Tag Archives: The Beachnik

London Surf Film Festival

 

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View of the Thames from Riverside Studios

The London Surf Film Festival is almost upon us again, running this year from 11th to 14th October at Riverside Studios. Details of the line-up and tickets info at surf.http://www.londonsurffilmfestival.com/

Here is my review of last years inaugural event for A1 Surf. And why not?

London Surf Film Festival – Friday 14th October 2011

If I’m honest, I was a little perturbed when I initially heard about the first ever London Surf Film Festival. Could Surf culture be promoted from such land-locked confines? Indeed, would anybody turn up?  I needn’t have worried.

We arrived to the offer of a free glass of beer from Jeremiah Weed Brews which set the tone for the relaxed laid-back atmosphere of the night. Riverside Studios is a terrific venue for this event – no ocean, but a river… a decent selection of wines, good food and great service. It was a sold-out, packed out event, but the atmosphere was chilled and relaxed, with personal intros to the films from the organizers, and rounds of applause for the attendant Shorty filmmakers.

And so to the films: put the bit between your teeth now, but Kai Neville’s Lost Atlas left me cold. Endless shots of tricks are not for me.  But it’s modern, and I hear it’s extremely good if you’re into progressive stuff, so give it a go if you are. There’s lots of it.

Dark Fall from Alex DePhillipo had an interesting premise, following a gang of dedicated New Jersey surfers who suffer the freezing and disturbingly brown waves of their home break for the love of surf. A supposed relief trip to Tahiti is initially flat and frustrating, but Teahupo’o soon delivers. The endless roll-call of names is annoying but in the end, the love wins out.

But the star of the night, predictably perhaps, had to be Stoked and Broke. With little more than some pram-wheels, bamboo, and a knowledge of square lashing, Director Cyrus Sutton and equally endearing side-kick Ryan Burch take to the road to follow the surfari dream with no money but a lot of charm. Surfing highlights include Cyrus’s hand-plane sessions, Ryan’s polystyrene, er, float, and some great waves at Blacks Beach. Yes, it’s funny, and life-enhancing too, as the not-so-hapless duo blag, hustle and busk their way south; but there is a serious issue here too: about getting the balance right between freedom and security. Oh, and if you’re in Cali, eat at the La Jollo Cheese shop. Don’t ask questions, just do it…

Downsides? On this night, anyway, the strongest representation of women was a repeated shot of a shore-bound beauty in a pink Billabong bikini – but a lovely Tahitian man in Dark Fall shyly reminded us that according to legend the first to surf Teahupo’o was a woman.

I would like to have seen more of the distinctive flavour of British surfing; some Mickey Smith would have been good.  But this is where the Shorties came in, on this night ably represented by Tim Davies’ Rubber Tracksuit, Steven Clarey’s 12 months in 5 minutes and Nicky Woodhouse’s Fluid Juice; but my personal favourite of the festival (the fabulous ‘Wreckers’ notwithstanding) would have to be Shayne House’s H2R.  And on the Sunday there was the World Premiere screening of Through the Whisky Barrel, by Scottish filmmaker Allyn Harper, so there is the promise of more home-grown films to come.

I loved the vibe at the first ever London Surf Film Festival, but feared that, given its location, it might be too corporate and distanced from the real thing. There I said it. This was not true on the night, let’s keep it that way.

Thanks again to A1Surf for the tickets!

 

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St Ives

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When I was a little girl, my mother asked me where I envisaged living when I was grown-up.  Straight away I said ‘a fishing village by the sea’, as if there were a great demand for the same inland.  I don’t remember where it came from; what image had so influenced my young mind.  Perhaps I had just finished reading Enid Blyton’s The Island of Adventure and was dreaming of rocky coves.  And true, my early years had been spent by the sea in Northern Ireland, but this was an altogether different place in my mind’s eye.  So clear was the image that I promptly scurried off to sketch the cobbled streets, picturesque harbour and cottages raised above fish cellars.  I saw myself sitting on granite steps leading up to a stable door, perhaps with a few pots of geraniums for company.

