The Art of ‘Coasteering’ the British Isles
By KEEN Fan Alexandra Gossink
Photos by Alexandra Gossink, Geert-Jan Middelkoop, and Dim Rooker
Being on the road for a long time, you lose track of time, dates, days. Especially traveling in a campervan, two dogs in tow, doing research for a travel guide, hiking, being outdoors, and always keeping one eye on the surf.
As one of the creators of I Love the Seaside surf and travel guides, my job is to describe the best places around the known surf spots to eat, sleep, and do other activities besides surfing. Obviously I spend a good amount of my time exploring. It’s the best part of the job.
My favorite days are the ones I meet adventurous, interesting, sweet and kind people. People who proudly show me their surroundings, take me out exploring nature and the coastline, and make me try new things. Like that one day in Wales, last summer when my team and I were on a research trip on our way to Ireland. We visited Andy Middleton, the founding father of “coasteering.” His family welcomed us into their house and offered us a copious meal – made largely with ingredients out of their own garden — before Andy brought us along on an adventure.
What is coasteering?
Coasteering is a way of literally exploring the coastline, not missing one little detail. Swimming, climbing, jumping off cliffs, pulling yourself up on steep rocks: it’s the closest you’ll get to the place where the ocean shapes the land. You’ll be wearing a wetsuit and booties — or in my case, my KEEN Terradora Ethos shoes, perfect for the job!
Following Andy’s lead, we climbed along the cliffs near his hometown of St. Davids, jumped into the depths below (after he assured us it was okay), and swam from rock to rock, timing the waves and using them to climb back up again.
The ebb and flow of life on the road
When you’re traveling, time seems to speed forward at one moment, and switch to slow motion at other occasions. And at some magical point it will completely dissolve. You’ll get absorbed by something, someone, some place. It almost always happens when surfing, paddling out toward the horizon, waiting for a wave, taking a wave, letting the energy of that wave move you, or hit you, and make you feel humble.
As surfers, we let ourselves be guided by the movement of waves most of the time. So, when there is no movement to speak of in the ocean, we usually decide to go explore the shores, go inland, make a hike, climb a mountain, walk along cliffs. During our research trip in Ireland we did just that. We hiked along the famous Cliffs of Moher — amongst many of the country’s other jaw-dropping cliffs. It was part exciting, part humbling, and full-on breathtaking. I was imagining seeing us walking from down below. How scary that must look, two tiny people walking along the edge of a 200-meter-high cliff, waves crashing at its feet.
Getting lost in the moments
Creating a surf and travel guide takes far more than just cruising along the shores and see what the waves will do. It means you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone more than once, get lost, get stuck at unknown places and territory, briefly step into people’s lives and move on again, make schedules and plans only to break them, have patience or hurry up, endure any kind of weather, and pray for the light to be perfect for your pictures. But in the end, time spent on the road, traveling, exploring, being outdoors, meeting new faces and to be able to do this job, is time well spent. Even if it means you lose track of it. We wouldn’t wish it otherwise.
5 DON’T-MISS SPOTS FROM WALES TO IRELAND
1. Snowdonia National Park in Wales is one not to miss. Whether you’re into hiking, cycling, climbing, canyoning or kayaking, the largest national park of Wales offers a beauty of a playground with its mountains, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes. And of course there’s always a wave, even when there are no waves, at Surf Snowdonia. In a man-made lagoon in the countryside they’ve created a 150-meter-long wave that can be surfed any day of the year.
2. Play for the planet, and enjoy one of the many outdoor adventures with TYF. The outdoor company based in Pembrokeshire, Wales, does not only offer a gazillion different adventurous stuff like coasteering, kayaking, climbing, or surfing, they’re focused on sustainability and social awareness, and guiding other companies to be able to do the same. They’ve a passionate staff and all levels of skill and ability are welcome.
3. Walk along one of the many don’t-forget-to-breathe beautiful cliffs of Ireland. Although well-known, the Cliffs of Moher should nevertheless be on your tick-list.
4. Visit the tiny town of Ennistymon in the county Clare, Ireland. We love it to bits. It has a rural feel, but all the right places to sit down for an organic meal or fair-trade coffee, a vegan salad with edible flowers on top. The Food and Craft fair on Sunday has all local goodies on offer, especially look out for the fruits and vegs from the nearby Moy Hill Farm.
5. Try surfing, kite surfing, SUPing, or wind surfing at Dingle peninsula, southwest coast of Ireland. Its vast beaches and choice of bays make for perfect playground for beginners to advanced levels of water sports. Besides, the backdrop is jawdropping!
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