the fact that he spent six years in West Wales (being one of the first to surf a break called The Pole just off Freshwater West) and later eight years at the Chivenor RAF Base (as it then was) just outside Braunton in North Devon where he also gained his major sponsorship deal from a local company with international reach, Saltrock Surfwear. Yet despite all of his achievements, he’s a man who is very happy with where he is in life, still skiing competitively but also longboarding and kayaking when the mood takes him.

Gareth Harrison – The shaper
Gareth Harrison is a little like the top golfer who was competing when Tiger Woods was at his peak in that coming second to Kieron would in any other era have left him with the top spot and were it not for the great man, he’d have been a national champion. But that’s not to diminish the years of high level competition which he has also been through.

Originally from Exeter, he’s been in Braunton since he was very young and first rode a waveski when he was about eleven. Then when he was about eighteen he got his own ski for around £200 and was a regular at Saunton Sands before moving on to Croyde. Originally there was the Golden Coast Waveski Club at the Thatch in Croyde run by Steve Cox, the headmaster of Challacombe School. Then there were local competitions which progressed to national ones ranging from Cornwall to Wales and Scotland. He’s won more than his fair share of trophies finishing second behind Kieron in the national championships and in the top eight in Europe at a competition held at La Torche and the top twelve in a competition held at Les Sables d’Olonne, both in France. He’s also represented Great Britain at three world championships, in Cornwall, Bakio in Spain and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

He’s a carpenter and joiner by trade and by all accounts a top one at that whose work has appeared in Country Home Magazine. But whilst he’s self-employed these days, he started out working in a furniture factory in which he had a hand in manufacturing the Kuwaiti University Library and Royal Palace which in 1990 appeared on the television at the end of the first Gulf War. It was his creative skills which then led him to making his first waveski in the Winter of 2001. Having produced one for himself, Kieron was not slow to spot the quality and ordered one too and his shaping has progressed from there.

But above all Gareth is a character who’s not only larger than life but like Kieron is positive and can-do. Someone who they call ‘The Knowledge’ for the breadth of his opinions. A family man who is always talking about his daughter Madalaine and his wife Jane. A local who knows everything that’s going on. Someone with a love for life. As for the mention of goat-boats and people making ‘baa’ noises as he paddles out, he too doesn’t care and says he enjoys the banter and specifically like doing something that is different.

But the reality is that in Kieron and Gareth they’re not just being a little bit different. They’re achieving great things abroad whilst at the same time remaining utterly true to their roots.

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). www.timkevan.com.



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