So no wonder when I first came to St Ives, it felt like coming home.  I’ve been here so many times since now, that I can hardly see it to write with fresh eyes…yet there is much to say.

So what can I say about St Ives that has not been said elsewhere before?  What’s left to say about the art, the surf culture and the gourmet restaurants?  I could talk about the beaches…five, yes five in the town alone, never mind the nearby beauty of Carbis Bay, Porth Kidney Sands and beyond the Hayle estuary the long stretch of towans to Gwithian and Godrevy.  Arriving by train to St Ives your first impression will be the sweeping panorama of Porthminster Beach.  To me, Porthminster embodies the spirit of the 1930s and the dash to the Cornish Riviera; the freedom of the railways; beach huts for changing and traditional B & B’s.  But move a little closer into town and the Harbour beach, thronging with tourists in the summer months, is nevertheless a working harbour, with small fishing boats still operating alongside the tourist boat trips to ‘Seal island’(actually part of group of tiny islands off the coast called ‘The Carracks’ or literally, ‘The rocks’).  Don’t be fooled by this innocent-sounding excursion; I don’t mind admitting my mettle was challenged by my first trip.  A salty-old seadog, skipper of the tiny fishing boat we had recklessly boarded to ‘go and see the seals’ gave no warning  other than a gruff and muffled ‘might be a bit rocky out in the bay’ as we turned, too late,  out of the safe harbour waters and into the heaving swell of the North Atlantic Ocean…

The trip takes you out of your seagull-cushioned comfort zone into wild nature itself; nothing but the sea and the impenetrable granite landscape.  But first, leaving St Ives, it passes Porthgwidden, a small sandy cove which offers shallow bathing and so is popular with families with young children, and my personal favourite, the beautiful surfing beach, the mighty Porthmeor, overlooked by the Tate St Ives.  And the fifth beach?  It might be easy to miss the granite steps that lead down to small rocky Bamaluz, a place to escape the crowds and walk the dog.  You can find it near the St Ives Museum.  An old galleon compared to the Tate’s commanding great white ocean liner; the St Ives Museum is a treasure trove in respect of the town’s history.  It is here that you get a real sense of the hardship endured, of a small town trying to eek a living from the land and sea, from farming, fishing and mining.  And, especially on a day when the wind and rain lash outside and the sea is wild and raging, a real sense of the danger, and the lives lost in countless shipwrecks around the coast; and the bravery of the earliest lifeboat-men, and indeed all the townspeople, who would rally to help those in peril of shipwreck.  It is these thoughts that dominate when bouncing around, in insignificance, on that tiny fishing boat.  There was a time when, back-packing around the Greek islands I would have sat on the bow of such a small boat, shrieking with carefree laughter as my bare legs were plunged into the water.  Here, on the Atlantic, many years later, I am afraid.  Perhaps it is the passing of time: I no longer have my whole life stretching before me, with the confidence and surety that brings.  But it is also a respectful awareness of the ghosts of the lives lost in these waters.

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Alfred Wallis: The Wreck of the Alba.  The ship’s boiler, easily mistaken for black rock, can still be seen at low tide on Porthmeor beach.

 

It is easy to dismiss St Ives as a ‘tourist town’, and it is, of course: apart from the many who rent holiday homes, it attracts masses of day-trippers.  A friend of mine told me that apart from his own family and an elderly lady, every other house in his Downalong (the old fishing quarters) street is a holiday rental.  My friend was born in St Ives and has a family history, a heritage, here.  But for many young people of the town it is increasingly difficult to be able to afford to stay, with house prices being so escalated by the demand for quaint, refurbished lettings.  I could argue that it is equally hard in London (it is), but many young people in St Ives work two, sometimes three jobs in the summer months just to get by.  And I cannot help but feel dismay to notice certain outlets, once intrinsic to the town’s flavour, being driven out by high rents.  Where once it might have been enough to stay in a characterful but basic fisherman’s cottage, I now see the word ‘boutique’ everywhere, and with rumours (I saw the plans on twitter) of some ‘executive beach huts’ being built on Porthmeor,  there is some danger of St Ives smothering it’s heritage and becoming a theme park; an elitist caricature of the hardened fishing and mining village it once was; to lose the memory of a time when sea views did not come at a premium, but rather cottages were built huddled in clusters with their backs to the ocean as if for protection.  The sea was a livelihood, but to be respected and feared.

