A dedicated group of sofa surfers (I include myself in that category), the idea is to cram as many different water-based activities as we can manage in a short space of time without developing webbing between our toes. Our coastal playground is the Gower Peninsula.
The Gower Peninsula
I grew up on the edge of Britain’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This wondrous wilderness reaches out into the Bristol Channel from Swansea, Wales’ second city – it’s a bit like having Cornwall on the doorstep of Manchester. But while my childhood friends pulled on their winter wetsuits and hit the surf, I would happily watch from the shore, or even better, from the warmth of a car with the heaters on full blast.
There’s no hiding place this time
We put ourselves in the hands of the Venture Pursuits Team run by the City & County of Swansea council, which in school term time takes care of tens of thousands of children and young people from all over South Wales. The facilities are superb and everything works like clockwork, but that’s just the half of it. The heart and soul of the operation are the instructors. Chris and Tony, who guide us every step of the way, have over 30 years’ knowledge and experience between them. They make every step of the journey as enjoyable as a family afternoon in front of the telly with a boxed set of Terry Gilliam DVDs in one hand and a family-sized New York Cheesecake in the other.
Our first challenge is surfing. The venue is Rhossili, an expansive bay with Worm’s Head at one end jutting into the sea and the mountainous sand dunes of Llangennith at the other. Conditions are ideal for beginners and the kids take to it like the proverbial ducks to water. Finlay is first to his feet, riding the two feet waves to shore, and Minnie’s not far behind.
Considering her father has watched Point Break a dozen times or more, I am little more than embarrassing, struggling to paddle out from the shore and demonstrating all the dexterity of a giraffe on rollerblades when trying to catch a wave. No matter. I believe the official terminology to describe the expression on the kids’ faces as they emerge from their first surfing lesson is ‘stoked’.
Next up is the coasteering. To an idiot layperson like myself it involves throwing oneself off a cliff, supremely confident in the knowledge that no danger lurks below. You wear a helmet and a buoyancy aid, which helps when you’re paddling your way around to the next jump. It’s terrific fun and daunting enough to make you proud of your achievement. It’s amazing seeing two children chuck themselves fearlessly into the surf below, empowered by the confidence given to them by their enthusiastic tutors.
Offering yet another uninformed assessment, kayaking is rowing with grace and power – and the kind of sore shoulder muscles afterwards that make you feel like you’ve been wrestling a bear. But it’s worth it, really it is.
Just like the surfing, the kids are naturals, while their dad demonstrates his famous clumsiness in front of an audience of hundreds, colliding with Finlay, capsizing my kayak and condemning a waterproof camera to a watery grave. While the kids make a break for it in the direction of North Devon, I spend the next four and a half hours pacing up and down Port Eynon hoping the waves have washed the camera to shore. Finally, the tide retreats and the kids find the camera in exactly the spot it was lost. They celebrate like they’ve backed the heroic victor of The X Factor final and are handsomely rewarded with ice cream. Everyone’s a winner!
Our final jaunt in this odyssey of water-based activities is sailing. The most traditional activity of the lot, by this point in our mini-marathon an element of fatigue has set in and we are all grateful to be led to a relatively sheltered corner of Swansea Marina by our sailing teacher, Jonathan.
Minnie demonstrates the most guile and determination of us all, which seems to be the qualities required for the task. If you can imagine a more intriguing version of dodgems, that just about sums up dinghy sailing the George way. Of all our activities, it provides the surprise hit. ‘That was great fun,’ says Finlay, before ploughing his way through a Nutella sandwich, the snack of champions throughout our watery escapade.
So surfing, coasteering, kayaking and sailing all get a resounding thumbs-up, framed by the most scenic settings you could find anywhere in Britain. If you’re under the impression that this kind of adventure is only for the super-fit and hardy, then think again.
If this bunch of lightweights can do it, anyone can. And for parental incentive, what can be better than the feeling of your teenage daughter reaching out to hold your hand, when you thought that sort of gesture was a thing of the past. OK, so it was uphill and she was tired, but still...