Surfing with dresses

Surfing with dresses

Ah, dreams do come true. After a long stint away from surfing in favour of sea swimming, October saw me return to it with a board that has one of my designs. Talk about nesting hearts: ocean, design, friendship, fashion, recycling, Orkney. This board captures an essence of me.  

Sometimes products get damaged in the manufacturing, but I ask the makers to send it to me anyway, rather than dump it. I am always looking at ways of using waste textile.  

The inset in the surfboard is fabric from a damaged dress. It features the flux print which I designed with my Orkney College student Kristel Grogan.

The flux slip dress


I’ve loved surfing for a very long time, probably since my after school routine was coming home, eating crisps and watching Home and Away, a breezy soap opera set in a fictional seaside town in New South Wales Australia.  The lifestyle looked free and easy; beachy, sun-kissed hair and golden, glowing skin. 

But it was only 4 years ago that I set out for my first surf with my brother Andrew, dressed in full wetsuit, gloves, boots and hood.  Not so glamorous, but instantly I loved it and was terrified of it at the same time.  

There is a rush of adrenaline and sense of freedom as I sit astride the ocean, feeling its power, and being made very small, and very humble. Sea swimming is less fast and furious, more gentile and calm. Both make me feel peaceful and motivated. 

Photography by Mike Guest

One day in September we were a little late to the water and watched as a most magnificent harvest moon rose in the sky.  That memory will be eternally etched in my mind because of the setting, the calm and also that golden colour of the sky0. 

This summer Roger Cooper  took one of my designs and custom made this board with one of my designs for a good friend. This board is a mini mal. This proven shape has been around for years with very good reason; its designed to be stable, easy paddling and ideal for the surfer who is looking for their first "proper" surfboard after cutting their teeth on a surf-school foamy or pop-out.

Roger Cooper might be in his seventies but he still gets up every day to handcraft surfboards in his workshop in now in Port Talbot. Mr Cooper moved to Cwmavon, Wales 30 years ago to set up his fledgling surfboard business. At the time, the keen surfer was determined to turn his lifelong passion into a livelihood. He built boards through the winter and went chasing waves in the summer.

Roger in his workshop


For over 50 years, Mr Cooper has built 10,000 surfboards with his own hands. Tragedy struck last year when his workshop burnt to the ground. He lost absolutely everything.  

A successful crowdfunding campaign allowed him to rebuild and restart his business. I appreciate the hard work, skill and resilience that is handcrafted in each and every board. Working with him this year was such an unexpected honour and inspiration.

Surfing scares me as I'm still very much a beginner. But after I’ve been out, fear gives way to a feeling of having conquered and being ready for another step tomorrow. 

I hope this is the start of something new – I would certainly love to create more surfboards, swimwear or wetsuits.

Roger Cooper surfboard at Skaill Bay


PS The reason is I am wearing the bikini is not to relive my Home And Away dreams but I am testing swimwear for next year.  You heard it here first.

PPS I should have taken an after photo from this particular adventure. Too much time rolling around in white water and sand in my ears for days. All I need is a bit of time and practice. I hope!

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