Except… it isn’t. Not yet.  Despite the economical inevitability of tourism, St Ives still has a vibrant local community, which thrives not only in the arts, theatre, surfing and much more. There is a sense of freedom and an innate connection with nature and the sea; I love to see the town’s children effortlessly back-flip off the pier at high tide, or a teenager skateboard rebelliously the wrong way down the one-way system, dodging holiday traffic, with an umbrella in the rain. There is a forward thinking buzz that extends to the towns forty or so independent restaurants which on the whole (and notwithstanding the arrival of a renowned pizza chain and a Tescos in recent years) source local produce, thus supporting ethical aims and putting money back into the local economy.

But more than that, there is still something special about St Ives.  Like an unexpected kiss on the cheek, or a happy, stoked smile from a stranger.  Just the sight of sand blowing across the cobbles on a sunny evening when you return, exhausted and ravenous from a day in the ocean or walking the coast path, or of wetsuits hanging in the street where once would have been laundry or sails.  Or maybe sitting by the Arts Club in the dead of night with the black sea crashing up over the harbour wall, there is still something residual; a character that resonates through the years and the gentrification.

I love Porthmeor beach.  The first time I saw it I knew I would be back.  It is especially beautiful in the early morning or in the evening, when the summer crowds have gone home for tea and to tuck the children up for the night in their Cath Kidston-covered duvets.   Given that it is just a short distance away from the evening revelers at the 13th Century Sloop Inn and the harbor restaurants, it can be a surprisingly quiet place for an evening stroll; to watch the sunset surfers, or when the sun sets spectacularly over Man’s Head, to star watch.

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The St Ives School of Painting backs onto Porthmeor Beach, and is currently undergoing a sensitive restoration.   It is a remarkable and unique building that brings together two elements most associated with St Ives’ Culture: fishing and art.   This type of building, fisherman’s cellars and sail lofts, once ran the length of the beach, so it is lucky to have survived not being turned into holiday apartments.  The evolution into a shared existence with artist studios assuredly helped.  As darkness falls I look jealously at the glowing embers of light from within… to have a studio here would be a dream come true.  Ah, but I might only ever be able to paint the view…

 

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THEY PAVED PARADISE

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One of the great pleasures of ‘writing’ is afternoons spent idly surfing the internet…   I mean research… research!  I’ve blogged before about how going off on a tangent often leads to little gems which I cannot resist incorporating into my writing, if only as a passing reference.  A few years ago I came across the Skewjack Surf Village.  I can’t remember exactly how, but it may very well have been via an interview with founding member Chris Tyler on Alex Wade’s Surf Nation blog from 2008 (which you can read here); either way it stuck in my imagination. 

Skewjack was created in the early seventies, the concept of a collection of individuals, including Chris Tyler and Chris South.  Although somewhat inevitably coming to an end in the mid-eighties, it remains Britain’s only ever surf ‘village’. Based in the far south west of Cornwall, near Porthcurno, it was a community of chalets, bistro, swimming pool and bar; and offered surf lessons at nearby Sennen beach; ferrying holidaymakers there and back in a converted ambulance named ‘Amy’.  Coupled with what can only be described as wild partying in the on-site disco in the evenings, Skewjack was a one-off. 

