Import/ Export : Ronan Laurens.
Quick introduction on who you are and where you began boogin’?
Hi, my name is Ronan, I am a 32 year old bodyboarder from Bretagne, France. I started bodyboarding with my brother when I was around 10 at our local beach, Penfoul, at the north western tip of France.
What prompted you to move countries?
Technically I am back home in France now, but in my 20s I moved to England for a placement, and landed in the north east in the city of Newcastle. I moved for my studies, because the job I got there was very interesting and it gave me the opportunity to improve my English.
Later on I did another internship in the Netherlands and then worked in Germany for a couple of years. I did not get much surf in this time, but I still managed to surf acceptable waves in Denmark’s « Cold Hawaii » and around The Hague.
Before arriving in your new country what did you think it would be like?
Well I only knew Newcastle from its football club, I basically had no idea that I could get waves in the North Sea! So the good thing is that I had no expectations, I just started looking it up once I got the job and discovered that there were some interesting breaks.
Have these expectations been confirmed or altered?
Having no expectations I was completely stunned by what I got there. I also brought my longboard over, thinking I would not bodyboard that much but I was wrong. The more I was driving up and down the coast, the more I was discovering new places and set ups, willing to come back when the conditions were right. Reading the forecast was completely different from what I knew: on an “open” sea with many swell directions (from a north ground swell to a south east wind swell), you can have quite a few surprises with wedges coming to life in particular conditions or some spots that start to work only when the swell is spot on. And for the first time in my life I was happy when the wind was blowing west. I was just not prepared (at all) for the rather harsh climate that you can get there in winter.
What do you miss about your old home country?
In England I loved the atmosphere, and the people who are super kind and funny in the North East. I drove a bit around Scotland and Wales/Cornwall before coming back to France and I had a great time. I try to visit a new bit of the UK when I get the chance but lately with COVID restrictions (and now Brexit on top of it) it was complicated to get over the Channel.
Being back home in Bretagne is quite nice, I do not have to worry about distances/time off during holidays to get back home etc. but at the same time I miss the days when I was out looking for waves on an unknown coastline. I tend to “explore” a lot less now, I surf mainly around my local.
Any funny cross cultural misunderstandings you’d like to share?
Trying to understand the Geordie accent (and to some extent Scottish accents in some corners of Scotland) was the highlight, I thought I could speak English but I soon realized that the accent makes so much difference. Go’on lads!
Key advice you would give for anyone visiting?
Try to get off the beaten path. There are so many places/breaks to discover in the UK outside of the most renowned ones in Scotland and Cornwall. Of course it needs some time and patience but you can be rewarded with great waves, especially in winter. When your balls start freezing in the North Sea, instead of surfing you can also go skiing in Scotland or get some shelter at the local pub.
Of course you should not visit the UK without going to some gig or cultural event, there is so much to do there. The trip to the stadium is also mandatory, be it to watch football or rugby.
How are the Boogin’ Community similar and different in the two countries?
I only met 1 bodyboarder there: Liam, an Australian who was working there. The first time I saw him I thought he was a local and asked him if he was from there, he asked me the same question and we started riding together. We both thought we would not meet other bodyboarders, and we were both foreigners, which was quite fun.
There was close to no community when I was in Newcastle. Being around people was sometimes good enough, when it snows and the waters gets to 6°C you are happy to have someone with you, regardless of their craft. So there were mainly stand ups in the water, but when they saw that I could get waves they were quite cool. I was even surprised to see so few people out in the water, considering Newcastle is a big city. Maybe they are not attracted by 6/5/4 mm hooded wetsuits + gloves + boots 🙂
In Bretagne I was raised with local comps and events being held quite often throughout the year, which makes a tight knit community where you always meet someone you know in the water or on the parking lot. Near Newcastle I struggled to find events (there has been some surfing comps from what I know) where I could meet other people.
What do you hope the future holds for you?
I always encourage people to travel because it makes you think about your own situation and shows you that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side.
In the near future surfing around home with my mates and organizing events with my club (Tomahawk Surf Club) will keep me stoked. Keep the sport alive and show the younger generation that we are still around.