Surf Champion turns Champion of Surf
PUBLISHED: 12:38 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 15:19 20 February 2013
Five times British Surf Champion, Robyn Davies, has become the National Trust's new Surf Project Officer. In this August issue we find out what this role entails
Ian Wilkinson meets Robyn Davies, Champion of Surf for the National Trust
In March this year, Robyn Davies, five times British Surf Champion, was appointed to her job as Surf Project Officer for the National Trust in Devon and Cornwall. She is unequivocal about her new role. "I am so passionate about the wonderful natural resource that is our unspoilt coastline. If you take pleasure out of something, I really believe that you should put something back, and my job is to get that message across to people, and to encourage them to help the Trust in the work it does to preserve this priceless legacy."
The National Trust looks after some 700 miles of coastline, and perhaps not surprisingly, Devon and Cornwall was the first region in the UK to respond to requests from the surfing community, who wanted to get more involved in the Trust's coastal work. "The great thing about our coastline is the view looking back to the land from the sea," says Robyn. "It still looks wild and untamed - so different from many coastlines around the world, which are overdeveloped. It's thanks to the National Trust and its many supporters and volunteers that we can continue to enjoy it."
Robyn was born in Surrey. "Totally landlocked!" she laughs. But at the age of five her family moved to Helford on the Lizard. "I think of myself as Cornish and it's certainly where my heart is!" The family home looked out onto the Helford River. "The home of sailing - certainly not surfing," says Robyn. "In fact, when I started surfing I used to wake up in the morning, look out the window and think 'if only there was a wave breaking around that point'."
Robyn started surfing at a very young age. "My father used to take my brother and I after school, and the beaches were empty. Hardly anyone used to surf in those days so we taught ourselves. We had secret spots where no one would go and at that time I imagined that they would stay secret forever!"
As time passed, some of her friends began to surf and they introduced her to other surfers. She was amazed to discover that a whole culture had grown around the sport worldwide, and that even in England competitions were being organised. At the age of 17 Robyn was persuaded to enter the English Nationals in Newquay.
"I got a podium place as well," she says with a smile. "There were only four contestants and I came fourth!"
Nevertheless, it was to be the start of a career in the world of competitive surfing. Two years later she won the British Nationals in Wales. "I was at university in Wales at the time," she tells me. "Shortly after winning the Nationals I was offered a sponsorship deal and I had to decide between student life and a career in professional surfing. It had to be surfing!"
Robyn won a further four British and English Championships and represented the UK on no less than ten occasions at the International Surfing Games - the equivalent of the Olympics in the surfing world. She has reached the finals of several championships on the World Tour, with some notable successes against world-champion surfers. In her last year of competition she was rated fifth in Europe.
Three years ago, however, her career was ended by injuries sustained in a serious car accident. The road to recovery was long but it gave Robyn time to think about what really mattered to her.
One day, walking a cliff-top path to a 'secret' surfing beach, she discovered that the steps down to it had been washed away. "I suddenly realised how dependent we are on the National Trust and the hundreds of volunteers who help to maintain the coastline and the coastal paths. I had taken so much - now I wanted to give something back." She started to do voluntary work for the Trust, and at the same time became an ambassador for Surfers Against Sewage.
The Trust, for their part, began to explore the possibility of engaging with the vast numbers of people who, for one reason or another, use and enjoy the coastline that they help to maintain. Surfers and other watersport users make up a significant proportion of this group, and so last year it was decided to appoint a surf project co-ordinator. As might be expected, the job attracted widespread interest. "I felt really honoured to be appointed," says Robyn. "My life was going in the direction that I wanted and I felt that I could really make a worthwhile contribution to something that had given me so much over the years."
Some of her work involves developing relationships with individuals and organisations such as the British Surfing Association, and harnessing support for the Trust's conservation and regeneration projects. It is hoped that surfers will be prepared to give some of their time to help with environmental projects such as the clean beaches campaign - a cause already dear to most surfers' hearts. And the initiative is not just directed at surfers. Walkers, canoeists, windsurfers, swimmers of all ages and even those who just come to the beach for a lazy day out, all enjoy the same feeling from the sea and the coastal environment and all have something - however small - to contribute.
At present, much of Robyn's effort is directed at the young people of Devon and Cornwall. She is busy developing volunteering opportunities, organising events and managing eco-surf lessons - usually through the schools. "We find that around 30 children are a manageable number - about the size of an average class group." Normally schools set aside a half day, and Robyn arranges for them to meet the local wardens who explain to them how the coastline is managed and point out the different wildlife habitats, how the sand dunes and footpaths are managed and all sorts of other things to help them build up an overall picture. "So it's not just about surf - and it's all done in a fun sort of way. Kids don't like to be lectured at - no one likes to be lectured!"
After the children have met the wardens they get kitted out in wetsuits and handed over to one of the licensed surf schools, who teach them about beach and surf safety. Then it's into the water for some basic coaching in surfing. "The surf schools which use our land and beaches have been really supportive and give their time freely," says Robyn. "The kids go away really buzzing! Hopefully we have encouraged them not just to take up surfing but also to have an appreciation of our coastline, and perhaps instilled a sense of pride and ownership. What's more, apart from transport, it's absolutely free for the school!"
Surfing, like any other sporting activity, is not entirely free from risk of course, and I ask Robyn for some tips for youngsters just starting out. "Get lessons - preferably from a British Surf Association approved school," she says. "Also, go to a beach with lifeguards and talk to them about possible hazards. And never surf alone!"
And a message for all surfers? "Surfers are, more than most, entirely submerged in their environment! When they get to the beach they look beyond it to the sea. All they want is the perfect wave, but surfers should be looking at the bigger picture."
In Robyn Davies, the National Trust and those who love our coastline have acquired a real champion. All of us, not just surfers, should heed her message.
National Trust, Devon and Cornwall Regional Office, Lanhydrock, Bodmin (Tel: 01208 74281, www.nationaltrust.org.uk); British Surfing Association (www.britsurf.co.uk); Surfers Against Sewage (www.sas.org.uk)