Go to ex-Skewjack surf instructor and lifeguard Graham Shephard’s website here for a browse around.  It is here, particularly in respect of the fond memories posted, that will give the best impression of the antics that went on.  And you can also view the rest of the original and now wonderfully retro brochure.  Ironically it may have been exposure on the Holiday ’76 television programme that provided the tipping point that spiraled into Skewjack’s eventual demise.  The village may have been unable to meet the demands of increasing attention, but at least it never became an institutionalised holiday camp.  When it was all over, the Skewjack premises were demolished, and the site reverted to the more prosaic purpose of a telecommunications ‘switching station’ for the transatlantic cables that come in at Porthcurno. Former adherents could only make pilgrimage to stand in dismay outside the newly installed fencing and gates, and wonder where it all went.  You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

I incorporate the legend of Skewjack, a small tribute, if you will, into my current novel/work in progress, but that said, I cannot help feeling that its story would make a fun novel in itself (perhaps I’ll write it one day?), or even better, an amusing film on the fledgling and very idiosyncratic British surfing scene.  But what really strikes me is that Skewjack serves as a reminder of how straitjacketed and puritanical our society has become: partying aside, the village was a rare cultural hub for enthusiasts at a time when surfing was still relatively counter-culture. Sadly, I suspect that fusty attitudes and increasing curbs on freedom made by those shackles Health and Safety mean that (whilst there will still be surf schools) we will never see the like of Skewjack again.  It surely deserves its place in British surfing history. 

Indeed memorabilia from Skewjack has been donated to the Museum of British Surfing which opens its doors tomorrow, 6th April 2012, in Braunton, North Devon, with its inaugural exhibition ‘The Art of Surf.  http://www.museumofbritishsurfing.org.uk/

 

  

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I’m waiting for the Day

Not everyone remembers  Gary Valentine, one of the founding members of Blondie.  He went on to pursue his more esoteric interests in the occult, but left the band with a humdinger of a song in (I am always touched by your) Presence, Dear.  (Which would itself make an apt, but perhaps slightly creepy valentine for these cybernaut times, so perhaps not…). But love this early video of Blondie in which he features, along with Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri and Clem Burke.   As we all know, BLONDIE IS A BAND, and here they take a foray into surf culture (The Bleach boys?).  Oh, and of course, there is super-cool Debbie, showing effortlessly, how to properly dance.  Take note, Madonna, Beyonce et al.

In the sun, it’s for everyone. 

A Joy Forever

 

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My new board and one of my paintings of Gwenver Beach, which is near where it was made

Some of you may have read my previous blog about how Gavin Randall of Traditional Surfing Co. very kindly loaned me one of his boards to try out when I was last in Cornwall. Well, I’m very happy to say that the garret is now filled with the wonderful aroma of linseed, as I am now in proud possession of my very own hand-crafted, eco-friendly surf-riding board.

It is a simple thing, but a thing of beauty… I have been lucky in that the grain is really nice; it even looks like there are water droplets in parts. But what makes this board really special is that it was ordered, in secret, by my daughter, not quite thirteen years old at the time as a present for my birthday which was earlier on last week. Let alone having to be sneaky with other family members’ contribution, and having to find out how a paypal account works, she came up with the idea for the graphic, which, with a little help from Gavin, resulted in what I think is a lovely and feminine logo. (I’d been thinking about trying to recreate something from one of the woodcuts from my previous post – far too fussy – but the Hibiscus flower still maintains a link to both the early female Tahitian board-riders, and their soul-surfing sisters in Hawaii).

But more than this, she kept it secret. She is not known for guile, but rather (and somewhat like her mother I suspect…) wears her heart on her sleeve: you know, ‘the correct expression for the corresponding emotion’. She famously once answered her father’s throwaway remark ‘What’s all this then?’ to the laboriously wrapped present he’d been given with the instant response ‘It’s a hammock.’ Okay she was only about four years old at the time, but it has entered legend that she cannot tell a lie. So you can imagine the torture. And also, I’m now told there were sleepless nights worrying that I might not like it. Well, I love it, and consider myself blessed to have such a wonderful daughter.

