Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Life on the Reef in Print (Boards Magazine Episodes 4 - 6)

As I mentioned a few months ago, Boards magazine ( have been running our monthly Life on the Reef column since the January 08 issue. You can read episodes 1 - 3 on the blog here and here are episodes 4 - 6 ...

"Life on The Reef" (Musings from El Medano)
Episode 4
- Boards Magazine June 2008
Words: Richard Attree / Photography: Nikki Attree

Hola amigos. Well it's certainly been a windy winter here. Muchos ventos right through from New Year, culminating in a seriously breezy Easter and early spring. I've had to change my mind about small sails, after being blown off the water on our 4.2m on days when sand and debris were flying every which way, telephone lines blown down, and the sea whipped into a capacino-like froth.

Previously I've never got on very well with titchy twitchy sails, but after borrowing a 3.6m from Jurgen (owner of the Canary Surf shop and this month's featured local hero), I called in at OTC to discuss buying a 3.7m - a one year old Rock in "feck off" mucho macho all black colours - not really my choice, but hey it does kind of suit my mood when it's 3.7m weather.


The thing is, although it's definitely far from being my favourite conditions, silly wind survival sailing is much more doable here than in typical UK winter gales. What we get here feels so different ... high pressure trade winds - all be it fekin strong trade winds, with bright sunshine and Mt Teide etched against an azure sky without a cloud in it. Plus the water and beach are far less crowded with grockles, kiters, and all the other usual riffraff on the sand blasting days.

Not surprising really - twenty minutes of 40 knot gusts and you just feel drained. In fact it's draining just to be stood on the beach in so much wind. As I say, not my favourite type of windsurfing, involving all the usual survival sailing techniques - gorilla stance, waterstarting straight into the straps, attempting to keep the board in contact with the water, massive bail-out air etc ... but kind of fun in a totally manic sort of way. All in all, an adrenaline charged, but ultimately humbling experience - like fighting a wild beast.

The best bit is getting back to the beach in one piece, uninjured (well, relatively anyway) and stopping to down a Dorada (the local ceveza) and watch the crashes.

"Casa La Ola"
For the past few months we've been busy doing up the house that we've bought, just outside El Medano. It needed a fair bit of work (as you can see from the "before" pics) but after a bit of negotiating, we got it for the kind of bargain price that we needed it to be, for our downshift to work financially.



When I say "a bit of negotiating", it was actually more like several weeks of extremely dicy wrangling, culminating in a very nerve-wracking day at The Notary - but I'm going to save that story for another episode.

Having been through the legal maze of the purchase, we then faced many more weeks of fun dealing with builders plus buying every single bit of furniture, items of electrodomesticos (I just love that word - in fact I had many electrodomesticos-dominated dreams) and all the rest of the stuff that you build up over the years and just take for granted until you find yourself trying to turn a shell of a casa (house) into a casero (home).

Luckily we didn't need to deal with the kind of local tradesmen that feature heavily in books like "A Year in Provence", having been recommended to use the construction and problem solving services of Tenerifian legend Drew "El Toro" Wall (who we featured in last month's Life on the Reef).

Also, luckily, Tenerife is shopping heaven (or hell depending on your view of a day at Ikea etc) and so for day after day we did shopping as if it were an extreme sport. Finally after endless days of pushing ourselves to the limit in huge furniture and electrodomesticos warehouses, we got on to the rather more fun bit of turning the patch of waste ground that had come with the house into a walled garden / terrace.

Having already decided to call the house "Casa La Ola" (the "La" is there so that people don't think that we live in "Hello House"), I came home one afternoon to find that Nikki had been at work with her paint brush and artistic talents. The resulting mural has certainly got a few tongues wagging in our little community, since officially nobody is allowed to paint anything a different colour from the comunidad junta's approved scheme (in our case, yellow and grey) !


Jurgen Tillman
Since he so generously lent me his smallest sail on a day when I was well roasted on our 4.2m, I thought the least I could do by way of repaying the favour, was to profile Jurgen Tillman as this month's local hero.

Jurgen is the owner of Canary Surf Fruit shop in the South Bay. In his fifties (like myself), he was one of the first windsurfers to base themselves here, and despite all the stresses of setting up a successful business in a new country, he's a genuinely laid back geezer.

Originally from Munchengladbach, Jurgen started windsurfing in 1979 on Lake Garda. Apparently he was touring around in his camper van, and ran out of fuel near Torbole. The unplanned stop-over had him arriving just in time to watch ex world champion freestyler Ziggy Hoffman, and he was hooked.

He started coming to El Medano in the early 80's, when the town was mostly just a fishing village with big sand dunes (the origin of the town's name). In those days Cabezo was a bit of a local's only secret spot, and to keep the crowds away Jurgen and his mates used to spread rumours about sharks. It worked for a while, but word soon got out and as windsurfing mushroomed, the crowds arrived and started to transform the scruffy little fishing village into a cosmopolitan surfy town.

