On a sunny summer’s day down in Newquay – the UK’s surfing capital – it’s common to see surfers unloading their equipment from vehicles parked up on the seafront. What’s more unusual, however, is for one of the neoprene-clad figures to boast a tidy bob of grey hair.
Indeed, wave riding is usually associated with youth culture, and the image that springs to mind is a tanned twentysomething hanging loose rather than an OAP. But 72-year-old local surfer Gwyn Haslock has never been one for following conventions. Back in the 1960s she was one of the first women to take to the water in a sea full of men.
‘The first surfboard I ever saw belonged to a local lifeguard,’ she recalls, while pulling her board out of the back of the Audi A6 Avant. ‘I asked to have a go and they said only if I could carry it on my own. Back then the boards were more than 11ft long and were very heavy, so I struggled, but I wasn’t going to let them know that. I carried it down to the sea and had a go: I was immediately hooked.’
Since then Gwyn has rarely been out of the ocean. In 1967 she became the first British female surfing champion, and in the following years she continued to be successful on the burgeoning competition circuit. Getting older put an end to her competitive career but not her passion for the sport, and she still goes surfing as often as possible – usually three times a week on average.
Down in the water, you can immediately spot Gwyn’s pedigree. She paddles out confidently into the chop, before turning and catching a glassy-looking wave that is about to break. With uncanny grace, she’s back up on her feet within seconds and charging down the face of the water, aiming straight for our camera lens. In the shallows, the power goes out of the wave, so she hops off her board and asks: ‘Same again?’
It’s clear that Gwyn isn’t ready to hang up her wetsuit yet, but we do wonder how long she is planning to keep on surfing. ‘As long as I can,’ comes the defiant answer.
‘Getting older has made me adapt my style and I no longer go out on big days,’ she explains. ‘I’ve started wearing a wetsuit even in summer now, because my body feels the cold more than before, and I also wear a helmet to protect my head. However, my body still feels like it’ll be good to go for some time – but when I do get too old to surf, it won’t stop me from heading out into the water. Nothing beats watching the sunset while being rocked by an awe-inspiring force that makes you feel almost insignificant, yet still part of a much larger scheme.’
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Written by John Silcox. Photographs by Sebastian Nevols
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