My only problem now is that I can’t wait to get it in the water. My nearest option is Brighton, but I think this beauty deserves some clear Cornish Eau de Nil waters for her maiden flight and I don’t think I can wait for my next planned trip. Going to have to put my ‘wangling’ hat on, I think.

Traditional Surfing Co. are a relatively new company but seem to be hurdling over themselves with ideas and innovation. I’d get in there quick for an original model if I were you, and I cannot praise enough their patience in helping my daughter.

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Photo by www.traditionalsurfing.co.uk

When the long trick’s over…

 

Today is National Poetry Day, and although it’s familiar to all, this poem by John Masefield was always going to find a place on this blog.  Sea-Fever was first published in 1902 in the compilation Salt-Water Ballads (Salt-Water Ballads!don’t you just want to have a crumpled original copy in your pocket at all times?).  Today I got thinking of the poem’s last words, ‘when the long trick’s over’: a trick being a journey at sea or a turn at the helm, but in this case, of course, a life.  …But the poem needs no explanation, being a perfect song of yearning.

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Image by C. Devine 2011

SEA-FEVER

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

John Masefield

Marine Girl – Learning to fly on ply

 

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Jacques Arago : “Wahine, Hawaii”, circa 1819 

 

They’re not fooling me; despite all the wisecracks about ’emmets’, the people in the far west of Cornwall are amongst the nicest and friendliest you could hope to find anywhere.  I may have visited many times now, but am still always touched and surprised that locals remember and greet me with genuine interest and warmth.  There are the waiters at the Porthmeor Beach cafe, who, despite being extremely busy at the height of the summer season, took the time to chat with me as I sat with my glass of wine watching the beautiful sunsets and star-filled skies.  There are the lovely ladies at the Allotment Deli in Fore Street who quickly bonded with me as a fellow wino – I mean, shared my love of good wine, and who gave me some complimentary lunch for the train journey home. If anyone is in St Ives do pop in and tell them their chef’s stilton quiche is just as delicious as his spelt pizza slice.

As I said, arriving by train, I usually hire a bodyboard for some fun in the waves on beautiful Porthmeor beach, but my lovely friend Nathan offered to lend me one of his.  A surfer and native to St Ives, Nathan is a law unto himself and a living embodiment of the Cornish ‘dreckly’ attitude. I was told not to worry about arrangements; if I was out he would ‘tie’ the board to the cottage door, and I should employ a similar tactic for it’s return by strapping it up somewhere in the harbour.  In the event, we met readily and easily, and I was not required to keep a length of rope upon my person at all times.

Then there was Harris of the St Ives Surf School, a young Australian in possession of the most stunning blue eyes, and who was introduced as ‘Big’ Harris, for reasons unclear and which I’m trying not to dwell on – I’m doing it now, not dwelling on it…. Anyway, Harris kindly agreed to lend wetsuits to myself and my daughter for the rest of our stay; that is, beyond the usual ‘return by 5.30 p.m.’ each day hire policy.  The reason for this is that the lifeguards do not man the beach beyond 6.00 p.m. and no-one wants to be responsible for enabling the inexperienced to kill themselves beyond this time.  A condition of my loan was to respect this. So bound by a promise to blue eyes, I found myself, when be-suited at any rate, battling once more in the crowded, cut-throat pen of holiday body-boarders, bathers and paddlers, where there is no line-up, no etiquette, and it’s every inflatable out for himself. But still, encouraged and fuelled by the easy-going kindness I have encountered, my spiritual glass, so to speak, was full.

Then to cap it all, I receive a message from Gavin of Traditional Surfing Co. http://traditionalsurfing.co.uk  asking if I’d like to try out one of his hand-shaped wooden belly-boards.  Would I?  I think the appropriate response is ‘stoked’.  I had been meaning to get over to Sennen Cove where Gavin has his workshop to take a look, but he very generously offered to drop one off and pick up again at the end of my stay.

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 Traditional surf-riding board from Traditional Surfing Co. 

