I met Kirsty Hill huddled in a warm hotel foyer in Newquay as we both watched a brutal mess of white water relentlessly batter Fistral Beach. There was no surfing that day, but there was a lot to learn and be inspired by. A landlocked surfer turned Cornish blogger, Kirsty followed her passion for waves and relocated from the Midlands to the South West, sharing her experiences on Kernow Surfgirl as she goes. Kirsty is quiet, humble and has no idea of her strength and bravery, but her dedication to her passions and her pursuit of waves is an inspiration for fledgling surfers everywhere. No matter the challenge, Kirsty remains permanently stoked about surfing and accepts the lessons it teaches set after set.
Inspired by her bravery and kindness, I caught up with Kirsty after our week with Surf Sistas, to share her journey and her joy and find out what keeps her getting back in the water time and time again.
How long have you been surfing for?
Five years. I had my first surf lesson in Cornwall seven years ago but didn't surf again after that until two years later.
I lived in the West Midlands at the time and thought geography was a real barrier, until a friend suggested we do a day trip to North Devon. I thought he was crazy driving all that way in a day to surf but we did it and it was awesome! That was like a lightbulb moment. From there we did day trips as often as we could and spent holidays in Devon and Cornwall.
Then two years ago I relocated to Cornwall so I've surfed a lot more since then.
What drew you to it?
I fell in love with the lifestyle before I even thought about getting on a surfboard! I loved the surf shops - the clothes, the smell of surfboard wax and musicians like Jack Johnson. I loved the simpler, laid back way of coastal living that goes hand in hand with surfing.
I'd always been fascinated by the sea but until that first surf lesson, I'd never even paddled or been swimming in the sea. It frightened me I guess but one summer I watched a group of surfers at Polzeath and was in awe of what they were doing. It looked so effortless, fluid and graceful and I wanted to try it.
That first surf lesson was only ever intended to tick something off my bucket list. I never imagined just how much of an impact it would have and how life changing it would become!
What have been your biggest hurdles when learning to surf?
The geography to begin with. Being landlocked is frustrating as you can't surf very often. The key to progression is to surf frequently, it can feel like taking one step forward and three backwards.
I also really struggled with my pop-up for three years. I kept going to my knees and had pretty much given up until this year when a coach showed me a method which really worked for me. I got back on a foamie and practised a lot on a longboard. I still feel that knee creep in at times but it's so much better than it was!
And your biggest triumphs?
There's a couple that spring to mind! Over the summer, I joined a surf club. The first time we paddled out back it was about shoulder high and I was on my longboard. I was scared of the board and those walls of whitewater! I had to turtle roll a lot and by the time I got out back I was knackered and shaking! But the coach from the club was really patient and said something quite profound when he realised how scared I was. He said "the wave of your life is on the other side of fear". He coaxed me onto a wave, gave the tail a little nudge as I paddled and I caught my first shoulder high wave. It felt incredible and I didn't come down for days afterwards!
To have the feeling of that wave encapsulated in a photo meant so much and restored a lot of faith in my surfing.
The second one happened a few weeks ago. Since the start of the year I'd set myself a goal of getting a picture of me surfing a decent sized wave. It was a dreamy day at Fistral - perfect conditions and blue, sunny skies. The line-up was unusually quiet and because I was on my longboard, I could get into the waves early. I picked off a left which is my backhand and more of a challenge for me but I caught it and shot down the open face. It was one of the bigger head high set waves. When I saw the photo afterwards, I couldn't believe it!
Let's talk about women and surfing, do you feel girls have a harder time getting into the sport?
I think there's a lot of misconceptions which prevent girls from getting into surfing which perhaps men don't think about.
I think women do have a harder time getting into it and it's a shame that those limiting self beliefs prevent them from doing so.
From my own experience, I've spoken to dozens of women who've told me why they could never try surfing for numerous reasons - "I'm not fit enough", "I'd look awful in a wetsuit", "There's no way I'd be able to stand up", "I'm not confident enough", "I've got no-one to try it with" etc. So yes, I think women do have a harder time getting into it and it's a shame that those limiting self beliefs prevent them from doing so. That's why women only clubs, events, holidays etc are such a good idea because in the right environment, those beliefs can be broken down in an instance.
Do you feel there is more awareness about getting girls in the water?
Definitely! It's been awesome to see so many female only surf clubs and surf events spring up this year in Cornwall alone - not just for existing surfers but for women who want to try surfing for the first time. Plus there's female only surf holidays and intensive courses run by organisations like Surf Sistas who've introduced some amazing new surf retreats this year. I've come across landlocked surfers groups and clubs too which facilitate regular trips to the coast.
I think social media is helping to spread the message too.
You relocated to Cornwall to pursue surfing - how did that come about?
We'd toyed with the idea for a while. I was on a work from home contract with my job so I could work from anywhere and my husband had had enough of long commutes and teaching. Then after a Cornwall holiday 2 years ago, we stopped on the way home and I burst into tears in the motorway services. It was a weird homesickness kind of feeling for a place I didn't want to leave.
When we got home, we talked again and decided to go for it. We put the house up for sale and it sold within a week which told us it was meant to be. My husband quit his job and 3 months later we were in Cornwall!
Any advice for someone considering doing the same?
Go for it! Otherwise you'll look back and wonder what could have been. But be prepared for a different way of living. Life's slower and more laid back and it doesn't suit everyone. It's not about big careers, status and earning lots of money down here but the rewards are the ocean on your doorstep, spectacular views and so much more to do.
If you're into surfing, being outdoors and living simply, you'll love it like I do!
What's your favourite beach to surf and why?
Polzeath. It's really mellow, great for longboarding and you can get some really long rides. But the beach I surf most at is Watergate Bay as it's near my home.
Mawgan Porth will always feel special too as it's the place where I first learnt to surf.