He had already started a small windsurfing shop back in Germany, called "Surf Vibrations" making and repairing sails (and there's a bit of a clue to Jurgen's personality there - yep, like me, he's a bit of an old hippy at heart - a surf bum turned business man).

He moved to Tenerife in 1988, bringing his sail repair business with him and basing himself in the existing surf clothing shop. Eventually, however, the clothing side of the business became so successful that there was no time to repair sails. He realised that people wanted souvenirs of their El Medano trips, so he started designing customised tee-shirts and they sold along side the more famous surf brands.

Jurgen has maintained his laid back bonhomie through all the various idiosyncrasies of Spanish bureaucracy and really loves what he does. He's always striving to improve the quality of his products, and the shop has many loyal customers coming back year after year.

He hasn't given in to the temptations that some long-term ex pats here have, of turning into imitation Marlon Brando / Clint Eastwood mean-and-moody types or blasting his brains out with too much partying. He still loves being out on the water whenever it's cranking, and has even been seen recently flirting with the 'dark side' of dangly men who wear their boardies over their wet-suits.

Still, his main love (apart, of course, from his family and his business) remains windsurfing and I hope we both have many years of that left in both of us !


Anyway, that's our Musings from Medano for another month. Hasta la vista, adios y un saludas mi amigos.

"Life on The Reef" (Musings from El Medano)
Episode 5 - Boards Magazine August 2008
Words: Richard Attree / Photography: Nikki Attree

Hola amigos. The locals reckon that Spring is one of the nicest times of the year here. The flowers bloom on the hillsides, the Easter crowds have left now, and the place is very mellow for a couple of months before general craziness hits the town for the summer season.


The wind continues to blow most of the time and many non-windsurfing Medanites have been getting seriously pissed off about it. It makes it quite hard to do a lot of normal things - try hanging out the washing or cleaning anything in a continual 40 knot blast of sand !

Most of the time we get wind from the left here (the prevailing NE'ly trade), but mixed in with this we've also had several days of strong SWly's, culminating in a memorable howling offshore overpowered-on-a-3.5m sand storm. When we get wind from the right it's usually flat in Medano bay, although the next beach (La Tejita) starts to look like Shoreham, with x-on ramps and a shorebreak. But just occasionally this wind direction combines with a south swell, bringing waves wrapping around Mt Roja into the south bay and, to quote the OTC website, "transforming the bay into a starboard tack wave riding Mecca, with fun waist high waves peeling down the bay just asking to be ridden". So for most of that week the south bay looked like Jeri, with cross-off starboard tack wind and lovely long clean waves - a bit of a bonus for this ex-pat struggling to reverse the programming of years of starboard tack shinglyshire !

Cabezo Wave Event

With impeccable timing the wind went back round to the normal NEly direction just in time for the Spanish national wave sailing event at Cabezo. They had a whole weekend of typically consistent Medano conditions - 25 knot cross-on wind and up to head high waves, and the event (organised by local hotshot Luca Orsi) was a great success.

There were 32 competing, around a quarter of whom were local sailors and the rest from Pozo, Tarifa and mainland Spain. For a national / local event, the standard was extremely high with perfectly landed 'normal' front and back loops being taken for granted, and higher scoring jumps needed to progress (table-top forwards, one handed one footed back loops, double forwards etc).

Graham and Adam (OTC staff and founders of 'Team Airborn') both sailed their way through several heats and reckoned that the level was considerably higher than the UKWA events they'd done (Graham was twice freewave youth champion and 5th in the pro fleet in Tiree, and Adam was 4th at the 2007 Poole WindFest). People here just get so much more time on the water to practise and push each other to improve and learn new moves.

And that works at every level. Hopefully I've improved a bit here, but the progress of naturally talented young windsurfers like Graham and Adam is meteoric. Having both learnt on Durghleigh resevoir a mere five years ago, and raced on the T15 circuit, in this event here they were going for double forwards and shuv-it cheese rolls. But they still have a fair way to go to challenge the event winner, world cup sailor and local hero, Danny Bruch or even the local sponsored hotshots (Jochen, Sandro, Valter, Luca, Per etc). Hopefully in future episodes I'll introduce you to some of these Cabezo locals.


On his home patch Danny was simply unbeatable, and we'll be watching his progress on the world cup wave circuit keenly. He's already scored a creditable 21st overall on his wrong tack in Cabo Verde, tying with seasoned PWA veterans Nik Baker, Scotty McKercher and Levi Siver. As you can see from his sails he's also sponsored by OTC, as well as by F2 and Gaastra.


One of those (Holi)Days - A Cautionary Tale
How about this for a holiday from hell ...