 

The Traditional Surfing Co. hand-craft their boards from Marine Ply, and finish with a protective coat of linseed oil, but they can be personalised with a burnt-on logo similar to the Company one shown here.  I rather like the simplicity and minimalism of the plain oiled wood, but Gavin is also looking to source local artists with a view to being able to offer a more individual board.  

Surf-riding on wooden boards has a solid history in this country, and an even longer one around the world, and I am particularly inspired that the central characters of many of the ancient Hawaiian legends were female surfers, riding early wooden Alaia or Paipo boards.  (I’m not being sexist, previous readers will know that I have long sought ways to make my own middle-aged prone-surfing ‘cooler’ and now a doorway has been opened in my warped little mind…).

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Maids on the wave by Wallace MacKay 1874 

 

Some rudimentary advice from Gavin on technique (me: so I’m driftwood, right?  Gavin – backing quickly away -: er, yes… sort of…) and I’m away.  I’m a little concerned; the pen is crowded as usual but I venture as close to the flagged boundaries as possible, trying to find a bit of space.  It’s a bigger audience than I would have liked, and the lightweight board starts to look like an unlikely raft.  I prepare to launch, flounder and sink to the bottom of the ocean.  But I needn’t have worried; a little adjustment to timing, and suddenly I am flying!  It is a different experience to riding on foam – you are much more in the wave rather than on top of it – a bit like body-surfing with a jet-pack on your back.  Surprisingly easy to manoeuvre, just a slight pressure to the nose (the board’s not mine), and it’s a fast fun ride which I can’t resist taking all the way to the shore.  (And getting upright again with a modicum of dignity in the shallows in a wetsuit is an art in itself…).  

I love it. 

And I attract a lot of attention – there are many curious enquiries about the board;  I like to think because I was getting longer, better rides than anyone else.  My daughter, skeptical at first, soon purloins it and it becomes a battle for possession. (At nearly 13 yrs old and as tall as me, she is easily suited to it, but Traditional Surfing Co. do make smaller models for younger children).  So I am left standing on the beach, holding her foam board of yore, too contemptuous now to ride this garish float.  Outside of the water, even Nathan is curious, having not realised that these boards were being made locally again.  Initially his interest is in buying one for his mother: for many, these are the boards that they learnt on before the introduction of foam and fibreglass in the 1960’s.  But soon he and a friend are talking of signing up for the annual World Belly Boarding Championships http://www.bellyboarding.co.uk/  to be held this  weekend (September 4th) in Chapel Porth, Cornwall.  But hurry if you want to enter, registration closes at 11 a.m. tomorrow.

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The WBBC is a fun, nostalgic homage to the wooden board, and eschews the wetsuit in favour of costume.  I can get along with this, preferring where possible to go without neoprene, but personally (and channelling my ancestral Hawaiian sisters, of course) feel more akin to a grass skirt or sarong than to the preferred 1950’s-style bathing suit.  The Traditional Surfing Co. will of course be represented at this event, and Gavin will have boards for you to try – and I highly recommend that you do. But nostalgia should not be the only way forward with the belly-board.  With efforts to return to sustainability in surfing, I see no reason why wood cannot be seen as the future, and not just the past.  Surfers Against Sewage http://www.sas.org.uk/ , long at the forefront of environmentalism have recently produced an essential pamphlet on this subject, and the September issue of Wavelength magazine http://www.wavelengthmag.co.uk/ is devoted to sustainability in surfing.  Perversely, there are rumours of the market being flooded in the near future by cheaply-produced wooden boards from China, but really, why would you?  – Especially when you can buy something locally-produced, hand-crafted, and eco-friendly.

Belly-boards are equalisers: accessible for all ages and abilities, and all about the fun.  Despite the Championships (which are really more of a celebration), there is something non-competitive about them; a freedom in their elemental, leashless form and as such they are easily the Idler’s board of choice.  Now, just need to dream up that Beachnik logo…