Special Dispatch: Coast Cafe, Newquay
54 Fore Street
01637 854 976
by Al Penn
The sport of surfing thrums with an undertone of sublime mystery. Its ideal participant is a winsome, yet monosyllabic loner; blonde of hair and blue of eye, he stares into the middle distance, head cocked attentively, all senses alert to the possibility of a killer wave. This quest for perfection is among the loftiest of all endeavours. It's a straightforward metaphor for more transparently spiritual pursuits. To ride the perfect wave is achieve Nirvana, or to enter Heaven. It is a death in the midst of life.
Pro surfers don't concern themselves with any of that, of course, or at least very few of them do. Like all successful sportsmen they're interested in ranking points, sponsorship deals and the acquisition of trophies rather than enlightenment. To further these worldly ends the very best that either hemisphere can offer are gathered at Fistral Beach, here in Newquay, for the Rip Curl Boardmasters Festival of Surf.
We park the car on a gravelly clifftop and head down towards the beach. We're hungry. The sea air and unwonted exercise will do that to you. And you'll go to bed early and wake up late and blame your aches and pains on the unfamiliar mattress rather than the sudden employment of ageing, forgotten muscles.
Coast is a small place. The décor is determinedly mid-Atlantic, as much Nantucket as Newquay; it's run and staffed by a co-operative of handsome, unhurried women who have a similarly washed-out yet comfy look about them. A baby is passed around amongst them as they take and prepare our order. It's almost like a parlour game for the Cornish genteel. So Coast is no greasy spoon. Oddly, there's no real odour of food in the place. The calm-eyed ladies seem to magic the fare up without getting their hands dirty. My wife challenges them with bacon and tomatoes. I plump for a discreet ham and cheese toastie.
The act of cooking snack food may lack the metaphysical resonance of surfing, but it too is all about maintaining equilibrium. And my hasty breakfast proves to be nicely balanced. The coffee is excellent, strong enough, and not too bitter. My toasted sandwich is perfect, crisp but not burnt, the cheese is fully molten yet net neither greasy nor inedibly hot. As a special, unexpected treat I get to finish my daughter's ice cream (she's an eccentric eater). Breakfast for two-and-a-half comes to exactly a tenner. “Neat,” I think.
On the beach, minutes later, and on flat water, Brazilian maestro Pedro Henrique surfs a miraculous 9.70 straight at us, finishing up no more than twenty yards away. It's the best ride of the week. “Also neat,” I say. The wife nods, staring calmly out to sea.