NWR Issue 108

Waves on the Hydrocarbon Seas of Titan

7.35 am

I sit, watching and waiting with Ed. A comfortable silence. The mind enters a comfortable state of relaxed concentration while watching the horizon for waves. Already the horizon has become slightly less distinct as the sun draws up moisture from the sea. There is one curiosity I’m looking forward to this morning: in our surf there will be one wave, a freak wave, much bigger than all the others.

One of the only times I’ve ever surfed somewhere other than Pembrokeshire was when I went to stay with my friend Kate in Porthcothan Bay, Cornwall. It was meant to be a full weekend of surfing, only the weekend before I arrived Kate had got drunk and ran into a boulder, breaking one of her toes. This ruled her out of any surfing. I did go out on their beach during my stay with a long board, even though there was barely any surf. I wanted to experience the beach more than anything else.

It was a holidaymaker’s dream day: clear skies and dunnocks singing. I walked through the village barefoot, past the red telephone box and hut that sells ice creams and postcards, and down the long strip of sand to the shore. Kate’s board was beautifully shaped and a joy just to paddle. It was so responsive and well designed I caught a couple of the smallest waves I’ve ever been on. After a while Kate’s father joined me on a break from his work as a freelance photographer. We stretched our arms and he gave me a guided paddle-tour of the headland, including an arch that formed a doughnut-shaped hole that has since been demolished by the winter’s storms.

When we returned, a very elderly surfer had joined us in the water. His movements were delicate and shaky, but he travelled across the water gracefully, with absolute control over the board. It was obvious we were in the presence of a man with a lifetime of surfing experience. We couldn’t catch anything at that point, but he just waited and didn’t go for a wave. Suddenly he moved into action, for what I couldn’t see, but he was obviously positioning himself for something. Then, the one decent-sized wave of the day rolled in, on its own and out of context for the day’s conditions. The old surfer was in the perfect place to catch it, and he carved down the face, walking up and down his board to keep it perfectly on the shoulder. He then took his board, which he could barely lift, and walked up the beach.

We didn’t last much longer and no more big waves came. The expert surfing of the old man affirmed my faith in this sport – here is a passion to last a lifetime. How many waves will I have in my life? Five hundred if I’m lucky. And every one will be unique and worthwhile.

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Philip Jones was born in Birmingham and came of age in Pembrokeshire. He now lives and works in Cardiff after earning his Creative Writing MA at Cardiff University. His stories and poetry have appeared in collections by Stories From Songs and Appletree Writers Press. Also a keen musician, he released his debut EP with his band Dusty Cut in May and it's available to buy at His memoir, from which this is an excerpt, was runner-up in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2015, WWF Cymru Prize for Writing on Nature and the Environment, run by ourselves.


previous essay: Energy Crisis: A Memoir of Summer
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