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Places to Call Home: Johnny Wallbridge is from Guernsey

 

 

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Wallbridge, a British National Surf Champ and owner of Yakwax surf and skate 

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 21 December, 2015 - Nestled in the English Channel, the small island of Guernsey is not the first place you would come up with if asked to name a surfing hotspot. It might not have the history of Oahu, the surf tourism of Bali, or the huge crowds of Bondi Beach in Australia, but what the island lacks in all of these categories it more than makes up for with its beautiful coastal scenery, strong onshore winds, and surfing community spirit. Everyone on the island is so friendly, and more than willing to point you in the direction of the very best spots the island has to offer.

The island is not big at all, with the total area measuring a mere 30 square miles. While this means there are not miles upon miles of coast to choose from, it does mean that whenever the surf is good, you’re never far away from one of the best spots. Guernsey is famous for its natural beauty, with each coastline offering something unique for visitors. Expect to see spectacular offshore rocks and reefs, characterful cliffs, and white sandy bays, as well as reminders of a darker war-time past in the many towers and forts that are dotted around.

Guernsey, or ‘the Rock’ as it is known locally, is a pretty cool place to grow up and live. As there are only 66,000 islanders, we have a deep feeling of community, and nowhere is this more evident than down on the beaches. The surfers on the island all know one another and it really does feel like one big family. I’m fortunate to have grown up with a group of guys who surf on Guernsey, we’re all about the same age and are always trying to push each other to new heights when we get out there. Like all surfers, we’re always eager to travel together and experience great new locations, but we always look forward to hitting the waves when we get back home.


(From left to right): Dan, Jake, Johnny the author, Tom

 

Surfing on Guernsey can be an absolute blast if the conditions are right. The island often benefits from very strong onshore winds, which as we know isn’t what you want for good waves but when they’re blowing here it means our beach breaks will be in their best condition. They can get quite powerful and have some great shape, which they usually lack in an offshore wind, which makes it unique. When the forecast points to one of these wind and swell combinations, everyone is keeping one eye on the surf, ready to dive in at a moment’s notice.

The Rock is home to a decent variety of waves, and I think the best place to start is the hub of Guernsey surfing, Vazon Bay. The bay is the largest and most popular on the island, and has a number of good spots contained within. Vazon is where pretty much every Guernsey surfer learns the ropes, and I still have fond memories of trying to stand before plunging headfirst into the wash. The bay is home to the Guernsey Surf School, which is the island’s only surf school. The school provides regular classes for those looking to catch the surfing bug. One of my favourite things about Vazon Bay is the beach café, which serves up an excellent full-English breakfast. Perfect after a long early-morning session.

Depending on the conditions, Vazon can offer four main surfing spots. The main draw is an area known as ‘the Beach’, which offers slow, crumbly waves to make it a favourite spot amongst the local longboard community and beginners alike. During big swells in stormy winter months, the Beach can offer some very fun waves albeit a very long paddle out and some of the worst ice-cream headaches going.

Next to the beach is ‘the Reef’, which is a high tide spot that consists of a short left and right-hander. Both offer nice steep take-offs but unfortunately lack decent walls. To the left of the Reef is ‘T’others’ (short for ‘The Other Side’). It has a rock and sand bottom and offers arguably the longest right-hander on the island. On a big swell and decent sand build-up, it can have some fun and playful walls, but is generally fat and slow. It’s a favourite among the longboard riders.


Vazon Reef
 

 

At the south end of Vazon sits the island’s most high-performance wave. Known as ‘Centres’, it needs a spring high-tide and a decent swell to start breaking. It’s a personal favourite of mine, offering a nice peaky take off, which gives you enough speed to lay down big turns or boost airs. The waves have a nice sucky-ness that the rest of the spots in the bay lack. Unfortunately, due to its close proximity to shore, it gets ridiculously overcrowded, and collisions are pretty common.

Moving north is Portinfer. The majority of short-boarders choose to surf here rather than Vazon, as it picks up slightly more swell and has more power. It does close out a lot, but when you do get a good one you can snag a pretty fun wave. Portinfer attracts the vast majority of performance surfing on the island. It’s where all the boys on Guernsey have been pushing each other for years. I remember growing up watching the older crew in awe. Looking back, those are the guys that made me want to keep improving and to see what was possible for me to accomplish on a board.

Moving back south of Vazon is Guernsey’s premier spot. Perelle is situated behind a little island called Dom Hue. Here at high tide, you can find a decent left with a slab-like take off when it’s big, and a fun playful point break style right which can handle the best of swells. This spot is best left to the guys that know what they’re doing, as it’s extremely rocky. When you take off on the right you can be mere inches away from scraping your hands against sharp granite. Novices can get into quite a bit of trouble out here if their paddling isn’t strong and they don’t have a good duck dive on them. There is a real danger of being washed into the jagged outcrop of rocks surrounding the small Island that the waves break behind.

Guernsey is an amazing place to grow up and live thanks to the island’s natural beauty and the thriving surf community. The more I travel the world, the more I realise just how good we have it over here. And that’s why I’m proud to call Guernsey home.

Tags: 
Guernsey, Channel Islands, UK, France, Europe, Travel Blogs, Blogs, Home Spots, Places to call home
Author: 
Johnny Wallbridge
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