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    In search of Nature’s Wave Garden

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With surfing becoming one of the new Olympic sports for 2020, we head to Devon in the suitably sporty Astra SRi VX-Line to meet Lucy Campbell, one of the UK’s best surfers.

 

There’s a country lane that leads to Woolacombe; it’s a typically Devonian sort of road, submerged between steep banks of richly-red soil and lush vegetation. Eventually, after what feels like endless manoeuvrings to let oncoming traffic past, it crests, and you’re greeted by the most extraordinary vista: a little town perched off to the right, the expanse of the Atlantic ahead, and between them mile after mile of soft, smooth sand. It’s a sight to make anyone’s heart feel brighter, lighter, and for a surfer, ready to grab their board.


Surfing – that’s why I’m here, in fact – to find out about the latest sport to join the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I arrived late last night in Vauxhall’s latest sporty Astra, the SRi VX- Line. Its 150PS turbocharged 1.4-litre engine allowed good progress, its sports seats had a firm embrace, and its chassis proved comfortable on the long motorway stretches and agile on the twisty bits. The ‘Sport’ button that sharpens the throttle response and adds more weight to the steering was put to good use, while the reassurance of the Front Camera System, including traffic sign recognition and the ingenious lane assist (that actually nudges you back into your lane if you wander) were ideal companions on a long, dark night.


I have to admit I don’t really know the first thing about surfing beyond distant memories of Baywatch episodes. I’m not worried, though, because I’ve got an excellent teacher – one of the UK’s very best surfers, so it happens: 21-year old Lucy Campbell, the 2014 UK Pro Surf Tour Champion and multiple British Nationals winner who’s really flying the flag for UK surfing.

We meet over a bacon sandwich in the Red Barn overlooking the seafront. Mounted up high in this pub-bar are rows of surf boards, from cumbersome-looking creations dating back to the 1970s to the more sophisticated equipment of today. Up there somewhere is a board once used by Lucy’s elder brother, Stuart, also a former British champion, who now lives in Australia. Surfing clearly runs in this family.


In fact, Lucy moved to the coast with her family from further inland when she was six. Always keen to get in the water, her dad taught her to surf at the age of nine. Although she surfed with her brother growing up, it wasn’t her main athletic pastime: that was running. A keen competitor at national level in both cross-country during her teens, she had a promising career ahead of her before fracturing both feet at the age of 18. So she switched to the sea.

In 2016, Lucy set her sights on the prestigious World Surfing Tour, where the best in the world compete, and taking part in the rather brutal-sounding qualifying tour was the first step. It’s brutal because when you’re the bottom seed in a field of 48, your first round pits you against the top seed. It’s a case of sink or swim, almost literally, and Lucy did the latter, ending the year a highly creditable 13th in Europe: “I’ve got some points and I’m a higher seed now so I can do some higher-ranking events this year”, she says, underplaying her achievement somewhat.


The reality is that Lucy has had to fight hard to get where she is today, working other jobs and travelling under her own steam. In person, she’s polite, friendly, almost a bit shy, but there’s also an underlying calm confidence about her that means when she talks about the excitement of Olympic surfing, you really do believe she’ll be there representing Team GB.


“It would be amazing, incredible – every sportsperson’s dream”, she says with a broad smile.


We drive down the beach in the Astra, one of Lucy’s boards attached to the carrier on the roof. Our route takes us through tiny villages as we meander down towards the coastline, eventually reaching Putsborough at the southern end of Woolacombe beach, all part of North Devon Area of Natural Beauty.


Setting up our photo location on the rocks next to the beach, this latest Astra looks very smart. You can tell instantly that it’s the sportiest member of the Astra family; its VXR styling pack of unique bumpers front and rear, side sills and 18ins alloy wheels give this Astra a real road presence, while the distinctive LED daytime running lights ensure it really stands out.

Lucy has donned wet suit and surfing boots but isn’t going into the water today. That seems sensible to me, given that it must be freezing out there, but apparently the suit keeps you warm, and in really low temperatures it’s the air that’s painfully cold around your head.


My surfing education continues: “We paddle up to the wave and catch it and then ride on the green bit just behind the white bit, until the wave breaks,” explains Lucy.

 

What does a surfer need from a car, I wonder, attempting to steer the subject back to more familiar ground. “I need space for all my kit, considers Lucy, “so lots of space is important, and if I could get a bed in the back for long trips, that’d be good! And I’d also like a good sound system for the road trips.”

Happily for Lucy the Astra has ample space for a surfer, in fact with over 1,200 litres of storage with the rears seats down there is enough space for a whole family and we’ve taken care of the music too. Vauxhall OnStar comes as standard on the SRi VX Line and offers on-board Wi-Fi so you can stream music through certain phone apps.


Vauxhall’s OnStar feature, a kind of on-board personal assistant, also includes vehicle diagnostics, which would have been useful in her current car when it broke down on the way to a surfing competition. It’s a shame that she didn’t have a Vauxhall!


Funding for UK surfers is negligible, certainly compared with those on the opposite side of the world. If you’re lucky, and good, you can get sponsorship from supplier brands and those wanting to tap into the lifestyle element of the sport, and Lucy enjoys backing from Olympus cameras. For some female surfers, the line between sport and modelling becomes blurred, but Lucy prefers to focus on the ‘athlete’ aspects, encouraging younger girls that it’s by training hard that success is achieved.


So, I’ve increased my surfing knowledge by about 100%, but I confess I still know little beyond riding the green bit of water in front of the white bit. Driving, that I know a little bit more about.

Lucy drives us away from the beach and back to Woolacombe. It’s a relatively short journey, and we don’t go fast, but after a short while it occurs to me that Lucy has complete and immediate command of the car. In my experience, it’s highly unusual for someone to jump straight into a different car and drive it like they’ve owned it for six months, but there’s not a hesitation. It’s a very subtle thing, but there again is that quiet underlying confidence, and perhaps a sense of balance and an innate ability to control an object in motion, qualities that must surely be important when riding that wave.


Perhaps, just perhaps, that’s what you need to be an Olympic champion. Go shred those waves at Tokyo 2020 Lucy, or so I’m told those surfer dudes say…