OPINION: From Bali to Barnstaple - Stephanie Conway

North Devon Gazette

In surfing, the take-off moment happens when the wave you’ve paddled towards lifts your board up so that it feels like you could almost fly.Â

What you do next decides your fate: pop up and take the ride or miss and fall to the ocean's mercy. Everyone wants to ride the barrel of life and come out looking like Kelly Slater. But the most teachable moments come from falling from our board, plunging into the unknown, and having our body dragged along the seabed as we stare death in the face.

In the chaos of being thrown around like a missing sock in the wash, you might find a moment to make peace with your fate. But finally, hopefully, the wave subsides and you emerge at the surface, gasping for air, thinking; ‘wow, I’m alive!’Â

You may have left behind your dignity, parts of your swimsuit, and a string of snot along the ocean floor, but you’ve experienced the sweet fragility of life, and lived to tell the tale.Â

If you sit on the edge of the lineup, you’ll avoid the risk altogether. But you’ll also make no progression. Whatever type of surfer you choose to be, dictates the rest of your life. Take your chance and go blindly into the swell, or stay on the side-lines and miss out on the magic.Â

Whether it’s confessing your love for the first time, tasting street food in Vietnam, or quitting your nine to five to start a new business venture, there's some degree of risk in everything worth doing. But if you never try, you'll never know what you're made of. Â

I’ve thrown myself into the abyss enough to know that it’s the events we perceive as failures that teach us the biggest lessons.Â

In 2019, I worked from my laptop on a beach in Bali before the pandemic engulfed my world. A force powerful enough to close my business, send me to British shores and ground me for the foreseeable.Â

If I had known my time in paradise would be cut short, I might have laughed a little louder, danced a little longer, and swam a little deeper. But as borders began to close after a decade spent abroad, a job offer brought me to North Devon for the first time in my life. A new adventure.Â

Moving to a new place without knowing anyone can be daunting. Add a global pandemic in the mix and you might find yourself staring at the four walls of your bedroom wondering, ‘what next?’ Â

Covid-19 has taken so much from us all, forcing us to face the depths of the unknown in one way or another. But in being released from the rip current of lockdowns, we've found our way to the surface - with a sense of hope for a better future.Â

Hiya, I’m Stephanie. A Northern lass turned North Devon blow-in, who landed in this bonny place during lockdown. “But why North Devon?” I hear you ask. After learning to surf the crystal-clear reef breaks of Southern Lombok from Tanjung Aan to Gerupuk Bay, I chose North Devon as the stunning backdrop to continue my newfound love of surfing… and can I tell you a secret? I’m awful at it! Â

Adjusting from one-piece swimsuits to head-to-toe neoprene, and from predictable reef breaks to the wild waves of North Devon is such a humbling experience.Â

In the beginning, it felt like paying to freeze my bits off, whilst desperately trying not to drown. But as a new girl in town, surfing was the gift that helped me make new friends to jump in (and out) of the sea with.Â

So, I’ll be using this weekly column to write about all things surfing in North Devon - from the community groups that have welcomed me to the area, to point locations and events, to profiles on some of the most interesting people I’ve encountered along the line-up. Catch you next week!