This is the "dude from Bude" - a good sport who was happy to pose for the camera even when I warned him he might appear on a dodgy blogsite like this. I was mightily impressed with his keen sense of beach fashion that's been honed to the point where he can spot a pair of boardies that will match his tattoo. I'm sure Tony Plant,of Surftwisted fame, who I had the pleasure of bumping into on the same day could have done him justice - pictorially speaking - but he's a talented photographer, surfer & artist and I’m just not in his league.
Like Bude Dude and his family, me and mine gathered last Sunday at Praa Sands for the annual "Max Hocking" Nipper's Fun Day. For the uninitiated, this is where the junior members (Nippers) from our Cornish surf lifesaving clubs compete in various "fun" events - beach sprints, ocean wades, board races, relays and so forth. You could say this is the Early Learning Centre for future lifeguards.
The Aussies refer to these kind of events as "carnivals", and not without good reason. The gaudy assortment of beach tents staked out along the strand and the multi-coloured club caps that the shoals of kids sport makes for quite an eyeful reminiscent, as I’ve said before, of a medieval joust.
The competition was conceived years ago by Max Hocking, a long-time St Agnes club member (& Methodist minister?). Fierce inter-club rivalry is set aside for the day and competitors are divided into several teams irrespective of their club loyalty and ages. This makes for a rather relaxed event. Combine this much needed sunshine and a few basking sharks for another top day on the beach.
That there's a shadow side to a day like this is not always obvious, and in truth, it's generally better that way. I mean, who’s ever wanted to be part of a "serious" fun day?
As the BBQ’s were extinguished, the tents and wetsuits packed away, I took a moment to stand with Nigel, one of the key organisers behind the event, and watch the evening sunshine silver the waves. We reflected on how fortunate our kids were to grow up here and experience the "life of the beach".
I casually remarked that this was one spot I'd never had reason or opportunity to visit. After such a great day on the beach this was clearly a serious misdemeanour, I joked (even if Praa is the ancient Cornish word meaning "hag's" or "witch's cove" which might have been an excuse). It turned out Nigel and his family hadn't been to Praa Sands over the years much either.
Back on an August Bank Holiday in 1945 Nigel’s Father, Uncle & Aunt went in for a swim on a family day out at the very same beach. The Uncle had recently survived the battles through Italy and must have relished making it “back home” in one piece. If it was a day like our day had just been the sea would have proved irresistible. The three were dragged out by a flash rip and only Nigel’s father made it back to the same shoreline upon which we now stood.
People get involved in surf lifesaving for very different motives to do very different things. If there’s any consolation in a family tragedy like that, it’s the motivation that it has given my friend to educate, encourage and pass on the life saving skills that make the beach a safer place. Like I said, just another day at the beach.