There’s a fierce heat radiating from the time-blackened wood burner in the Kings Arms. It embraces the leather sofas, cocooning them in a reassuringly narcotic warmth, offering a place to relax. It is a refuge from the aching chill, an antidote to the frigid ocean, a place to thaw in conversation, to relive waves ridden and lay plans for the next trip. The Devonian coastline has a unique fingerprint – hills of gently rolling baize, verdant lanes lead to furrows of reef and golden sand. Cobblestone points that awaken in only the fiercest winter storms lie beside inviting expanses of beach, eagerly welcoming in any passing swell. Here the villages are chocolate box pretty, the waters Malibu busy. Sometimes escape comes not only in waves ridden, but also in quiet corners sought out.
For Sophie Hellyer, The Kings offers sanctuary after the shock of the icy Atlantic. “Surfing in the UK winter can be testing,” she says, golden hair catching the light as she leans into the warmth of the fire. “It can be so cold and the waves can be terrible. But then I get up the next day, check the webcam and go surfing again. Being a British surfer means embracing the conditions, persistence, self motivation and positivity.” And that means not just the travel, the new locations, the warm beaches, it means looking forward to the cold days, the rain-swept winter’s mornings when the dense cold wind rolls off the hills and rakes the line-ups. “When winter comes around I can’t wait to surf the reefs around North Devon, “ says Sophie. “Most of them don’t break over summer and it’s also way less crowded so more waves for me,” she adds with a trademark smile.
North Devon is a competitive place to be a surfer, but it’s clear Sophie isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. “My dad and sisters surf, and we lived right by the beach, so it was only natural for me to join in. I actually learnt on a camping holiday at Polzeath in Cornwall, then kept up with it back home at Westward Ho! I was really lucky that my dad sorted me out with wetsuits so I could surf all year.” Having mastered the basics, Sophie was soon pushing on, pushing boundaries, “I seem to remember making this progression pretty quickly,” she says, casting her mind back. “In my first year of surfing I won both the British Schools and English Junior Nationals. I remember paddling out the back one time when Dad left me to it on quite a sizey day, and the surprised look on dad’s face when he saw me appear out there, I felt pretty proud of myself.” While the intense line-ups may have sculpted her style and tenacity, it is not competition that drives her, her goals for the future are simple. “To smile and laugh everyday, and enjoy whatever it is I’m doing. I love any adventure, hanging out with friends, seeing what mischief we can find!”
Words: Chris Nelson
Published on Finisterre