New Year's Day surfers

Alex Wade / 13 July 2017

Meet the men who welcome the New Year by surfing on January 1.



To most of us, the idea of going surfing in Britain on New Year’s Day is, well, bonkers. The sea is bitter, the wind is likely to be howling – there could even be snow on the beach. None of this is a deterrent to John Owen, 76, and Rob Hendy, 68, who are gearing up for their traditional January 1 surf in Newquay, Cornwall.

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They started surfing in the 1960s. ‘If there were 12 people in the sea back then, it was busy,’ says Rob.

John agrees. ‘In the old days, there were no crowds. Surfing had an innocence. And in winter we’d go surfing in just shorts and a vest.’

John and Rob have surfed ever since, come rain or shine. John says: ‘We’ve had more fun than a human being is supposed to have. We’re always laughing.’

John Owen and Rob Hendy have been surfing in Cornwall since the 1960s.  Photo by James Ram.

On cue, they dissolve into giggles at the memory of one of countless stories of surfing in France: they have gone to the same Basque Country campsite each September for the past 30 years. ‘It’s at Lafitenia,’ says John. ‘It has a great wave. We love the place.’

Surfing means everything to them. ‘It’s the feeling of taking the drop, of riding a wave – it keeps you going,’ says Rob.

If surfing has changed over the past 50 years, there’s one development that will stand John and Rob in good stead in the freezing conditions. ‘At least we’ve got wetsuits now!’

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