“Through Clouds and Water”

An obsession with cold water surfing on Britain's industrial coast

"The waves are best in the winter, when there's a bigger swell but you can come out with icicles hanging off your face," says British documentarian Tom Elliott. "We shot the film in December and January, when guys go in wearing 5mm-6mm thick neoprene suits, hoods, gloves and boots." It's a long way from the beaches of Hawaii, California and Australia to the icy coastline of England's industrial North East.

“You can come out with icicles hanging off your face”

Better known for steel mills and chemical refineries than surfboards and Ambre Solaire, its cities seem an unlikely place to find men who live to ride the perfect wave. But it's here beside the goods-yards and the chimneys that filmmaking team Tom Elliott and Simon Reichel — known as A Common Future — have made a compelling discovery: the smokestack surfer dude. Driving past the port of Middlesborough one day, Reichel was reminded of a friend who had studied there but said he spent his whole time surfing. The coastline was a bleak mass of heavy machinery – could this really be the place?

"There's a famous surf spot called The Gare at the mouth of the river Tees that has world-class waves," says Elliott, who was invited into the world of cold-water surfing, where diehards brave pollution and freezing waters to ride the breakers on the coastline they love. "You can look back across at the factories, and it's the most uninviting place to surf ever." And how about the surfer chicks? Do they dress up warm to hang out with the boys in wetsuits? "It's different to normal surfing," he continues. "I just saw a few old people walking their dogs. For the past few decades the factories have pumped vile stuff into that river mouth. In the words of the locals, if you go on the wrong day, the water fizzes."

Source: Tom Horan is Culture Editor-at-Large at NOWNESS

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