Words: Steve Williams (with local insight from Tim Rowe)
Pics: Williams family, Tim Rowe
Trying to mix an easy going SUP surfing holiday with family time isn’t always easy, but Scot paddler Steve Williams thinks he has found the answer in Jersey.
For a number of years my better half had been trying to encourage me to take a holiday in Jersey. I have to say, I never really got excited about the thought… ”Isn’t that somewhere for pensioners?” was my usual response, hoping that the idea would drop. But, my crafty wife did her homework and threw in the golden nugget. “Surely you know that Jersey is a great place for surfing? It even has the oldest surf club in Europe.” That got my attention. It’s now been three years in a row that we’ve made the trip to Jersey – with this year being the best visit yet. We were blessed with constant sunshine and swell for the whole time we were there.
Taking your gear
I had hired gear whilst over there before, but this time I wanted to take all my own kit – it just means you have far more flexibility. When you are trying to fit surfing in with daily family outings then taking your own equipment is the best option.
With a 32kg weight limit I could pad up my 8.8ft surf SUP, paddle, wetsuit and other stuff in the board bag, no problem. There are two main car hire companies working from the airport. After checking, it seemed Hertz was the only one that didn’t have any worries about using portable roof racks on the car – so Hertz it was.
Travelling from the south east coast of Scotland meant that flying was the easiest and quickest way to get to the island. We booked with Easyjet and flew from Glasgow. We all checked in and got through passport control and security without hassle. All was going super fine until I was on the loo and heard my name being called on the loudspeaker to go back to check-in… sh*t – literally!
Seems that the airport’s scanner wasn’t big enough to properly fit the whole board bag so they wanted to open it up and check it again. Everything worked out well in the end – board in one piece, as well as a relaxed family – since the flight only takes an hour and a bit. Blissful really.
My previous perceptions of Jersey being a quaint and attractive island, where there’s not really much to do, have pretty much been blown out of the water. Yes, the place is pretty and quiet in places and it is certainly attractive – stunning I would say – but there’s plenty going on. There’s also a mix of new and old – especially in St Helier, where we usually stay.
I always think there’s a general feeling of the island being “relaxed” and away from the hustle and bustle of mainland hassles. That feeling always starts right from leaving the airport with the 40mph speed limit, small winding roads and friendly drivers regularly waving you on first at junction – I love it! But boring? Nope! Stuff to get involved with? Endless really. And of course the SUPing potential is massive.
For the paddle boarder, you are spoilt for choice. You have a multitude of beautiful beaches dotted all over the island, with many of them very accessible for the family too. There are too many beaches to mention. You can drive, park up and be on the water in a matter of minutes. The local cafes are plentiful, so you won’t starve either.
If you are more adventurous in your paddle boarding then clearly you need to be prepared to do a bit of grafting to get to the more remote places. But trust me, the scenery around the coastline on a sunny day is spectacular.
The island is a SUP racer’s paradise and the local Jersey paddle club is one of the most active clubs on the UK scene with some top athletes and world-wide endurance paddlers. The island’s surfers are right up there too (UK stand out Aaron Rowe comes from Jersey).
The club’s members are also very active downwind paddlers and they are out regularly catching bumps. Whilst I was there, a few were taking part in the annual 45 mile Jersey Round Island Challenge – impressive. It looks like they have all the ingredients of a great club and I’m sure if you were stuck for a bit of advice on SUPing on the island they’d be happy to give you a couple of pointers. Hit up Aaron’s dad Tim at Gone Paddling SUP if you’re visiting.
Locals will know all the lesser known surf spots on the island and when they are working but, for the likes of me, St Ouen’s was the main place to go. It’s a huge long bay that faces west and picks up uninterrupted Atlantic swells bang on.
The beach can take a large number of surfers, which is a good thing as in the summer months it is busy – very busy. However, I found there’s still plenty room to get ample waves, especially on a SUP as you can paddle from one peak to another. One thing to mention, which is important: the tides are pretty merciless and once they are coming in, they come in FAST. Don’t get caught out.
There seem to be a number of main breaks at St Ouen’s but you can take your pick where to surf. Most have lifeguards on patrol in summer – and they are very active, scooting about all the time on jetskis or 4x4s.
Starting at the south end of the beach there is Les Brayes, which is the best place for the family I reckon. There’s a great wee café, parking and, when the tide is in, you still have a beach left to build sandcastles on. There are good waves there but you might find it hectic with families splashing about during busy summer times.
Further up there’s plenty parking at El Tico’s restaurant. You will find some good peaks when the sandbars are lined up. There’s also a huge load of parking at the seafront next door – I caught some meaty waves there!
Another great spot is slap bang in front of our favourite place, The Watersplash beach bar and diner. Seriously good food, a very relaxed atmosphere and a magical place to watch the sun go down with waves splashing up against the sea wall. On a good day there are some long, smooth walls to be found here. The waves are maybe a little more steeper in this spot, so no wonder it is popular. Just be very careful on the tides again or you might find getting out very difficult and pretty dangerous.
Further along again is ‘Secrets’, which is popular with locals I’m told. I surfed there mostly in the early mornings when it was quiet. I stopped off one evening just to check the surf and it was pretty busy – mainly longboarders. I think this spot might be a bit of respite for locals to get away from the surfing tourists, so maybe best respect this if you are visiting. Let them have some peace and stick to quiet times or surf further down the bay.
Other stuff to do
Finding places to SUP is easy but you won’t be stuck for other activities if visiting with a young family. Beach time is obvious, but there’s a good zoo, adventure parks a plenty, cinema and a good pool with flumes too. We timed it well with quite a few big open air music events on – they went down great.
And not to forget, and very important, there’s plenty Jersey ice cream on tap. What could be better…
A local’s viewpoint of Jersey with Tim Rowe (Gone Paddling SUP)
Jersey certainly is a paddler’s paradise if you like your water a bit on the bumpy side (as it’s not that often we get millpond conditions.
As Steve said, we have some fantastic coastline to view and some lovely bays to explore but we also have some fierce tides – which can result in the unwary paddling hard and going backwards. I would certainly recommend that anybody who is planning on a paddling holiday here gets in touch with either the club or any of the local paddlers for information on the tides.
The north coast is mainly small bays and cliffs, so places to land are limited. The east coast is very different from high to low water, with low water revealing just how rocky a lot of that coastline is. The south coast is mainly one big bay with a lot of boat traffic, so care needs to be taken.
The west coast, St Ouens Bay, is the main surf beach for the island with several different types of break and also several reefs that work at various times. It can be very crowded when the surf is working and there can be conflict. The peak at the Watersplash is probably the most popular peak and is best avoided unless you are very competent. There are also numerous surf schools along the beach to watch out for.
When the wind blows there are several good, but short, downwind runs (we only have a short coastline). You have to get tide and wind working together for them to be at their best. Suffolk SUP were lucky on their recent visit and had a reasonable run.
The round island paddle that Steve mentions was the inaugural event for a local charity and is looking like being an annual event from now on, which will hopefully attract more off-island paddlers. This year Gareth Edwards from Devon and Franck Fifils from France came over and completed it. Paddlers from Jersey have also paddled out to the Ecrehous (a famous group of islands and rocks six miles offshore with some fast tide races), and more recently the 18 mile open crossing from Sark to Jersey was completed for the first time. Hopefully some more adventurous down winding will be done later this year with the use of a rib.
If you want to know more about Jersey, jump on the ferry (if it’s working) and pop over.