The 2018 Welsh Interclubs aka the Wilkinson Sword is, and quite often has been the curtain raiser for the Welsh competitive season. Winter rusty competitors gathering to brush the dust off their 4/3’s; all hoping to kick start their competitive seasons and enjoy the camaraderie of surfing within a team environment. Make no mistake, this competition matters and always has. The Welsh are a patriotic and tribal bunch and surfing for your local club is tantamount to representing your community, your family and friends, and the opportunity to get one over on anybody who believes that their town is better than yours.
The 2018 edition was no different. Llantwit Major’s Channel Coast Surf Club have dominated the event for years now, giving them somewhat of a superiority complex (perhaps justified) over the rest of Wales. But this year there was a determined effort to remove the sword from Vaughnie’s grasp…. I mean Llantwit Major is a lovely place but I think the rest of the competitive field were hoping that they’d be enjoying the blue water of Pembrokeshire next year, or the amphitheatre and variation of Langland…. or whatever is in Porthcawl these days…. Greg Owen? Either way Channel Coast had a target on their backs and would face a real fight to keep hold of the trophy they’ve probably begun to think of as their own.
Competition began in earnest on Saturday morning; the surf was nice, in the 2ft and clean range with the promise of it getting better and better throughout the day. First in were the over 35s and it was an early win for the boys from the Major, the stage of tide making the surf a tad tricky for the visiting surfers; local knowledge clearly an advantage with Ciaran Thomson claiming a win over James Jackett (LBR) and Craig Farnworth (WCSC).
Chris French snatched a win back for LBR in the Grand Kahuna divison, followed by Jamie Bateman getting one over on old rivals Greg Owen (WCSC) and James Jones (LBR). Frenchie was outstanding and never really looked in danger of surrendering his lead, even with the grommet like enthusiasm of Welsh Coast’s Adrian Boyles and the evergreen Colin Bright bearing down his neck. Jamie Bateman utilised all the best waves and surfed them impeccably. James and Greg never found a rhythm…. I’m not sure Bateman’s wave selection allowed them to.
The longboarders battled it out in tough conditions, the rising tide giving the boys an obstacle course of flat spots and close out sections to negotiate. Thomas Watkins of Welsh Coast started brightly and LBR’s Josh Hocking looked stylish and sharp, but it was local boy Arran Bright who took the win for Channel Coast. The ladies longboarders had better surf than the boys; a few lefts holding up albeit a little on the soft side. Angharad John (WCSC) led from start to finish, selecting the best waves and surfing them well to a dominant heat win, and breaking the duck for WCSC in the process. It should also be noted that her competitor Rachel Cosier, surfing for Channel Coast, was doing so visibly pregnant. And she did well too, epitomising the commitment these surfers show to club and country. With the tide somewhat killing the surf the organisers went on hold waiting for something better.
First back in were the junior divisions and it was Ogmore mini grom Eli Perrins Davies (CCSC) and LBRs Ejay Cogger who shone. Joseph Morris of WCSC was a favourite in the U18 boys but couldn’t find a wave in his heat for what was probably the major upset of the competition, finishing 3rd behind Ollie Calcutt in first for LBR and Ollie Wong of Channel Coast. Ejay Cogger took the U16 boys division and Eli absolutely dominated the U14s. The junior girls’ division was dominated by LBRs Alys Barton, who also competed well with former European junior champ Keshia Eyre in the womens division, although Keshia showed her pedigree in the very lully surf to take the division for WCSC, displaying a flawless technique with turns as powerful as any of her male counterparts, if not more so.
With the tide beginning to drop out, the contest was put on hold in the hope that the conditions at low tide would provide a perfect finish, and the local boys weren’t wrong. The conditions toward the end of the day started to pump; 3ft A frames with the rights probably showing more potential were on offer. Those that utilised the rights won, those that didn’t…. well didn’t. The conditions got better and better as the open men went to work, and the last heat of the day was a perfect culmination to a spectacular event. As it turns out, heading into the last five heats of the day, LBR and Channel Coast were neck and neck, with Welsh Coast a few heats back but certainly within grasp of the sword if things went their way. Channel Coast looked to be heading for (another) victory, with Gareth Vaughan, Craig Bright and Rob Morgan taking heat wins. But LBR had done enough to be right on their tails; in the penultimate heat of the open; Mark ‘Kook’ Jones surfed out of his skin to claim a first place over WCSCs Joe Morris and Rob Sullivan of Channel Coast. By the time the final heat went into the water, it was only the slightest margin of advantage to Channel Coast.
Enter Greg Owen.
Anyone who has been around Welsh surfing long enough will know that there is one rivalry above all others that stands out; Greg Owen V Mark Vaughan. Both screw foots, both multiple Welsh champions, Eurosurf medallists and both completely deserving of the legend tag. Make no mistake these boys have been at the forefront of surfing in Wales for decades. And so it had to be Greg Owen V Mark Vaughan V Tom Moran to provide the exclamation point to this incredible day.
It didn’t disappoint. Vaughanie started by far the stronger, smashing the guts out of anything winding its way down the cobbles towards Cardiff, much to the delight of the raucous home support lining the beach front. Greg fought back with a few of his own and Tom Moran reminded everyone that LBR were going to war for the trophy and like hell was he going to let a decade long rivalry get in his way. But just after the half way mark in the heat, Greg found a screamer, took the perfect line through his bottom turn and unleashed the turn of the contest in the most critical spot he could. He followed this with another signature ‘Greg O’ re-entry; dousing the sky with spray, then finishing with a floater over the cobbles to swing the heat firmly his way. He even claimed.
As it turns out this was a significant moment. Greg’s heat victory had granted the sword to the Langland Board Riders. In a competition of the tightest margins it turned out that had Vaughanie won that heat, the contest would’ve finished a tie between LBR and Channel Coast. At the closing ceremony you could see what it meant to the boys and girls from Swansea, the roar I’m sure could be heard back home on the Gower. I’m not sure they thought they were in with a chance, none more so than Langland legend Chris French, who I bumped into on the walk back to the car…. completely oblivious to the fact LBR had in fact won and pretty late to his own celebration. It couldn’t have finished any closer…. LBR had claimed 12750 points by days end, and Channel Coast agonisingly finishing with 12500 in second place. Welsh Coast Surf Club finished in third, somewhat hampered by last minute injuries but a good performance nonetheless.
It goes without saying that we at the WSF are extremely grateful to our sponsors Channel Coast Surf Club, Llantwit Major Surf Life Saving Club and the Welsh Surfing Federation, none of this we could do without their help and also an extreme debt of gratitude goes to our unpaid volunteers; a service that is incredibly appreciated.