Christine and Tony own a house on our community, and are both keen windsurfers who come out to Tenerife whenever they can extricate their two kids from school.

I first met Christine when the wind dropped completely one day and we found ourselves swimming in and then trudging back along the beach together. She used to be well known (as Christine Amos) on the racing circuit, having taken part in the various PWA / World Cup events held in the UK in the 80's (Cornwall) and 90's (Brighton) and she now runs a windsurfing school near Bigbury (Surfin Sam Watersports 0797 410 1374).

Tony is a GP (the significance of which will shortly became apparent).

Anyway, on one of the strong SW'ly days, Christine and the kids were in a cafe ordering large ice-creams while Tony got his windsurfing fix. Just as they were about to eat, a very worried windsurfer rushed up to tell them that Tony had been involved in a serious accident ! Abandoning the ice-creams, they rushed back down to the beach to find Tony strapped to a stretcher and just about to be loaded into an ambulance. He just had time to tell them that he thought that he'd broken his neck !

Apparently the crowds on the water had forced him to charge into his usual slightly out of control gybe at oh-shit warp speed, a few yards from the beach in knee deep water. The ensuing impact between his head and the beach had left him lying under his sail, paralysed with what he immediately diagnosed as a suspected broken spinal chord, and drowning in a foot of water.

Tony says that he found himself looking up at the sky through his sail, and pondering the irony that just the previous day we had been discussing whether we would prefer to continue life if completely paralysed (yes in my case and no in his). Amazingly, the windsurfer that rescued him was another doctor working in the local hospital and with the help of the Bomberderos (life guards) he was lifted on to a spinal board and into the ambulance.

By the time we got to see him in the hospital later that evening it was clear that mercifully his neck wasn't broken, but he was in considerable pain with a huge dent in his forehead. Nethertheless he was in remarkably good spirits, and seemed to be more concerned that they'd have to cut another hole in his brand new wetsuit fairly soon as he was dying to have a pee.

He then spent the next few days in hospital being drip-fed a concoction of various drugs, which encouraged a 'spiritual state of mind' as he put it and some eccentric behaviour such as wandering around Playa Las Americas with the drip still attached. As I write this he's recuperating with an extra week's holiday (so not all bad then) and putting together the insurance claim which will hopefully include a new wetsuit.


But the holiday from hell had a couple more twists in it's tail. On her final day of windsurfing Christine managed to drop the key to their hire car somewhere in the south bay. As any obsessive windsurfer can understand, she just wanted the quickest solution to get herself back on the water, so she jumped into our car and Nikki drove her to the airport dripping wet in bikini and wetsuit. Cue much hilarity at the hire desk ('├ęste es el aeropuerto, NO la playa') and a 300 euro charge for a new key.

And when Tony did finally (and reluctantly) fly home, all his luggage somehow disappeared. As he put it: "I stood lonely at the carroselle and nothing arrived" ... to quote Victor: "I DON'T BELIEVE IT !!!" Ah well, these little 'incidents' seem to come in threes.

Anyway, that's our Musings from Medano for another month. Hasta la vista, adios y un saludas mi amigos.

"Life on The Reef" (Musings from El Medano)
Episode 6 - Boards Magazine September 2008
Words: Richard Attree / Photography: Nikki Attree

Hola amigos. I was recently accosted in Flashpoint bar by some Brits on the next table who came up to me and asked if I was the bloke who wrote in Boards, and then said "so it's YOUR FAULT that we're here" ! Ah, the price of fame. You'd think that it would at least guarantee the occasional ceveza ?

And posting my "How Was It For You" reports from here is also taking it's toll on Silicon Beach's popularity on the Boards forum with comments ranging from aggrieved sarcasm: "Although I greatly admire you for having the wherewithall to relocate somewhere sunny, warm & windy, and initially welcomed your reports, I now find my cursor hovering over the "report" button. To repeatedly tell us how good the living is over there while we freeze in the UK is surely a form of abuse" (Old Pete) ... to the downright irked: "list of things to do when I get to Medano - 1 find and slap Silicon Beach (smug b*st*rdo) ... he must know he's doing our heads in by now" (max111).

I must add at this point for any readers who aren't familiar with the forum that such venom is traditional on there and in the fine old tradition of "Eeenglish Humour" is rarely meant to be taken too seriously. At least the weather in the UK has warmed up a bit now, which makes for a bit less agro.

Here it's high season. The wind continues to blow pretty much incessantly, and it seems like half the forum has been out here for visits. Pleased as I am to see how popular the place is, it's ridiculously chocka-blocka on the water, on the beach, and our board store is like the black hole of wherever.

At the Wall (wave break) it's 'perro come perro' (dog eat dog) to get one without someone dropping in, or in the water in the impact zone, or coming out blocking the ride dtl. At least it gets the adrenaline going when you have to fight for every wave, and that's when the nut head look with a few day's stubble comes in handy

OK, nice to see all these people enjoying the place, but I'll be glad when it quietens down a bit again and I don't have to sail at the crack of dawn or dusk to avoid battling with the hordes.

High season on Medano Town Beach - phew, scorchio !

Pelada Beach
Every morning Snr El Baz (aka 'Rambo') our terrorist terrier wakes us up demanding his pre brekkie walk and I stroll on down to the little rocky cove at the foot of Montana Pelada. It's a marvellously wild, rocky beach that feels a bit like the coastline of Cornwall, Ireland or Brittany.

The steep cliffs and difficult access make it no use for windsurfing, but it certainly catches the swell and the early morning view from the path down gives me my first glimpse of the day's wind and waves. On a good trade wind day there will already be a wind line and rows of swell heading down the coast from the lighthouse at Poris de Abona (about 15k to the NE), the top of Mt Teide will be etched against a deep azure cloudless sky, and sometimes Grand Canaria is just visible in the distance.

Pelada beach is a bit of a secret and usually it's fairly empty. There are my fellow dog walkers - a good opportunity to practise my rudimentary Spanish (as their huge Canarian hunting dog eyes up our little Yorkshire terrier hungrily) ... "Hola, buenos dias, como estas ? y tu pero ?". There's the occasional nudist - I don't mind them as long as they keep them themselves to themselves if you know what I mean. But sometimes I do find myself sharing it with some odd types ...

One morning there was a full on fashion shoot happening (at 8 am !), complete with bossy photographer ordering around several assistants with big reflector thingies, wardrobe people (with actual wardrobes full of clothes !), and a model in a white dress riding a white horse. The end result must have looked gorgeous with the early morning light, but all that paraphernalia was definitely out of place on 'my' beach !

Another morning I heard the distant clang of bells and looked up to see a herd of about a hundred goats came strolling down off the mountain. Needless to say, Basil was a bit taken aback - not having met any of these extremely smelly shaggy animals before, he was a bit too cautious to do his usual doggy bottom sniffing thing, and like me just gazed in amazement as they proceeded to roam all over the beach and surrounding rocks.

Just as I was wondering if they'd be heading on into town to add to the usual traffic chaos, this gnarly old goat herd type geezer came striding down the hill with his dog and within a few minutes he'd rounded them all up as if he was in the final of a Canarian version of "One Man & his Dog" - impressive !

Yet more tourists invade 'our' Beach

Ben Wood
This month's local in the spotlight is Ben Wood ("Woody" to his mates), cofounder (with Tris Best) of the OTC centre.

Growing up in Sydney, he naturally started surfing as a kid and still describes himself as "more of a surfer who windsurfs". But underneath his laid back surfer personality there's a steely determined racer (he represented Australia in the Yngling class dingy) and a very accomplished coach. He was offered a full time job as coach to the Fijian Olympic sailing team, which he turned down to come to Tenerife. He still has a few regrets about that.

Ben first met Tris when they were working as instructors in Vasseliki and they started discussing their shared dream of starting their own centre. Tris came up with the master-plan ("I think he had the idea in the bath") and Ben remembers reading it in the Zeus bar and immediately wanting to do it. Various locations were discussed (including WA, Fiji, and even the Yemen !) but El Medano was the more practical choice for the combination of cheap flights, all year round wind stats, proximity to the airport etc

So Ben moved to Tenerife in January 2006, aiming to make contacts and pave the way for the new centre. Initially he worked for the local custom company 'D-Light' building and repairing boards - a great way to get to know the locals who had to be friendly if they wanted their boards back asap ! Meanwhile Tris took the business plan to the "men in suits".

When he first arrived in Tenerife he wasn't that impressed with the place. Compared to the lush tropical Fijian beaches ("they have trees") he found it harsh, dusty and "abrasive" - particularly the volcanic reefs that he's bounced off a few times. But the more time he spends in Tenerife, the more he appreciates all the island has to offer (for instance apparently there's 25 different micro climates !).

Two years have flown by, and Ben and Tris are definitely well placed to succeed. El Medano had peaked in the 90's, slumped a little and was due for a renewal. OTC arrived just at the right time with their unique strategy: to allow clients to compare equipment from all the various brands, to try before they buy, and so grow the sport of windsurfing with people using gear that they're happy with.

"People know about us now" says Ben, and life on this dusty barren reef isn't looking too bad. He gets to windsurf or surf every good day (i.e. most days here !) and for the moment he's happy to call it home. However, Ben and Tris are always looking for ways to expand the OTC concept. He can't say more at the moment but apparently "Google Earth has been used a lot recently" !


Anyway, that's our Musings from Medano for another month. Hasta la vista, adios y un saludas mi amigos.